Grigoris Valtinos. (Text in greek)
"Theater is a great art that beyond profession or art it makes you wiser also in your own life."
An interview that the famous actor Grigoris Valtinos gave us at his residence.
Q: Although you are very famous, we would like you to tell us a few words of how your story begins. And it is for sure that you have a very long theater history.
A: The truth is that when someone deals in his life with performing arts, such as theater, cinema, stage, singing, opera, dancing, he obviously has it in his DNA. That does not mean that his parents should be artists. DNA plays strange games. It can be the combination, if you want, maybe what is happening has occurred afer two or three or five or ten generations from a great-grandfather who had something similar, or some great-grandmother. The truth then is that I had it in me. So that’s why I was “wandering around fire”. At school, at elementary school, I was in festivals, in choruses, in poems. Everywhere. As a greek proverb says: “Where ever there is wedding and joy, Vasilo is first”. That is to say not losing a chance to be a part of it. So we reached the last year of the six-year high school at the time, and we did not escape, neither theater nor I, because I put a play on, which I directed myself and also played. I remember, because it was a boys’ school, I was looking for a show that only men play and so I found the “BLOCK C” by Venezis. A partisan play with the bad Germans both then and now, and that was it.Everybody was telling me: “You should not get lost. You need to work in theater.” So I fell for it, and so did they.
Q: And you said that you also had directed it?
A (laughing): Yes, my first job in the theater was being a director. You know, it is the audacity of youth.
Q: And of course then you went to a dramatic school.
A: Afterwards I took the exams for the Art Theatre and the National Theatre. I passed both and chose the National Theatre. I found it more academic as a school; of more general education. And it really was. I believe it was a more complete school.
Q: And which was your first job after you finished the National Theatre?
A: (recollecting): There I auditioned for Jules Dassin and my first job-what luck, althoughI do not believe absolutely in luck for the reason that you have to be ready to exploit whatyou would encounter- was the “SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH” with Melina Mercouri and John Fertis. All this took place in 1980 in the theater “Athena” where this play was presented solemnly for the second time.
Q: Previously you said something that I noted. You said that by dealing with the theater “you played with fire”. Why did you use this expression for the theater?
A: (smiling): Because all these arts have a longing. Both by nature and also by their manifestation. Why would someone want to deal with this? One can be pulled by the trivial things in the beginning, wanting some confirmation, wanting some love, and some people that are beautiful they are clearly joining these arts due to narcissism. “Look at me, I'm handsome” etc. Some want to complete themselves. Some want to live more ives. Some want to get to know human nature better. It’s all about these things. At the beginning you may not realize everything. But it is a great art. As you go along and deepen in it, you realize more and more quality stuff. And you throw away all these cheapand shoddy things that may attract you in the beginning. See the recognition, the spotlight, the publicity maybe. I think it was deeper with me. Because I was so irrelevant to them in the sense that I had no knowledge and no experience with similar situations, but even no such people as models in my environment. I was driven purely for internal reasons. Certainly, if you will, the lack of confirmation, confidence and the need for love played an important role. Certainly there were also worthless, if you want, reasons, but I think the deeper, more substantial and stronger were the soul reasons that led me to this art... And one should consider himself blessed and happy if he can live from this art. I therefore got many joys, I got loved by the world, and I live from this job and I got educated and molded as well. I had to study life, myself, books, the theater, its history, endless plays. Later, after 10 years in the theater I started directing, which forced me to go even deeper, otherwise directing is impossible. And I also have an innate pride. I do not want to be told about something that I did not do well or that I did not made perfect orI did not spent as much time as needed on it or I did not offered it the right time. And so this fact leads me to perfectionism.
Q: That is exactly what I wanted to say as I listened carefully. Namely, that you give the impression of a perfectionist. In a good sense of course.
A: (smiling, intensely this time): I do not know if it's good or bad. It can be seen from my speech where I try to be over-analytical sometimes. Something that removes the dark spots from speech and from life and from theater and makes it more specific. I do not know, maybe it is a negative element. But it does not matter.
Q: Negative as I see it, I do not know if I'm in or out, if some others cannot maybe follow you in this perfectionism and be as “perfect” as you that you project it.
A: You know something? In theater we are soldiers. There are some laws. Both written and unwritten. The actor, since he has a “maestro”, who has a director, even if this “maestro” is in the company and is an actor himself, ie a teammate and he is acting with him, he has an incredible military discipline. He follows him. He will try with all his soul, with all his strength, with all his sweat, to reach the vision of the director, or if you like, what was jointly decided during the rehearsals. The rehearsal is a magical process. So, if you win the trust and love of your colleagues, even though you have your cake and knife and care more of yourself rather than your teammates, they will follow you faithfully, they will do as you say. Even if they discussed about it at first, even if they had some objections, if you manage to convince them that it is more correct, more aesthetic, more meaningful, more profound, they will follow you and give you their soul. This is the greatness of this art. It is a discipline. And I like discipline. Because nothing happens without discipline. Let alone theater. Theater is a great art that beyond profession or art it makes you wiser also in your own life. Your passage from the theater or as a professional, or even as an amateur, leaves you with invaluable wealth behind. Spiritual and psychical and substantial. Life wealth.... In the theater there is no past. Everything is summed. It becomes a property. It becomes a treasure. Inside you. In your mind, in your soul. And it helps you through your next choices or better yet it determines your next choice and enriches your knowledge to face the next plays... You know, if I do not fall in love with a play I cannot deal with it. I must be passionate; I must overly love it so I can give it all my soul. That's why every time I look for my next love to give myself to. And I work a project for two or three months before it gets to rehearsal, before it gets to my colleagues. And when it’s almost ready within me, I expect what I would get from the rehearsal. What I will get from the other actors. If you are better and greater than what I thought, I have no problem and no selfishness to integrate it in my direction. And indeed I would like to thank my colleagues who inspired me and enriched my imagination and gave me new ideas. I have no problem doing that. I
am not stubborn at all. I am also an actor, with the same spirit and heart that I am directing. I just want to have the “whole”, I want to have the “spherical”. Greed is in my character. Maybe my role is not enough for me and I want to play them all. Through my colleagues of course…
Q: What would make you fall in love with a play?
A: Many things. At first, the talent of the author. It plays an important role. What do I mean? A play has a structure. It has some depth. It analyzes some issues. It has a truth. I experiencea great suffering with the truth. In an art that essentially relies on lies. And sometimes in order to find the truth you must do more fake stuff, just to remove the realism, the daily routine, the redundant. Just so the truth stays only. This is it. Theatre is the temple of truth through fake tools. Well, what makes me love a play is the truth, first and foremost. Following that, its subject. What it processes. If it excites me, if it inspires me and if it’s useful for the viewers. My goal is always the spectators. And the play must have the same goal. Upon seeing that it ignores the audience, regardless of whether it’s obvious or not, it does not move me at all. And I do not enter at all into the process of highlighting it, finding its keys. Since it wants to be locked, so be it. Unless it is a large play where all the temptation lies on how you will unlock it, since the “trunk” is full of treasures.
Q: How easy or difficult is it for an actor, whatever his experience is, to direct at the same time, meaning that he can see himself somehow.
A(smiling): Yes. It is extremely difficult, especially in the beginning, to get used to this process, but when you are familiar with it you work as being both. Like being the rolethat you see along with the other roles and like being underneath the eye. You have the individual and the total together. I struggled in order to be able to work under this condition, but now I think I cannot work without it anymore.Meaning that even in a production that another colleague directs, I cannot stop myself from working as a director too. I try to restrain myself though, and make my role subsidiary or advisory sometime, if you want. Up to there. The look of the director can never leave me. It has entered into the function of the artist.
Q: Despite that, is there a risk of eventually losing something, something to escape?
A: Of course. There is the risk to lose something as an actor and as a director as well. So I have a lot of directing phases. One is the translation period, if I happen to do it myself with the help of someone who knows the language better than me of course. The translation is most of the times directing, too. To me it is very important to participate in the translation process. Unless I find a translation fully compatible with the view that I have for the play. Then I don’t need to change it in terms of the performance. I do not mean changing the text. You know, the dynamics, the power of words is an immense task. It's like changing the conductor in one of Beethoven's symphonies. It makes a difference from orchestra to orchestra and conductor to conductor. So the translation combined with the directing may have vast differences in dynamics. The moments that it wants to highlight. When I participate in the translation, I'm perfectly calm. I feel almost like havingdirected the play. Then we move to the direction part that it imposes to the translation the dynamic of the scenes. After that I spend a pure directorial phase when I prepare the show at the theoretical level. At the surgeons table so to speak. And afterwards I deliver all these preparations to the rehearsal. To the actors, their judgments, their own fantasy and their own talent, in order to go further together. So, when I enter the dual role of an actor and a director, I have worked earlier unilaterally for some time. Only as a director.
Q: Has there ever been a young actor to express an opinion, a director's opinion, and you accepted it?
A(with emphasis): Certainly. (And continues while humoring) And I deposited 50 Euros in his bank account. With this joke I want to say that I am at all times ready to accept anything.You know sometimes we are looking to find something. A title for a play, wanting a little change. A word in the translation. An idea in directing. An actor in the distribution of roles. And we often say with the company, with friends, with the assistants: “Come on, say something. Even if it’s stupid. I will think of something other than what you say. It will lead me elsewhere.” Nothing is wasted in rehearsal. Even the jokes, even the waggery. In waggery, let’s say, as a derivative of the rehearsal or the text or the interpretation or the direction, you can see possible dangers. If that something continues to cause waggery during rehearsal, it means that it is feared. That is defenseless. It wants shielding. Nothing is wasted. Let alone an opinion or an imagination of a colleague. If the colleague is young it’s even better. It is even fresher and advanced and more modern stuff. Something that we older fellows can lose along the way. We can be cut off from the modern way of expression. And you know the theater is a child of its time. We need to grow and diminish at the same time. These weird things happen to actors. They must permanently operate in opposite. I love a saying that determines too much of my directing and my playing and my general attitude to life. I often say it: “I have been trained to feel with my mind and think with my heart.” This is exactly what I do in my directing. I try to pass it down to the public. That's what I do with my acting. What I try to do in my familiarity with new things to come. Although I filter them at the same time I am open to accept them. As an integral part of evolution, of life ... After one point, I feel that part of my job is to go abroad and see other shows. Where is the theater going, where is the writing, where is the direction. And integrate, discreetly and with great sensitivity, the new trends in my own productions. And I say with great sensitivity because I am not in favor of “violent” changes in aesthetics and options. Because unfortunately,rightly or wrongly, people go a little slower than us. So you cannot violently drive them five kilometers further. And tell them: “Take note, this is the new trend. That’s the way you will see theater from now on. This is the latest fashion. Experimentation has led there.” Experimentation is extremely useful, but it is an editing stage. An early step, in most cases. It is not the end. The professional one. The professional level that is ready to be accepted by the general public.
Mr Valtinos, finishing I would like to thank you again. Let me also say that from now on we will always be at your disposal and of course do not forget to update us about this new love of yours to come into your life, at the theatre I mean.
A(smiling): When one falls in love and loves something he wants to share it. You'll be one of the first to know. Thank you for hosting me.