One could find many remarkable acting achievements to talk about with London-based Emmanuel; his starring role in the UK version of the Broadway hit show Drawn and Quartered; his part in the Hollywood dark comedy Greed; that in ITV’s phenomenally popular series The Durrells; or lending his voice to a character in the world-famous videogame Assassin’s Creed.
Besides all of the above, though, he really is the one and only person on the earth who has ever dared to move a fake Stonehenge, the iconic prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England.
So it is no surprise that our exclusive interview for Greek Reporter starts from the long-standing controversial cultural issue of the so-called Elgin, Or Parthenon, Marbles, before it moves to discussing the experience of finding success as a Greek actor on the incredibly competitive international acting scene.
Stonehenge moved: the parallels with the Parthenon Marbles
Published on YouTube in November of 2020, the 3-minute shot called “Stonehenge Moved for Safekeeping,” lead by Manolis Emmanouel, forms part of the international Reunite Parthenon initiative.
“It supports the return of the Marbles to Athens and urges those who watch it to help Greece put even more pressure on the claim of the Marbles,” Emmanouel says of the humorous video.
The Reunite Parthenon campaign was conceived by lawyer and activist Jim Mella, he explains, and is backed by influential personalities such as the acclaimed British actor, broadcaster, comedian, director and writer, Steven Fry, and Geoffrey Robertson, an internationally renowned human rights lawyer.
“The aim of the campaign is to motivate as many people as possible to take action, and to bring this important issue back to the front of the minds of the British and global public, using the famous Stonehenge as a similar example.
“It essentially raises the question of “what is fair” and, by utilizing comedy, it urges the UK government to correct past mistakes”, Emmanouel adds.
“It’s a funny video with a serious message, and I’m very proud to have been selected to forefront it. I believe that, without becoming offensive, it conveys the message in a manner that is both clever and effective”, he opines.
Greek actor stepping out on a bigger stage
Born and raised in Athens, Emmanouel had dreamed of becoming an actor from an early age. While in his last year at the Theater Department of the University of Athens, he auditioned for the top drama schools in London in order to experience spending some time abroad.
Accepted to study at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, he moved to London, where his career soon skyrocketed, as he got his first agent already during his drama school showcase.
“For those not familiar with what a showcase is, essentially, during your last year at drama school, you are in your end-of-the-year play, to which the school invites industry professionals such as agents, casting directors and producers,” Emmanouel explains.
After the show, he was approached by an agent who asked him to meet him again at his office the next day — and that appointment concluded in an offer for representation.
Eventually, his first role after drama school was on stage, in “Dangerous Liaisons”, where he played the part of Valmont, portrayed in the respective Hollywood film by “the superb John Malkovich,” he recalls.
“This is one of my fondest memories — not only was I acting on the London stage as a professional actor, but also in a part that I had loved for years!” the Greek actor states.
Overcoming foreign language barrier in acting
Emmanouel stresses that the biggest advantage for an actor living in London is that they are in a metropolis where it is very likely that, at some point, they will get to audition for top international productions, including series and films that address the global audience.
At the same time, though, he was very aware from the start that it is not easy for any actor to work in a foreign country and become established in a profession in which language is a key tool.
“In Greece, as an actor, I could play everything. But in the UK, I was put in a very specific box, that of the Mediterranean/Latin guy, and one would barely consider me for anything else. This was something that of course bothered me but I had to accept and try to use as an advantage,” he says.
Especially in the first few years after graduating from drama school, Emmanouel constantly auditioned for parts of Mediterranean or Latin lovers, thugs or terrorists.
“In the more recent years, I’ve noticed that this mentality is slowly changing and that producers/directors/casting directors are becoming more open with their casting decisions.
“I feel that I’m slowly coming out of the “box” of the Mediterranean stereotype and that now, I’m occasionally chosen for parts that I would not have even been considered for in the past,” he observes.
Manolis Emmanouel cast in first-class international productions
The first “truly international” part for Emmanouel was the role of Sotos in two episodes of ITV’s period drama The Durrells in season one, filmed on the Greek island of Corfu. In the UK alone, the series’ episodes were watched by 10 million people weekly.
“I remember clearly taking the plane to Corfu, where we were filming, listening to my own voice asking me to fasten my seatbelt — as I have been the on-board Greek voice of EasyJet since 2005 — and feeling ecstatic.
“Then, working with a combination of lovely and talented Greek and UK actors and crew was such a valuable experience, and that was all before the series even became this massive global success.”
He makes special mention of working with “the lovely Keeley Hawes, such a generous, kind actress, with an incredible sense of humor.”
In 2019, Emmanouel would again return to Greece cast for another high-end international production, the dark comedy “Greed,” recently added to the library of top VoD platforms Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
He calls his participation in this movie a unique experience, also because he was the only Greek among UK and US actors – most of whom he had admired and been following their careers for ages.
“I was directed by one of my “heroes”, Michael Winterbottom, and I was part of a cast that included people like Steve Coogan, an incredibly fast mind with a lot of knowledge and strong political and social beliefs;
“Isla Fisher, as funny in her personal life as in her movies; Asa Butterfield, who is one of the most talented, smart and modest people I have ever met; and Stephen Fry, who loves Greece and I could hear him talking for endless hours about everything”.
This part in Greed absolutely changed Emmanouel as a professional, he says.
“I did experience being in the biggest production I’d ever been part of, been treated as an equal to A-list stars and had to be at the top of my game because the stakes were the highest they’d ever been in my professional life.”
Foreign stars’ impression of filming in Greece
While filming in Greece for Greed, Emmanouel felt like a host, too, in a way.
“Whenever (the cast and crew) needed to ask something about Greece or Greek — some of them were making the effort to use a few Greek words, when ordering food for example — I was the first person they turned to. It was a unique position I was in.
“At the same time, hotel staff, locals and tourists that approached us, felt that it was easier to speak to me first before approaching the others. I guess that’s because, again, they felt more at ease with someone that they knew spoke their language,” he explains.
“They all adored working in Greece. Winterbottom and Coogan actually decided there and then to film the next of their “Trip” series in Greece, which they did a few months later. They really enjoyed the natural beauty, the food, the hospitality — and of course the weather”, Emmanouel reveals.
Also, from recent conversations he has had in the broader international audiovisual industry, the actor agrees that Greece has indeed become one of the most desirable destinations for filmmakers.
“The combination of the amazing locations it offers for filming and tax breaks that the Greek government has introduced for international productions, has put it on the top of the list for many production companies and I’m very aware that there are some massive UK and US films being shot there as we speak.”
Upcoming projects and acting in Greek
Although Emmanouel doesn’t have “an idol as such,” he admits there are tons of people in the industry that he admires lots and that he’d love to work with.
“I have been lucky to have already met and worked with some of these people. But indicatively, actors whose work I’ve always admired and I’d be chuffed to co-star with, include names such as Sir Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Emma Thomson, Meryl Streep, Leonardo Di Caprio… the list can go on and on,” he states.
Currently in London, Emmanouel has already been seen for two big series that will take start in 2022, whilst also working on a play co-written with a friend, and hoping to put on next spring.
A new video game will be released in a few months, in which he plays one of the main characters.
Having spent most of his summer in Greece, where he met with various industry professionals, he is also in conversations for projects that — if they come to fruition — will bring him back in Athens, filming, very soon.
“This is really something I have missed, acting in my native language — I have never actually done it and I’m really excited with the prospect”, he concludes.