Its 12:21 pm
Welcome to an another edition of “8 Questions with…..”
Today we’re heading back down to Australia to talk with our next guest,the very skilled and well rounded actor and family man Val Athanassiou. This is easily one of the best interviews I have run since I started doing these chats here. Val is not only a dad,husband and working actor but I would also say he is damn near close to a one man McGuyver as one can possibly get.
Val is not only busy developing projects and acting in them,he enjoys learning and teaching others what he has learned. You’ll hear about his current passion,The 100″ and I included a link to it as well.
I count myself lucky in getting a chance to chat with Val,he was one of the 55 who answered my request and in the chaos that followed,I neglected to follow up,when I asked again and Val answered again,I knew I had to make it right and we’re all the much better for it. I really hope you’ll follow Val on his various platforms because he moving fat and no one will want to get left behind……
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your current project.
First and foremost, thank you very much for the opportunity. My full name is Valence Anthony Athanassiou (named after various predecessors and familial Francophiles, apparently), it all got cut back to Val Athanassiou, because business cards can be only so wide. I am considering a further reduction to Val Athens, however this might contribute to a stern paternal warning and potential disinheritance.
Reality check; I have children, four (rhymes with no more), and I have dedicated my life to working as an Actor and Film-maker in an industry that I love and adore, an industry that I believe has never been more exciting and ripe with opportunity (Apple TV+, Disney +, plus, plus, anyone, anyone?) Heck I even worked for the companies that make the stuff, Warner Bros, Fox, Roadshow, including stints in video and record stores, just to keep my fingers and toes all well and truly dipped,
Several projects are on the boil; my passion project is The 100, which is essentially (from the press release), “..a digital archive for generations to access without restriction. Visual and audio recordings offering an insight into the minds and hearts of women and men, no matter race, colour, creed or persuasion, having experienced great challenges, greater conflicts, however, focusing on personal achievements during and post military service. We give you the Veteran and the modern Peacekeeper and Peacemaker.”
It is still in proof of concept stage, but we add interviews when we can secure them, and our goal is to source funding to the tune of $30,000 to kick the project into a higher gear. The project will be auspiced by Films4Change (F4C). I also assist my new found friends and colleagues within the war veteran community by volunteering my skills to produce content for their social awareness campaigns.
My regular gig is Digital Futures. This initiative originated with my wonderful F4C colleagues, on the Central Coast of New South Wales as Recovery through Film and Food, a program tailored for children, teenagers and adults with special needs and/or from troubled backgrounds, designed to provide an open and non-judgmental environment for participants to explore their life experience, their interests, and empower them with the tools, the guidance and the venue to produce and showcase their very own short films whilst nourishing body and soul with a simple and practical approach toward food, lifestyle and healthy eating.
Digital Futures is Melbourne based now, focussing more on teenagers with special needs, developing their skills in film, photography, animation and simple story telling, and is supported and sponsored by two not for profit organisations Burke & Beyond and Kew Learning Centre.
I also have a work in progress based on the true story of Italian immigrants, leaving their country of birth to seek a new life in Australia, and while struggling to eke out an existence, their families are bound together by a common love for, among other things, Opera, founding one of the earliest musical theatres in Melbourne. Might be a short film, might be a documentary, I’m not sure at this stage but it is classic stranger in a strange land story for me.
Other than that I am perpetually looking for training in another discipline or creating my next monologue, duologue, short film, showreel scene (a lot of the work is filmed and edited by yours truly), however I have found a few kindred souls, particularly one stupidly creative individual, who goes by the unlikely nom de plume of Rokk Lattanzio, and his team at Vociferous Productions, to collaborate with.
What was it like growing up in Australia? What are your fondest memories growing up?
Evan Jones got it right when he wrote “Sweat, dust and beer … there’s nothing else out here mate!” but for me, Broken Hill, most famous for George Miller and his Mad Max excesses and, subsequently, Cootamundra, are towns that are etched in my subconscious with memories of running free with a big, black, overly protective Labrador named Nero, houses and cars left unlocked, everyone seemingly willing to help each other, even if they didn’t particularly like each other, tall fences, tall school teachers, charcoal briquettes for heating, backyard incinerators, Dads Renault 16TS and, yes, lots of dust.
Your skill set is off the chain, its clear you love education, when did you become aware that you loved to study and learn? What were your favorite subjects in school?
Well Thank You. My Dad, a Romanian born Greek, was a surveyor for the NSW Railways, a mathematician with a love of language and culture, Mum (an Aussie born Italian) was a dress maker who taught herself how to speak Greek and taught others how to speak Italian, my favorite Uncle a well-travelled, highly intelligent (seriously phone-a-friend intelligent) journalist, my favorite Aunt was a Television producer. They all switched careers at some point, Mum and Dad most markedly, becoming restaurateurs, but they all went on learning, seeking, striving and surviving. I believe this impressed upon me a thirst to acquire knowledge and then impart it, often as a volunteer (firefighter, coast guard, justice of the peace, firearms instructor) and that is what I continue to strive for. Personal development, actor toolkit, call it what you will, I have tried to take any downtime and use it surgically and significantly by becoming trained and accredited in another field of endeavor. I’m currently pursuing certifications and permits for certain types of firearms, high explosives, high risk machinery operation and I want a Jet Ski license. Do I earn money with my high risk qualifications? Not at the moment, but, I was able to help out a friend who recently needed a forklift operator for a day. I charged him a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. I find it extremely fulfilling and satisfying, learning something new, particularly if I am able to pay it forward in some way. It would most certainly be considered a mid-life crisis if I had only recently started the journey. I loved French and Chemistry in high school, hated Greek in primary school, but I’m thankful I was force fed it.
How old were you when you discovered acting and what did you do in order to become an actor?
I reckon I was about ten years old and was thoroughly convinced that I needed to tell high concept stories in front of (and eventually from behind) a camera. I had developed a love of science fiction, having been relentlessly exposed to all sorts of things that Dad watched, Twilight Zone re runs, Star Wars (my first cinema experience), Star Trek TMP (my first drive-in experience). I read (Starlog, Cinefantastique, comics by the bucket load) watched (Space 1999, The Avengers) and listened (aural film histories) to everything I could buy, borrow and steal (packets of Planet of The Apes bubble gum cards). I borrowed Dads cameras and wasted soooo much film, I snuck into the local theatre to watch the Marx Brothers, Buck Rogers (of the Gil Gerard flavor) and Battlestar Galactica, gosh I must have seen them a good twenty times each. After high school it was nonstop learning for me, drama school, NIDA, Screenwise, Howard Fine, even those day classes that Equity offer. Learning how to light a set, learning how to swing a boom, learning how to edit that beautifully shot but ultimately emotionally empty 4k vanity piece, it’s all I want to do, all the time.
Act. Learn. Film. Create.
My journey, has taken me through Sydney and now Melbourne which is proving to be fertile ground. Victoria is very much ahead of the game; progressive, supportive and collaborative within the spheres of the arts, entertainment and the mental health sector.
What is challenging to you, live theater or doing a film and what are the biggest differences between the two?
Theater remains a challenge for me, even though my training was originally and predominantly stage based, it has always intimidated me. You can’t yell “CUT”. You can’t have another take. Ay, there’s the rub. To be sure, there is something refreshing about standing on the precipice in that respect and it hasn’t stopped me, over the years I became a Short and Sweet junkie, even pursuing musical theatre for a time, but it still scares me. Case in point; I did several performances at NIDA one year. We all had multiple roles, we rehearsed that thing until we bled. Those marks were hit, those lines were perfected, those performances were oh so polished, but I got stage fright EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.
Do you feel the Australian film industry is too dependent on same small core of stars and doesn’t develop new talent well enough?
Gosh, it can seem that way at times. Our industry has been referred to as cottage, insular, parochial, near sighted, personally I don’t feel that way, but I understand why certain actors are always on our screens; they are loved, they are respected, they are taken for granted, they are proactive and they make their own stuff. We see that familiar face and we take comfort in it. It can be self-fulfilling and self-defeating in the same cycle, however; I had the privilege of working with one of my idols a couple of years ago, he came to me and said “G’day Val, great audition mate” and he proceeded to just plain be himself. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I left that set thinking, I hope you are on my screens for the next hundred years.
However, I can’t stress enough, as per my previous remark, (I even recorded a short clip expressing this) it is such an exciting time to be an actor, a film-maker, a creative, #inserthashtaghere, what with the media behemoths who figured out that the only way to sate the ravening, voracious appetite for content on their respective platforms is to
I liken it to a period in my life when I was firmly entrenched in sales and marketing for Warner Bros and Roadshow, during the advent of the compact disc and the digital versatile (video) disc, and how they truly revolutionized the entertainment industry. The quantum leap from the preceding technologies (sorry BluRay was not that great a leap) saw the creation of jobs and entire departments and supply chains, in order to deal with the demand which, in the early days, was constantly outstripping supply. I remember sitting next to one of the producers of the beloved series FRIENDS, commenting “how on earth are we going to get all of our back cat out on DVD in time for Christmas”. Sure, these days it’s all in the bargain bin and on my laptop, but I can’t help thinking, someone had a job, someone got a royalty payment and someone (the ‘complete-ists’ as we used to call them) bought two copies, one to unwrap, and one to sit on the shelf, to this day wrapped in yellowing plastic. Hmmm..sounds like someone I know.
My dear, fellow creative, you are your own best marketing department, your opportunities are no longer limited by geography, the self tape is de rigueur, and the amount of content that is coming down the pipe has only one downside;
You will never be able to watch everything that you want to. EVER!
What three people have influenced you the most in your life and how did they do so?
Certainly Mum and Dad and my beloved Uncle Frank and Aunt Helen. (Sorry that’s four) for the reasons that I outlined in Q3.
You trained as a Rural Firefighter, did you ever see any action and if so, what did you take away from your experience?
I was probably the most destructive Rural Firefighter that the Central Coast of New South Wales had on offer. During one particularly tricky back burn, I damaged a CAT 9 vehicle, by breaking the holy grail of “if you can’t get out by going forward, don’t go forward”, although in my defense, I was concerned for my colleagues trying to stop a fence-line from being engulfed, and the resulting 29 point turn to get both the nozzle in the right direction and the vehicle in the other right direction, damaged both the vehicle and the aforementioned fence. Stupid fence. An hour later during a spot fire recce, I took down an overhead phone line and nearly tipped a CAT 5. Oh, I also lost an igniter full of gas (petrol) on one of the fire fields. Tend to explode them igniters…Stupid fence.
..aaaanyway, I learned, that, as well prepared as you may be, and as confident as the station Captain is in your ability and sensibility all because you passed your flash fire test with flying colors, you are only kidding yourself when you think you can control the elements (your confidence is your weaknesssss) with pathetic little hoses. Climate is what you hope for, weather (and overconfidence) is what you get.
As an aside, the last time I saw ‘action’, I was in full PPE (protective gear) for a series of self-deprecating photo-ops, in my backyard, when lo and behold a fire alarm from a neighbors property, signaled, as it turned out, a rather nasty kitchen fire. Well, I of course attended with much vim and vigor, trusty Type ABE by my side, only to be roundly castigated by the attending station Captain, and rightly so. What was a NSW Rural Firefighter doing in Ferntree Gully, Victoria? As penance, I’ll join the ranks of the Victorian Country Fire Authority one day. If they don’t read this Q & A.
What does “family” mean to you?
Food. Fun. Fallback. We don’t inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
Which are your three favorite character types to play and why?
The “Angry Young Man”. I am perpetually intrigued by the tendency to blame everything and everyone else as a way to assuage guilt. C’mon…you broke it…you own it dude!
The “Soldier”. This is purely for fun, and a way to live vicariously through my art. I wanted to be one and of course I never will be.
The “Dad”. This represents an endless array of archetypes. An assassin, an adulterer, a clown, all Dads, all the time.
How do you balance your busy professional schedule with raising a family?
I don’t. I just take it day by day. Hope springs eternal.
I hope the auditions, the callbacks, the wardrobe calls, the shoot dates, and the masterclasses, don’t interfere with the day job, and when they do, will my employer be cool…again? I hope my long suffering wife will be able to drop everything…again, or ask her family to, (my family resides in NSW).
I hope my agent will continue to love and support me, because she and she alone knows that this is a real job!
This is why it behooves me to create my own opportunities, being beholden only to myself (and my long suffering wife, and agent)
I will say this, please choose your moments. By that, I mean, relish the little slices of opportunity (not death, dear Edgar Allen) found in, say, that train ride to the audition, that tram ride to the callback, that bus trip to the wardrobe call, they all represent down time. Read one of those free articles from Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Backstage, that chapter about Chekov (Pavel or Anton), listen to that podcast, watch that music video, or just plain close your eyes and run over those lines one more time.
Yes, time poor, over caffeinated, stressed out, we log in, vote up and conk out, but you know what, I have four children, I’m over-leveraged, under-appreciated and seeking fulfillment in the artistic equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru test, yet my blood pressure remains low, because of those moments, and because I choose to do something that makes me want to get out of bed every single day.
I also, find comfort in my belief that I, you, we, all of us, will eventually get to that special place, through nothing more than a solid work ethic and little bit of luck, just breathe, baby, breathe…
Your three favorite vocalists/bands and what makes them special?
Billy Joel, only because it was my first live concert. Virgin territory. Front row. Handshake. Gentleman.
Jackson Browne. My Warner Bros credentials got me back stage and I could not believe how unassuming and humble this guy was, I went back to work the next day and ordered everything in his back catalogue. Oh and Bonnie Raitt was there too. Blessed.
Joni Mitchell. Because Joni Mitchell.
The cheetah and I are flying in to watch you do a new play but we are a day early and you’re now our tour guide,what are we doiing?
My wife’s cousin works at Melbourne Zoo, so cheetah off you go.
Let’s do a loop, starting with The Hatter and The Hare, the best darn coffee and cake (Agent Cooper darn fine) in Bayswater, then to Eastland in Ringwood, because my wife works there and I want you to meet her, off to Chadstone Shopping Centre, because Capitalism.
To the CBD to wander around aimlessly through back alleys and laneways, where you could get lost but never go hungry, Federation Square, ACMI, this speakeasy, that speakeasy, take a tram ride, just because, and finally emerging to visit the Shrine of Remembrance.
Back through Kew to meet some of my work colleagues. I would then head for the hills, the Dandenong Ranges, taking in SkyHigh, the vineyards, Sassafras for some seriously fine food sampling, then coming down the other side to visit my wife’s Aunty Shirl, and take in some horse-riding and the odd bit of target shooting. Whew! Off to rehearsals we go.
Thank you so much Val for giving me a chance to do this interview and for taking the time to seriously have a proper chat!
Below are Val’s links to his various pages and websites….
Val’s IMDb page
Val’s Facebook page
Val’s Vimeo page
Val’s YouTube page
Digital Futures Facebook Page.
Feel free to leave a comment below….if you have a story,a film,wish to send the cheetah some goodies,find us in the “Contact” section.