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A B Γ’s of Hollywood: The Accent

We all know Hollywood isn’t an easy nut to crack for an actor. And make no mistake, a nut it is. What I mean to say is that much like kastanopita Hollywood is sometimes tougher than it should be, while at other times unexpectedly soft, but the one thing we can all count on is that it always remains absolutely, unconditionally, unequivocally, well…nutty.
Of course I’m not telling any of you anything you don’t already know. You have been around the block once or twice thank-you-very-much and know a thing or two about this game. But take it from me kid, breaking into Hollywood as a foreign performer requires a whole new recipe for those who want to succeed.
When I first arrived in Hollywood fresh off the boat from the Greek islands just a few months ago I quickly found out that I had, unbeknownst to me at the time, developed a horribly thick accent. Thoroughly convinced that I was speaking with an authentic American accent (I am from North America after all) I was shocked when at my very first audition the first question out of the casting director’s mouth was “where are you from”?
“Εγώ”?  (Who, me?)
As someone who grew up in North America and has no real Greek roots it was a baffling experience to suddenly be looked upon as a foreigner in my own home and the irony of it wasn’t lost on me. During my four year ‘tour of duty’ as I fondly refer to my years living and working as an actress in Greece, I had worked desperately hard to learn the language and speak with as little an accent as possible in order to be a working actress. I fought through stereotypes and the Legendary Myth of the ‘bimbo foreign woman’ to be cast in high quality productions, only to return to North America to be looked upon once again as a foreigner.
This first experience in Hollywood brought me back to the memory of one of my first jobs in Greece. At the time I still wasn’t speaking the language well enough to be cast in major productions so instead I had to rely on working in television advertising, most of which was non-speaking roles. But then one day along came a Greek director who was finally willing to take a chance by casting me in a commercial with actual ‘lines’. I was elated. As it turned out the script required me to say a total of two words in Greek – Νέα Γιόρκι – New York. No problem, I thought. I can do this. When the day finally came around to shoot the job I stood before the green screen, helpless with frustration as I struggled to pronounce the words with an authentic Greek accent. As the minutes ticked away precariously I watched the director shook his head furiously. “No, no, no!” he yelled, “she doesn’t sound Greek at all!”
Finally, he gave up and told me to say it in English.
“New York!” I screamed into the camera, on the verge of tears. “NEW YORK!!”
“Tellio”, he replied. Perfect.
Funny as it may be now I think about that experience often. When I was called out recently for a short film I spent the prior evening going over the lines all night long, determined to speak with the most authentic American accent possible. By the next day not even a trace of Greece was left on the tip of my tongue and I reeled at the possibility of getting the part.
The next day, I walked into the audition room, guns blazing, ready to show them what I’ve got. When I finished the audition the director looked at me earnestly.
“That was wonderful, but we’re looking for, well, something a little different. Perhaps even something kind of exotic. Do you speak a second language?”
I shook my head enthusiastically.
“Yes, I speak Greek!”
“Do you think you could do the lines in Greek?”
“Yes! Yes!” I nodded again.
So there I was in the audition room, all eyes in my direction as I labored through the lines in Greek; the very thing I had tried to avoid the entire audition. As I began to speak I noticed my body began to shift; my fists clenched and my breathing sped up as yelled my lines in Greek.
“Giati, Giannis?” I yelled. Why Jon? Why?!
When my audition was over, the director turned directly towards me, a look of utter amazement in his eyes.
“That was wonderful”, he said, “that was exactly what we were looking for, thank you.”
I walked out of the audition room that day on a cloud, past the other (monolingual) actresses in the hallway like I was Penelope Cruz. The bilingual Goddess. When one of the girls turned to me, remarking that she heard my audition and was wondering where I was from I put on my thickest accent possible.
“I’m from Greece.”
Her eyes widened, “wow, that’s amazing.”

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