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Yorgo Constantine: A Greek Actor In Hollywood Action Movies

You have seen him in mainstream Hollywood movies like Die Hard 4 where he played one of the villains and  in Fast Furious 5 where he was one of the guys in the SWAT team that was lead by the Rock. Yorgo Constantine, talked to us about his relationship with Greece, about the ways that the industry has changed with the economic crisis and also gave us some very interesting behind the scenes trivia from the movies he’s participated. He also told us about how he “fooled” Kevin Bacon with his acting.

Tell us about yourself. Where you grew up, your studies and when you decided to become an actor.

I am from New York City. I grew up in Greenwich Village and then later in Tribeca. My father is from Greece.So this is where I get my Greek part from. My father is from Athens from the area of Pagrati. I started getting intense into acting in University. I went to New York University. And that’s when I said what I would like to do as a job and as a career and I decided to become an actor.

Tell us about the recent experience you had on the set of Fast Five. How was it working with Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel?

Growing up to be a New York actor I was fortunate to be brought to Los Angeles when I was about 19 to 20 years old. And it’s nice to be able to do big Hollywood movies. Otherwise I probably would have stayed in New York City. We were very lucky because you know it’s the top of the top in Hollywood. A movie like this. There was lot of money to shoot this movie and a lot of time to make it. We were in beautiful locations to film. We filmed a lot in Puerto Rico. And there was another two months in Atlanta Georgia. After that, we went to Rio for a while to shoot some stuff there. Everybody was great. Dwayne, the Rock Johnson was very cool. It was nice to be his partner in the movie, to be one of his team member. Vin is also one of the producers of the film. So it was really interesting to watch because he is very sensitive and he took a lot of care for every single detail that went in to make the best film possible. For the world really.That’s Vin’s outlook. He really wants to put wonderful things out to the world. And he succeeded very well. I was very happy to help him become a part of that. We actually know each other but haven’t seen each other in many years. He was kind of blown away. I waited until the end of filming to remind him that we knew each other when we were children.

So he remembered you after you told him?

Absolutely. And he was pretty blown away because when you’re with someone for over  3-4 months, he couldn’t believe that I didn’t bring it up. The Rock was always like “but Vin knows you!”. And I said yeah when we were kids. It was a long time ago. But he’s great. He’s a true artist. He has images of the tough guy but his soul is of an artist. He loves creating wonderful things. It’s an interesting paradox. How he looks and from where his soul comes.

You have also played roles in other mainstream movies  like in the fourth installment of Die Hard. Tell us a little bit about that and about the cooperation you had working with Bruce Willis.

I don’t wanna take away from also having Justin Lin who directed Fast Five and the previous installments. To me younger directors who have great vision and are able to realize things, I experienced that also on Die Hard with Len Wiseman. He was a younger director who had such an idea to take a franchise into a new direction. And to succeed. Because when they brought Live free or die hard back I think it was 16 years in between the Third and Fourth. Everyone said we have to make it new, to refresh it. And they weren’t sure. It was very interesting to be on set, to see how to take something that people had an idea and to make it new and exciting. Also the year that we were making Die Hard, the new James Bond came out. That was sort of a template for all these big action franchises. But if want to make a new one fresh and more realistic I should say, how do we do that? So it was very interesting to be able to be rebooting this franchise at that time. Bruce Willis was fantastic. I mean in my experience with all big people that I have worked with, everyone was very respectful and very kind. But I think that when it comes for the day of work the point is, are you prepared? Does the actor I work with knows his words?  Is he comfortable in the environment? And I work very hard so that when it comes to the day, that we shoot there is no mix ups, no problems if there is something wrong with the cameras, or something technical that they don’t have to worry about me, the actor.

Things you remember from Greece last time you were here?

The people. Even though I am a New Yorker and I consider myself an American, I also consider myself Greek and more European. Growing up in New York I am used to seeing the entire world and I find that there is a similarity with Greek people and New Yorkers. Greeks are very inviting to strangers and to all the world. And I find a strong similarity with New Yorkers because they are used to dealing with every type of person in such a small place. And I found that same sort of compassion and interest about foreigners in Greece. They are happy to see new people and to explore new ideas. And I appreciate and love this aspect of Greece. Of course the culture. I mean we gave the world a lot and that’s something that I am tremendously proud of. To have that blood. Also the food. Probably everything. I can’t say enough about how wonderful Greece is.

Do you speak any Greek?

Ohi! (laughs). Maybe words like ela do, asta asta..

I was working on a commercial years ago and the director was Nick Cassavetes. My father from his early years wanted to be a film director with Scorcese. Cassavetes was in that group of guys who were in New York, so I was talking with Nick about that and he said “because you’re from New York your vibe is so Greek!”. I don’t remember exactly when it was that but I remember this little story.

What have you heard so far about the economic crisis in Greece?

It’s horrible. And as you see it isn’t just Greece. It’s the entire planet.

Things that upset you?

To have people in these positions to do these things. In my little part in one of the offices in what I offer to humanity and to planet earth it’s like you know provide something worthwhile and good. And to see people in positions to do well and not. They rotted the system. It’s like a rotten apple.

How has this affected the film industry and your work as an actor?

Financially speaking people aren’t throwing money around any more.  There’s still a lot of success in the Film Industry and they look for places where to cut corners which is understandable but it’s looking out work and you cut. I mean you can’t cut down the oxygen. You can’t cut off the nerves and the food to keep things alive. We have to make the concessions. I always connected things to the Golden Goose. It’s like you have to love the Goose and nurture it to keep it alive to give you the eggs. But there has to be patience to create the Golden Eggs. But people sort of took the Goose and they ripped it open. And people went like were are the eggs? No. You can’t do it like this. And it seems like that’s what people have done across the board. In the finance, the politics, everywhere. They cut the goose open and they went like “Oh! We broke it. We killed it. And there won’t be any other Golden Eggs.

In what ways do you think that filmmaking has changed with the new technology?

What’s amazing it’s just with the technology. Because you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have these cameras any more. You can get these wonderful , not even the RED camera that everyone was raving about a few years ago, it seems like it has been replaced with these new Cannons. Because right before booking Fast Five we were doing this short independent movie and the entire budget was 40000 dollars. And we shot the movie and I think they did it in one week. It gets much faster and it’s very exciting to be able to do that. You can make it happen. If you wanna make a movie you can do it. So that’s something where people realize “Oh you need money for certain things but then again you can make things with not having a lot of money.

Things you like doing at your free time?

Before becoming an actor I was trying to become a tennis professional. That was my life prior to becoming an actor. Where I had my father and my mother involved in the arts and my sister was also involved in the arts., I was going to be a professional tennis player. I am still very passionate about that, sort of a tennis geek. A that’s a thing that many people are very surprised by it because I usually play guy shooting guns and they say “you’re a tennis player?”. And I think this is a thing from my Greek side. To keep the body strong and healthy. So I have tennis for that. I am fascinated from philosophy and on why people do what they do. I think that was a strong pulse for me to be an actor or my Greek roots. It was when people went to theater in Ancient Greece as a representation of life. And to learn lessons about life. And that to me is what drove me to acting . So the philosophy of the humanity. Why humans do what they do. I am pretty preoccupied with that and aside from raising my family. That my hands are somewhat filled with that. I have three children. And again that comes from my European, my Greek culture.  That’s ingrained in my DNA, a thing that so many people do. But you’re an actor! And very young you started a family. And I said that’s like telling a sun not to rise. Like telling the ocean to stop moving. I didn’t have a choice on that matter.

Have you ever thought of bringing your family in Greece at some point?

Absolutely. My wife is from France and her entire family is in France. So my wife and I are basically in Los Angeles  with our children. But are families are in Europe. Ideally I would love to work on and off and have more free time. And to jump between America and stay in Europe to visit Greece and France more often. That’s my ideal.


You also played a small role to Death Sentence that was made by the director of Saw, James Wan. Tell us a few things about the experience you had working with him.

Absolutely. I love that you brought that up. That’s my trilogy of very creative hot young directors. I got the chance to work with James Wan. And it’s very interesting because I got a call from castings saying we need someone for the role of the attorney. In Death Sentence the actor that James Wan wanted passed on it and couldn’t do the film. So he was in a scramble to get somebody to play Kevin Bacon’s lawyer. So I went into audition. My character if I am not mistaken has the most amount of dialogue in one scene. So it was basically a huge challenge. I did my best to have it off book. Went into casting put  it down and they told my right you’re flying in the next 12 hours to South Carolina to do this movie. So I am crumbing to get all this scene memorized, get to set, I think I arrived on Monday morning on the set at 5.30 AM. I bumped  into Kevin in the elevator as we were going to  set and he goes so you can memorize very well. Because there was so much dialogue and I said “well hey ho!”. So we going into rehearse to do the scene and so we were into my lawyer’s chambers and we do just one rehearsal of the scene and Kevin sits back and looks at the director and the crew and just says “Screw you guys”. And the’re like what are you talking about? And he goes, well you got a real lawyer. And the director goes “what are you talking about? He’s an actor from Los Angeles” and Kevin goes “No, he’s not. He is a real lawyer”. He was convinced that I was a lawyer. And I looked at him and said “No Kevin. I am an actor. I am not a lawyer”. I couldn’t have been given a better compliment. I am a huge fan of Kevin Bacon. Obviously he is a tremendous and he is a tremendous actor. I had my ideas to play the attorney in a more compassionate way since his son was murdered in front of his eyes. You know very compassionate. And James comes up to me and he says that I love that but we are going into a different way. And I said “Oh. Which way”. And he goes like “you’re trying to close  a deal”. He goes “his son has died but you’re an attorney and you just are getting the best deal possible. So you’re more into this like the idea of being a car salesman”. Which was I was so taken aback believing for this father and he was “no,no,no, you’re not going that way”. So, that was a big shift. I was thinking apple and James was thinking oranges. But I was very pleased that they were  happy and that hopefully I had pulled it off.

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