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Eva Maria Leonardou: Some People Don’t Give Up in Hollywood

Some people don’t give up and continue their course despite the difficulties they may face on their way. Eva- Maria Leonardou is one of these people. Starting her career in Greece, playing leading roles in TV Series and the theater, Eva- Maria realized from the start that she wanted something more out of her career. The ultimate destination was Los Angeles, where she has been staying for the past six years. The young upcoming actress talked to us about her first attempt as a director, her role in the movie “On a Dark and Stormy Night” and her life in Los Angeles.

How was your first attempt as a director for “Work of Art” ? Τell us a few things about the movie.

The movie is about birth defects caused by US Depleted Uranium. A boy is born with Birth Defects, due to the radiation that his father was exposed to in the Fist Gulf War, while he was serving as a soldier in the American army. My first attempt to direct? Ohhhhhhhh! It was a nightmare!!! The only reason I forced myself to direct was because I found out that Steven Spielberg was doing a directing contest. He’s my idol and a director I would love to work with, but they were not accepting actors. Only directors. And I’m an actress. This is all I ever wanted to be. Nothing else. So, the only way for my acting to be seen by him, would be to act in a short film that would make it far into the competition. I told myself that if I have to write, direct and produce in order to be seen by him, then so be it. And I had to make sure that whatever I did, had to be damn good. I was running against experienced young American directors, who had studied directing in colleges and universities and who knew that an apple box is also part of film equipment and not only of Farmer’s Market. So it was a tough one. I wrote the story, I got the actors and the crew and I did it. I also acted in it of course. That was the whole point. But it wasn’t half as simple as it sounds. That was where the nightmare came in. Imagine being a first time director, having to be both behind and in front of the
camera at the same time and also having to fight with your Director of Photography for every single shot you’re asking, because he refuses to do the angles you have chosen and wants to do the ones he likes! Anyway, I managed to get half of the shots I needed, we worked extremely hard with my editor to make that footage work and there, it was, my first short film. I submitted it to the
contest, me and 12,000 other directors. And just when I had promised myself I will NEVER, EVER direct again, I received a call, 10 days after the submission.
They wanted me to go in for an interview. I had passed to the second round!I gave the interview, they taped the whole thing. At the end of it, I was like:
“Is Mr Spielberg going to see this?” That was my only concern. (she laughs) The girl said:

I said to myself: “Maybe? Maybe? I went through all that for
‘maybe’ ???????”

You had quite an adventurous experience. What happened next?

Then they gave me a thick envelope and said: “Here’s your next assignment. You got to make another short film, write it, produce it, direct it and edit it within a week!” I was like: “Really??????? What’s the budget?” . “There’s no budget” was the answer. Apparently, I broke my promise and I directed again (and acted in it), but with such limited time and resources there’s not much you can do. At least I had a much better time on the set this time. Later on I found out that this directing contest was actually a reality show, just like American Idol, but with directors. It was called “On the Lot”, it aired by Fox, but it didn’t do well with ratings. I doubt if any of the participants got to actually meet Steven Spielberg in person, except maybe for the winner.

Sounds like it was a tough competition. Did you regret doing it?

So one would say that this whole effort was for nothing. WRONG! Nothing is for nothing in this country. Every new experience, every new thing you learn here, is a major step, an asset for your next endeavor. This country is a learning experience by itself. Here I’ve learned to do things, that if anyone told me I would ever attempt, I would say they’re nuts! I’ve just learned to accept it as part of a bigger plan. I feel I’m a puppet in the hands of an inconceivable force. You may call It the power God, you may call It Fate. Whatever It is, I’ve learned to let it stir me in the direction it wants, without resisting anything. Whatever It does, It’s wiser than me. All I know is that it’s forcing me to grow and be more than I thought I can be.

Tell us about your role in the upcoming movie “On a Dark and Stormy Night”.

Well, I’m playing Vette, the love interest of the serial killer, whose name is Gray (Juan Riedinger). There’s not much to say about it, except that a bunch of guys and gals gather at a Halloween party and one of them loses it and starts killing his friends one after the other, but because he’s very attracted to Vette, he keeps making up excuses to avoid killing her. I won’t reveal the finale though.
The shooting of this movie was another very intense learning experience, which literally gave me a glimpse of my physical limits. We stayed up three nights in a row to shoot with rain, which is fine, I had done it before in Greece with real rain and it was one of my favorite shoots. But this time it was here, in California, it was out in the desert, the temperature was really low and the rain was fake.
Two hoses were literally pouring freezing cold water on us. I had to be in a skimpy outfit, with little food in order to remain slim enough to fit in that outfit throughout all the days of the shooting and with a 4:30 a.m. call-time every day. At some point I was told that they had to stop the shooting because I had turned blue. The final night was the worst, because it lasted forever. It was until 4 or 5 in the morning. I was lying there on the cold cement with fake blood on my chest and two showers of frozen water being poured on me and I had to stay still, because I was supposed to be dead, but I just couldn’t stop shivering. The water was getting into my nostrils and it was choking me. There were moments I couldn’t breathe. And as I am lying there, I think: “That’s how death must feel like…….”
But I swear, that if God appeared in front of me that very moment and gave me the freedom to walk away from this torture and reassured me that the movie would be finished with my clone in my place, I would say: “NO! I’m not changing this for the world. This is what I’ve been born to do and there’s no better place for me to be than this hell I’m living right now. I gave up everything I had in Greece for moments like this and I won’t let anyone take it away from me.”

How long have you been living in LA? Tell us how you decided to move in the States.

I came here in April 16, 2004.It has been my dream since I was a child. I wanted to be in the movies. I graduated from an American High School in Greece and actually the first language that I ever acted in was English. I was no stranger to the American culture. It was my plan to come here. As soon as I gathered enough money and experience from the shows I starred in Greece, I went straight to the American embassy to get a visa. Cinematic art here is in a league of its own.

Tell us about some of the differences in your way of living and your work in LA comparing to how it was when you lived in Greece.

There is only one difference, but it’s major: Everything I love was there, with me. Here I am alone. There, I was living with my family, I had huge help in everything I needed both in every day life and with my work. Here I am all by myself, I have to depend on myself and nobody else. I’m still receiving huge help from my parents, but there’s only so much they can do from overseas. If anything happens to me while I’m in my house for example, nobody will find out, until it’s too late. Don’t get me wrong, it ‘s not that I don’t have friends, but in order to create these projects and try so hard to make it, I had to alienate myself from others and spend endless months, even years locked in my room working and creating. In Greece for me success depended initially on the help I received from people who were willing to give me a chance. Then I just had to work hard to maintain it. Here, I have to work hard in order to create the chance. I have to build it with my own hands.

Tell us about some of the difficulties you had to face along the way.

The first and biggest difficulty was the fact that I was an “Alien”, which as I found out later does not mean “Extraterrestrial”, but “Immigrant”(she laughs). I was not allowed to work or earn any money, before I acquire a work permit, which seemed impossible to happen without me having been hired already, but no-one hires you, unless you have a work permit. It’s a catch 22. But
sometimes, as I said, God has very specific plans for us and what happened exceeded my expectations. Together with the application, my attorney also sent in DVDs with my work. 3 months later they gave me a work permit and 7 months after that, United States recognized me as an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability in Acting” and they offered me permanent residence.

What part of Greece are you from?

I was born and raised in Athens, but my origin is 50% from Crete, my mother’s side and 50% from Aitoliko (Mesologgi), Asia Minor, Pontos and a little bit of England, my father’s grandmother was from there or something like that…(laughs).So since the majority of my blood cells comes from Crete, I consider myself a proud Cretan and specifically an Archaniotissa, my village is Archanes, in Heraklion county.

What are the things you like mostly about Greece?

GREECE. Greek nature, the sea, the forests, the mountains. But not what people have done with it.

What are the things you like doing in
your free time?

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh……Vacation! Haven’t been on vacation since Easter 2009………
Other than that, Dancing, Yoga, Metaphysics, Astrology, Swimming, Hiking, Sunbathing!

What are your future plans?

My immediate plan is to raise funds for a feature film I wrote and I’m currently developing. But in the long run, I want to make movies that will stay forever, that will make a difference and will leave a mark in this world; I want with my art to influence people’s mentality and way of thinking. When that is accomplished, the next goal is to help as many other artists as I can to also fulfill their dream. And to help as many people as I can who are in need for food, money and work. To help animals who are being tortured to survive and to live in humane conditions. I want to help make this world a better place. And after all has been said and done, I want to withdraw myself from the world, to retire at my country house in Greece and dedicate the rest of my life to spiritual studies.

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