The dashingly charming Spiros Halikiopoulos is based on a real-life friend of the actual Durrell family during their time on the island of Corfu. It’s a big help for the cast and viewers alike that actor Alexis Georgoulis finds charm to spare in his portrayal of the unofficial mayor of the island. In an exclusive interview, Georgoulis offers a special behind-the-scenes look at his work on The Durrells in Corfu.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
For most of The Durrells in Corfu, one could make the case that Spiros Halikiopoulos is the cheeriest man on the island. Always ready with a hearty welcome and a speedy car to help bring voyagers new and old to their destinations, Spiros represents the generous spirit of Corfu.
Spiros: Larry is a bastard.
Larry: Now who wrote that?
Spiros: And the bigfoot, bighead!
Jace: Lately, however, things are less cheery for Spiros. His wife — never seen on screen — has left him, taking his equally-unseen children away from their island home and leaving the unofficial mayor of Corfu in the dumps.
Spiros: My wife has left me.
Louisa: Oh Spiros…
Spiros: And taken the children to her mother in Athens.
Jace: Alexis Georgoulis is a superstar in his native Greece. But for many American viewers, The Durrells in Corfu is their first exposure to the dynamic actor. It’s a debut hurdle he’s happy to clear.
Alexis Georgoulis: I totally feel that I am in the place that I really like…and I catch myself like saying that like twice a year that this is the best the occupation that I could ever have.
Jace: Georgoulis joined us to discuss working with Keeley Hawes, driving vintage cars on narrow Corfiot roads, and possible new romance yet to come in the upcoming season finale of The Durrells in Corfu.
Jace: And this week we are joined by The Durrells in Corfu star Alexis Georgoulis.
Alexis: Hello. How are you?
Jace: What did you initially make of the character of Spiros when you were beginning the first season of The Durrells?
Alexis: Because we’re talking about a real person, the first thing that I wanted to do is to learn more about this person. Then trying to put this person inside of me and you know, create a new character. And the first episodes, it was kind of the, you know, the typical Greek man of that time, as it were, it was kind of very loud, very open-hearted, kind of, you know, always happy and there’s no problem that we can’t fix. And while I was you know dealing with the Durrells family, I started to feel that this person is going to change, this person has a lot of kind of interest in this family and he’s going to you know like change feelings, more energy and he’s going to be like a different person. And that feeling that I had probably creates something inside of me and creates a different character, you know, while we were you know, going on in the story. So now I feel that this person is more likable to Louisa, more friendly. He’s like part of the family. And I think that they I mean the family have more feelings, better feelings and deeper feelings for this person.
Jace: Now you mentioned that Spiros is a real life figure, and that’s something many listeners might not realize. He did in real life help the Durrells when they emigrated to Corfu in the 1930s. How much did you learn about the real life Spiros?
Alexis: This person learned English while he was in Chicago. He went to Chicago to find like a better life, something like that. He bought his car over there and then he went back to Corfu to continue his life with the car that he got from the United States. He was like the first taxi driver, I mean, with a car, with you know, a real car, not like you know, with horses. And he had a family that he was very, you know he loved his family a lot. He had two children and a wife, and we don’t know a lot of things through the books. So I, you know, stopped there, I didn’t try to find out more about his life. I tried to figure out what’s going on with the person that the writer has imagined and inspired. So those are like the basic information that I had from from his real life. And a part that he was kinda very loud person, and he loved the British and hated the Turks in a way, back in the days, you know the situation was kind of you know very not very comfortable.
Jace: When we first meet him when he’s driving that magnificent 1929 American car down the Corfiot streets. What is it like driving that car, and what does that car say about Spiros as a character?
Alexis: It was amazing especially for me, you know driving this car, and I would say that it wasn’t very hard to drive it. At first I was a little bit afraid that I won’t be able to you know to drive you know very easily so I can show that this car is so mine is like my second nature. I feel that it was at ease still, like a part of me. For Spiros, I realized that he had this special relationship with his car. He loved his car a lot. And I think he has, you know, this kind of phrase that no one can drive my car. I am the only driver. He’s like, you know, like my wife you know, he’s like they have the same position, the same place — my car and my wife.
Jace: You’re the first Greek actor to place Spiros. In the two previous adaptations, a British actor and a British-Iranian actor have played the character. Is it fitting that a Greek man should play this innately Greek character?
Alexis: That was actually the the idea from the producer that they were saying that, ‘We need to give the chance to Greek actors to play Greek roles.’ And for me it was kind of a honor to have this privilege to play a Greek role, a Greek person, a real person, a Greek one, and you know bring the person into life after you know so many years.
Jace: You’ve been called the George Clooney of Greece. Do you wear that nickname comfortably?
Alexis: I didn’t. You don’t have any bad feelings about that. I still don’t have, and I feel that maybe George Clooney, like you know like what’s wrong with him? I think. Maybe it’s like Georgoulis is like George Clooney. And you know there is like a comparison there.
Jace: I mean he’s the Alexis Georgoulis of America.
Alexis: That’s more funny.
Jace: You’ve said that you felt like Spiros might have a crush on Louise when you first read the scripts for the first series, but the director told you there wasn’t anything romantic there. What did your instincts tell you about that dynamic between Spiros and Louisa?
Alexis: From the first scene that we had with Louisa. I felt that this feeling is real not only when I read it but then I felt that there is kind of a connection. I didn’t know and I still don’t know if something happened in real life between them, because there is nothing written about it in the books, but the feeling that I had from the beginning is always growing and getting deeper and stronger. I feel that I have the need, as, you know Spiros’ talking, that Louisa and Spiros had may be kind of secret connection, something, maybe I don’t know, but I feel that this is kind of a need for both of them.
Jace: This season Spiros meets a rather charming, if slightly sinister Italian family, and begins to work for them. Why does this drive such a rift between Spiros and Louisa?
Alexis: That is the big question mark, because if Louisa didn’t have any feelings about Spiros and about the place that he’s taken to the family, he wouldn’t care. But she cares a lot, and I think she’s jealous as well. And in a way, she needs her Spiros back.
Jace: Throughout the series so far, Spiros has managed to keep his work and home lives separate, keeping his family out of the spotlight. How does the breakdown of his marriage and his wife taking their children to Athens change the characters Spiros?
Alexis: I think that is something that created more space for Spiros and Louisa. I think it was like a one way direction for his family because his wife is not fulfilled for Spiros’ actions and she had to you know in a way leave him alone. And when Spiros gets alone he needs to fulfill the empty space. I think that is the dynamics that are going to we’re going to see in the next episodes.
Jace: The initial fallout from the split leads a very gloomy Spiros to make up some rather sad songs on the guitar during Gerry’s birthday party. What was it like filming these very musical scenes?
Spiros: (Singing in Greek)
Alexis: We had great fun because we couldn’t be very serious, because you know in a way, they were so sad that it was like ridiculously sad. And between the cut and the next come rolling, we all was like very loud and we were laughing and we’re trying then to be very you know into the into the moment into that feeling and we had to create also the songs, we have to make like new songs to be more original for you know a Spiros’ situation.
Jace: Is that something that you’re comfortable with, singing?
Alexis: I actually am very shy of you know singing, I’m not a singer. Even as an actor when I’m about to sing, I feel like you know being on stage the first day for a premiere. I feel that singing is taking off my clothes. And you can see my my heart, my soul and maybe this is the feeling that makes me feel kind of uncomfortable. But I really love music. I really love playing the guitar, I really love to sing as well, but I’m very shy for that, maybe I’m not prepared.
Jace: This season we get to follow Spiros home and take a peek behind the curtain into his home life which is now far messier and rather gross. And now that his family has left what was it like getting the opportunity to delve deeper into Spiros and show a very different side of his character?
Alexis: That was a very great opportunity for me, because I had you know all these so pictures in my mind and I didn’t have the chance to work on them for in a scene. So when I had this chance I felt in a way grateful exploring this character, because I could, you know, meet him in his own place. Sometimes I used to sit alone on the set and trying to feel that time, back to 1935, how he could deal with his situation his sadness because that time you know we didn’t have a lot of things to distract our minds. So we had to deal with the pain or whatever we had directly, and this confrontation for me created more information for Spiros and it took away many layers that in a way were comfort.
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Jace: I loved the scene in this week’s episode between Spiros and Louisa at the bar in the square. Spiros says he’s going to say a bad thing.
Spiros: I’m going to say a bad thing.
Louisa: Well, go on then.
Spiros: When you’re here with me, I miss my children more than wife.
Jace: What does he mean by that do you think? What is it that he’s trying to say, exactly?
Alexis: When they first read the line it was, ‘What what is that? What’s wrong with his children?’ But then I realized that that was more to his wife, that he doesn’t miss his wife and he misses only his children because Louisa takes his mind off his wife.
Jace: What is it like working with Keeley Hawes and what does she bring to those scenes between Spiros and Louisa?
Alexis: I really like to work with Keeley. I really like her work as well, and the way that she approaches her character, and the way that she deals with the shooting, with the you know everyday situations. She’s a very easy-going person. She’s open, she talks with everyone, she’s funny. She makes nice and good jokes while we are waiting for the next shot and she helped me a lot. First off, you know with acting in English and the whole you know situation that you know had to deal with with this person and you know, talk in English as well. Now we have a very nice connection and I think that we have created like a code for Louisa and Spiros, and I think that we you know, step into a different time when we are walking together.
Jace: And it’s interesting to me — your English is fantastic. You say you were nervous about acting in English and that Keeley helped. How did how did you get past that nervousness and what did Keely do to to help you?
Alexis: The first is when you act in the different language you miss the connection with the energy that the word brings. Because when I was very young, my mother used to say “Se agapó” instead of I love you. So as a kid I never heard this energy. So I have to create that like in a way to translate something. So, many times, we lose something in translation when we act, because the feeling is a dramatic process. Keeley helped me with that, because she she showed to me great compassion about that, because she can she could feel my nervousness. Like, ‘Do I pass the feeling, you know, through the line or it’s just like two separate monologues?’ I mean the feeling and the lines and because she was very present and she wanted to communicate with me, she created the connection. So she helped me a lot to have this link between the feelings and the foreign language.
Jace: When I spoke to Keeley last year, she said Spiros can’t be a suitable love interest because he’s married and he has children so he’s never really an option. And they both know it. Now that Spiros’ wife has left has it opened the door for a chance at happiness for these two least a little bit?
Alexis: That is like a very difficult question right now because we haven’t seen his wife so we can tell the difference between the two women that I have in my mind is that the connection that I have with the whole family is very strong. And that is because of Louisa. Because Louisa is like the leader of this family and she’s responsible for everything that happened to this family and all these very nice and very you know family moments that they have. Even when the whole family. When it’s going very crazy. With gunshots with the animals with you know the writings all that makes people feel that he can be part of it not just like a friend. But. Like a father kind of. He. Feels that he could be connected with Louisa directly.
Jace: I love the the scene at the end of this episode between the two of them.
Louisa: It’s my turn to be selfish. I feel lost without you.
Spiros: Well, I’m back.
Jace: What did you make of this scene and what was it like filming this particular scene with Keeley?
Alexis: For me it was kind of obvious passage between the lines. That, me and Louisa, we have created kind of, you know, a personal life between you know those two people and. We both of us, we were missing it. And when I got a bit a bit lost and you know getting drunk, very sad and try to be alone and all that, I felt vulnerable and lost as Louisa felt, and because Louisa was the one who saved me from this situation and pulled me out of this you know uncomfortable situation. I felt that we really have a connection, because not only one is helping you know just for you know very little things but into the essence as well. Because when two people can help each other and a psychological level that means that they are connected connected deeply not just because they are in the same space and we need to know something very tangible that we help each other with our hearts. We have like you know a second language or second connection, a second link that creates more humans you know relation not just people that are hanging around.
Jace: I mean what you say to fans who think of Spiro and as soul mates — are they soulmates?
Alexis: I would say yes yes yes especially in the metaphysical way but I really am anticipating for you know the next episodes that the writer is going to write and give us and see where this relationship goes.
Jace: What can you tell us about what’s coming up on this final episode of the third season?
Alexis: I will say without trying to spoil anything that we are getting very very close.
Jace: At a certain circus perhaps.
Alexis: Perhaps, Maybe.
Jace: Very very close. I mean. I feel like because something is going to happen they might still be dancing around the issue of romance, or maybe have even inched slightly closer to it.
Alexis: Yes I’m not just slightly very, very closely.
Jace: Given that Spiros is still married even if his wife has gone to the mainland with their kids, do you feel his commitment to his wife however distant might hold him back from ever getting together with Louisa?
Alexis: Spiro is an old-fashioned person. We are talking about 1935, so he believes in marriage. He feels that he has a duty that when it comes to love, when we don’t have any logic, as you know, Socrates used to say, like 2,500 years ago that the only bad actions that we need to forgive is actions in the name of love.
Jace: Given the current political climate in the US and in Britain, is it significant that a show about an immigrant family being accepted among the locals and finding their way should be so embraced?
Alexis: Yeah yeah it should be like this. And for Greeks we know. From the beginning of the Greek mentality, like in ancient times, Greeks were very with their arms open to embrace new people coming when they were coming, you know, as friends. Since ancient times we used to say that Zeus is, you know, the God of Filoxenía and that it’s called hospitality. We call it Xenia Zeus, and it means that Zeus is the god of hospitality.
Jace: Is it true that you were very nearly a civil engineer?
Alexis: Yeah I was about to be a civil engineer when I decided to make kind of a detour and trying to figure out what’s going on with my art side. And finally I became an actor.
Jace: Your father owned a shop selling lottery tickets and your mother taught nursery school. What did they make of your career aspirations at the time? What did they say when you said you wanted to be an actor?
Alexis: My mother was very sure that I would be a civil engineer and that time in Greece if you were you know if you had this occupation, you’re going to be rich. And when I told her that, you know, I’m going to to be an actor she was like, you know, totally speechless looking at me like, ‘What’s wrong with my baby?’ like that. But my father was more open minded and he told me that, ‘It’s your choice. Are you gonna pay for that or are you going to you know be the right one, this detour.’ So far I feel very fulfilled and very grateful for my actions for my you know this turning. Because I totally feel that I am in the place that I really like and I am very certain of that, and I catch myself like saying that like twice a year that this is the best the occupation that I could ever have. So I think that you know, I’m on the right on the right track.
Jace: Alexis Georgoulis, thank you so much.
Alexis: My pleasure. Thanks so much.
Jace: Elizabeth Warleggan, née Chynoweth — and formerly Poldark — has a serious problem. She’s pregnant with what should be her husband George’s second child, but his belief that all of her pregnancies arrive somewhat premature leaves her searching for secret solutions before George’s suspicions reach the point of no return.
Heida Reed: I think Elizabeth is very much a woman of her time. She’s born and bred to be a good partner for her for whoever she marries and to elevate them in society as well as herself. She was born to be admired and she or she really tries to do in life is to play that role, not always successfully, maybe.
Jace: Poldark star Heida Reed joins us next week here on MASTERPIECE Studio to explore the dramatic ups and downs that come along with playing the beautiful, conflicted Elizabeth as Poldark’s thrilling fourth season comes to an end.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking Cruises and The MASTERPIECE Trust.
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