Τhe Greek actor/stuntman of Hollywood spoke with Journalist Dimitra Bogri about the beginning of his career, his acting and his view of Greece.
–Tell us a bit about baseball and your first steps in the movie-making industry. If I am not mistaken your first role was while you were still at Louisiana State University in the film Everybody’s All-American.
–Baseball was a huge influence on my life ever since Little League. I always had great coaches from Little League to high school to college. The important skills they taught me were doing fundamentals consistently, handling pressure, and being a team player. Having those things helped me in the very competitive entertainment business.
In 1987 at LSU, they were doing a movie and were looking for LSU athletes to be a part of the football teams. Production told us if we would take football hits or deliver football hits they would pay us more money. Since I had $11 in my checking account, I raised my hand and said “I’ll do it!”. Taylor Hackford, the director of the film, is the reason I am doing this interview right now. I would not be in the business if it weren’t for him. He presented a trophy to me in front of 15,000 people at Tiger Stadium during filming. On the trophy it says, “World’s Greatest Hit Man.” After giving me the trophy he pulled me off to the side and said, “Papajohn you are very athletic and a very good guy, I think you would make a great stuntman.” After Taylor’s conversation, I consulted with my baseball coach, Skip Burtman, about moving out to Hollywood. After his approval, Taylor gave me the opportunity in the film to wear a ski mask and work with some very talented Hollywood stuntmen that further helped me in the business. Also, Taylor gave me my first speaking lines with John Goodman and Jessica Lange, which got me my Screen Actors Guild card.
-When we think stuntman we think danger. How dangerous and how hard is what you do?
Every job is different and in my experience you work closely with the stunt coordinator, the director, the actors, and other stuntmen involved in the scene and it is well rehearsed. You have to have a go for it attitude and be a team player. There is an element of danger in some stunts, but in others there are not. Some jobs are hard and some jobs are cake.
–Describe for us one of the hardest scenes you ever had to work in.
First job that comes to mind is “Waterboy”. It was a day where we had thirty set ups and I was in every shot doubling for Adam Sandler. It was a high comedy, but a very hard job that I’m very proud of.
–You have acted in a lot of movies that were successful all over the world. How do you handle fame?
-When making choices in life I’ve always thought about where I’m from, my family, and my friends. My southern roots have always kept me grounded.
–How do you decide to work on a new project? What criteria are you considering each time?
-Every project is different. I’ve worked on no budget, low-budget, and big-budget films. Every project has a different story on how I landed the job. A lot of times it’s what is going on in my personal life on what job I decide to do. I’ve taken jobs where I have made no money on films but felt a strong connection to be a part of them.
–Do you believe there is a recipe for success or do you also believe in luck?
-What I learned through sports I applied to the entertainment business. I love the feeling of having no regrets, meaning if you know you’ve given 110% you’ll let the chips fall where they fall.
–What qualities would you say one needs to have to become an actor? What is your advice to aspiring actors?
-No pun intended, but to have “never say die” attitude, meaning to be relentless, optimistic, and to never quit because if you quit acting your story will be lost. I personally enjoy coaching and mentoring aspiring actors. I started up Action Actor’s Academy where my foundation of the coaching is generosity, playing full out, relationships, training, and having fun.
–Raised in Alabama, but of Greek Origin, Tell us about both.
-My first memory about being Greek in Alabama was going to Church with my parents and watching them light a candle. I saw a sense of peace among them when they lit that candle. After seeing that, I knew I always wanted that in my life. No one is a better host than Greek people. The Greeks know how to throw a party no matter where they are from. I have always loved their passion. I remember even as a little boy always smiling with pride telling people I was Greek. Also, you can’t beat the Greek food.
–Is it difficult being a Greek in today’s world?
No, I’m so proud to be Greek. We have a passion and a love for life.
–You work with a lot of famous and infamous people in Hollywood, what is the common perception about Greece?
-When I lived in Hollywood I attended St. Sophia Church and was around a lot of Greek people in the industry. It was always very uplifting and optimistic.
–What is your message for the people back in Greece?
Keep an optimistic attitude toward life, never quit, and to always remember where you and your generational past are from. Personally, when I went to the Parthenon and looked down and saw the first theater in the world it was a moment that left a lasting impression on me.
–What are some of your plans for the near future?
I have three things I would like to accomplish in the near future. Firstly, I want to obviously continue to act. Second, I want to work on a one-man show that highlights a life-changing experience I had while being a stuntman on the Titanic. And lastly, I am a documentary filmmaker at heart and have one currently in the works that I’ve collected content for over the past 15 years. I’m moving forward with editing and excited for the story of the documentary to be a feature film down the road.