by Sherif Awad
She was born into the film business, the family name synonymous with film in Greece; her grandfather, a film director, producer and distributor having founded Spentzos Films in the 1940s; his three sons carrying on the company to the present. Her mother from Canada and her father from Greece, met romantic comedy-style at the Cannes Film Festival. Tess attended her first film at the age of seven days and grew up spending many a night on the back of her father’s motorcycle making the rounds of the family cinemas in Athens. She had caught the film bug and remains forever fascinated by the drama and the spectacle of the silver screen. Tess began acting in commercials at a very young age and was introduced to working in film through her first role at the age of sixteen in the Hollywood production YOUNG ALEXANDER THE GREAT (2010) shot in Egypt. Over the years, Tess has acted in various films across Europe and Canada, watching and learning while on set from such incredible talents as James DʼArcy (MASTER AND COMMANDER), Colm Meaney (HELL ON WHEELS), Lauren Cohan (THE WALKING DEAD), Sam Heughan (OUTLANDER), and Riccardo Scamarcio (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2), as well as getting the chance to work with talented directors such as Darren Lynn Bousman on SAW IV, and Academy Award-winning director for Best Foreign Language Film, Costas Gavras, in EDEN IS WEST. In 2012, Tess landed her first lead role in the psychological thriller LURK as ‘Ann.’ This film held its first public screening in 2013 as part of the Athens International Film Festivalʼs Opening Night: “A showcase for films making new trends and discovering new talent not yet internationally known.” The film was well-received. Greece’s top cinema magazine wrote: “Tess Spentzos gives a riveting, pithy performance in which she evokes images of a classic vamp in the 60ʼs style of Grace Kelly or the more modern Sharon Stone.” (CineMAD, 24 September, 2013). When the film was officially released at the Athens Horror Film Festival, fans enthusiastically awarded Tess the title of ‘Scream Queenʼ. Tess completed filming her second feature playing the lead role of ‘Beckyʼ in THE LIGHT TOUCH, a comedy in English shot in Greece, directed by Robert MacLean, produced by Claudio Castravelli and is due for release in 2020. And most recently, Tess completed filming on the film ISTHMUS. Directed by known Iranian director Abdolreza Kahani, it is also due for release later in 2020. Sherif Awad, founder of www.MeetingVenus.com met Tess Spentzos online. But also it was more than ten years ago when Awad visited the set of her early film YOUNG ALEXANDER THE GREAT when it was shooting in Media City, Cairo:
-”What a small world! Yes, I was in that film YOUNG ALEXANDER and I was filming in Cairo at the time…”, said Tess. “We might have passed each other in the hallway while you were visiting the set and not known. In this film directed by Jalal Merhi, I had the opportunity of playing Penelope and to work and be a part of a great cast such as Sam Heughan and the late Christopher Cazenove just to name a few. As for the experience of living and working in Cairo for almost three months unforgettable, it was such a unique and wonderful experience, one I hold so closely to my heart. I have made some good friends in Cairo and we still keep in touch today. I’ll always remember the hospitality and the warmth of the people in such a vibrant and alive city, so rich in culture and beautiful history. I have actually had the chance to visit Cairo a couple of times as a teenager for athletic school tournaments that would take place between the International schools. Then, a few years later, I returned back to Cairo for the filming of YOUNG ALEXANDER directed by Jalal Merhi where I had the opportunity to film at the beautiful Media City film studios in Cairo. Also, a lot of people don’t know this about me but I have always had a special place in my heart for Cairo as my grandmother from my father’s side was of Greek-Egyptian origin, born and raised in Cairo and I remember her telling me stories of growing up there. So, I guess you can say, Cairo has always felt like a little piece of home and I really hope to visit again sometime”.
-Filming THE LIGHT TOUCH in Greece is fun as it is where I grew up for most of my childhood and my teen years. I very much enjoy working there. I’m always fascinated by the beauty of the locations and places I get to see when I’m filming in Greece, parts of Greece that I may not have seen or visited otherwise. Now productions and film sets in Greece may be a lot smaller than the productions in North America but what I love is that because of that and having to work with they have, Greeks can be really resourceful when it comes to finding alternate ways of making movie magic happen whether it’s finding solutions to get a shot done within a smaller budget and have a grand effect, finding off grid locations worthy of a Hollywood set or coming up with props etc. They love the arts and that moves me!
-I’ll also never forget my experience filming the psychological thriller LURK directed by Vassilis Katsikis. I played ‘Ann,’ a distressed woman while grieving her father’s sudden death starts losing touch with reality, of what is real and what is not. In the film there are some scenes which take place in a mental health institution and I remember arriving to set and going through these big gates with a sign saying in big letters Mental Health Institution and then being informed we were filming in an actual working mental health institution. A whole section of the institution that was vacant at the time had been closed off for filming. During filming I can remember hearing some of the mental patients on the other side of the wall having manic episodes and all this while we were filming something that brought me tingles as it was real. They were real people and real screams not actors. I can say it was a whole new experience for me and it definitely helped me dive straight into the role and get quickly familiarized with the space as it was the real deal like out of a Hitchcock film or something. The rest of the film other than the scenes shot at the Mental Health Institution was then shot at a retreat resort called ‘Apolimeni Petra,’ which was closed to tourists for the season and rented out by production and was located in the isolated area of Taxiarchis in the northern region of Thessaloniki in Greece. As you can imagine there was hardly any phone reception so communication with the real world was very limited for the thirty days we were filming. It was quiet, dark and lonely on location but perfect for the mood and feel of the film. What I loved about this experience and working on this film was the unique way director Vassilis Katsikis approached the whole process by placing you directly in the environment and space he envisioned throughout his process and this really made you feel ever so present in the moment when filming.
And more recently an experience I had while filming in Athens, Greece was in the film, ‘The Light Touch,’ I remember some market scenes that had to be filmed in public were quite tricky to get because in the film, I play a pick pocket someone who steals and although all actors involved in the scene knew what was happening the public did not know. And of course, their natural reaction to a thief is to try and stop them or become aggressive. So, while we were filming a scene and reaching the end of the take an older man in the market who was not part of the production grabbed my arm and started yelling that I’m a thief and that he was going to call the police. I was in shock as I didn’t expect this and I tried to explain to him that we were filming and this was all part of the script but he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t let go of me. The producer and director immediately rushed over and spoke to the older gentleman and explained to him what was happening and showed him the permit they had to film there. Once he was truly convinced and he understood we were filming and that it was all part of a script he smiled and finally let go of my arm. We all had a laugh in the end. It just comes to show there a good honest people out there willing to stop a thief or an actor pretending to be a thief… So filming and being a part of a film no matter where it is filmed is always an experience on its own and even though every film is different the work you do is vital in helping you evolve as an actor and become the actor you want to be today. I have had the pleasure of working with some incredible people with great talent, cast and crew. Overall, my experience working in Greece is so memorable and I’m forever grateful.
-I always wanted to try modeling because of my mother being a model at one point in her career and in some way, I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps, make it a mother-daughter thing. I soon discovered I wasn’t tall enough for runways and so instead I worked mostly on print ads for fashion designers, real estate, corporate, photographers etc. and TV commercials starting at the young age of one for companies such as Pampers diapers, baby milk, … etc among others. As for my cinematographic side and being behind the lens, I shot a short film a while back when I was in school and fell in love with the whole process of storytelling, watching your vision unfold and it all come together. In the more recent years, I have been mostly assisting friends with their projects but I’ve been wanting to get back to it and shoot something of my own. I’ve started brainstorming ideas and I’m really hoping to revisit the director’s chair and produce something of my own really soon. I’ll have to keep you posted!
-My background is definitely a mix. On my mother’s side I’m Scottish, Irish, English and a bit of French and on my father’s side Greek and Greek-Egyptian. What is interesting is that somehow both sides of my family were in some way involved in the arts whether it was painting or film and cinema. In particular my grandfather Christos Spentzos on my father’s side loved film so much he started his own film production company, Spentzos Films and opened up his own movie theatre in the center of Athens, Greece in 1942 and to this day remains of the very few classical movie theatres left there. To this day I still visit and walk the halls of this classical movie theatre my grandfather loved so very much. The feeling is of great meaning to me, sometimes I think of it as travelling through time and keeping a beautiful memory alive. So, I guess you could say I got the ‘film bug’ from my family after all. (Laughs)
-I got interested in the arts and becoming an actor at a young age. I was definitely influenced by my family’s love for the arts and cinema and because of that I was exposed to it early on. I’ll never forget the smell of popcorn and watching countless films while waiting for my father to finish work at our family owned cinema in Athens, Greece. There I often dreamt of someday being on the silver screen among the great talents. I feel that spending time roaming the halls, watching films, hanging out in the projection room watching the reels of film feed through as it was still film back then; all that had a huge impact on me and my appreciation for film and the arts and got me interested in the world of acting and cinema
-This is a tough question about role models as there are so many inspirations however if I had to name a few I would have to mention some of my biggest inspirations and role models such as Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Michelle Williams, Frances McDormand, Al Pacino and from directors Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, Guillermo del Toro and Yorgos Lanthimos…I’ll stop there because I could go on and on as there are so many great talents I look up to.
-As an actor I feel like I am always seeking new ways of learning and enriching my soul with experiences. In my journey to becoming an actor I’ve learned so much from every single class I’ve taken, every acting coach I’ve worked with, every audition I’ve been to and every job I’ve worked on. My motto is, “practice makes perfect and there is always room for growth and improvement”.
Early on in school I started signing up for speech competitions against other schools to work on being comfortable on stage and talking to a big crowd. I took after school drama classes, movement and dance, vocal lessons and I attended as many castings and auditions and worked as much as possible in the acting world. All these things combined provided me with the perfect environment for me as a performer to be able to stretch my creative muscles and practice my craft.
As I like to say, “Acting is a craft and is served best brewed with experience.”
-I’m so grateful I get to do what I love! So, I have to say it is satisfying for me now because I get to act and acting is my passion and the most important thing is that I get the chance to do what I love and that is always satisfying. Now if I were to achieve stardom worldwide it would be a huge honor to have my work recognized to that extent. I think that it is every actor’s dream to be able to inspire and move the audience through their performance alone, then if you were to be recognized for it and create a following worldwide that’s a whole other journey of magic. I think it would also mean a much busier work schedule which means working on more films and I’m always happy to be filming.
-In recent years I haven’t faced any challenges related to my gender and I feel it has to do a lot with people speaking up and creating awareness in the matter only changing things for the better within the entertainment industry. And as more and more women and men in the industry speak up it is only a matter of time gender issues vanish once and for all changing this world for the better allowing both genders to be able to focus solely on their craft doing what they love most without facing any issues regarding gender.
-In Canada, at the moment the entertainment industry has been booming and there has only been a rise in productions year by year and more contracts being signed for filming in Canada. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are the leading cities and hubs for production and in high demand having attracted companies such as Netflix and Amazon to open up their own studios there creating even more jobs and opportunities for everyone in the industry.
-I like to approach the work offered to me with an open mind and I’m always looking for any information that may be important in developing my character. I enjoy doing my research and I like to read the script over and over to help me better understand the story being told and to make sure I didn’t miss anything. It’s my responsibility to bring my character to life and do the writer/viewer justice. The key is finding what the action of my character is and why it is important to the story. Often when I’m reading a script, I’ll walk around the room trying out my lines to get a feel for them; I like to play around with them and movement and look at different options while working on character development so my instinct can pick up on what feels more natural and that really puts into perspective what works and what doesn’t.
-Honestly speaking for myself it all comes down to a good life/work balance, good organizational and time management skills. Making the time when needed and where it’s needed is very important to recognize as well even if that means less sleep sometimes. You have to put in the effort and make things happen. Also, it really helps to have a good positive attitude, a good sense of humor and a great support system in your partner, family and your friends. I’m lucky in that sense and my partner and family and friends are great always willing to step up to share the load when needed. You need people in your life who understand if you have to be away filming for a long period of time or if you’re rehearsing at home running lines at dinner talking to yourself and look completely crazy doing it. (Smiles)
-At the moment there are a couple of projects in discussion and some auditions coming up for a couple films due to shoot in the summer. Also, the film I worked on recently called ISTHMUS directed by known Iranian director Abdolreza Kahani is in post-production and to be released later in the year.