We are thrilled to welcome Zele Avradopoulos to SUNDOWN as the role of the family matriarch juggling her high-achieving professorial career with the decline of her partner Clara Gregg-Shea!
Zele is a veteran of the screen, from commercials to indies to big budget features. I chatted with Zele about acting challenges, Irish Catholic guilt, and her big fight scene with Kevin James in PAUL BLART: MALL COP.
Brendan: I have one question about your role in PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Who is more handsome in person – me or Kevin James?
Zele: Definitely Kevin James.
Brendan:I knew it!
Zele: It was my first feature day player role and I couldn’t have asked for a more positive experience. Did you know that Kevin James is actually quite shy? He is a gentleman, was wonderful to work with, and I can’t believe 8 years have passed since that scene.
Brendan: Do people recognize you from it?
Zele: People who know me from the past and see the film recognize me. But strangers on the street? No. I still get high school acquaintances contacting me. It’s fun.
Brendan: I was thinking of changing the name of this movie to PAUL BLART: SUNDOWN just to see if we could capitalize on your crossover appeal. Either that or STAR WARS EPISODE 8: SUNDOWN. That might be a little misleading, though.
Zele: Unless we get some light sabers and robots.
Brendan: True! I’ll run it by the lawyers. (I have no lawyers.) So what is it that you like about Clara?
Zele: Clara is an intelligent woman in a difficult situation trying to handle things as best she can. What I like most about her is she isn’t a victim. She uses her humor and has distinct relationships with her family.
Brendan: As I was writing drafts, I got more and more interested in what she must be going through. I’ve had the experience of losing a parent to dementia, but my loss pales in comparison to losing a partner.
Zele: What was the tipping point that got you to start writing this script?
Brendan: It’s been a long process and it’s been through many drafts. I started while my dad was still alive and as he deteriorated, I learned more and more about what a family goes through, so it informed the story. I think that’s why the character of Clara came more and more to the forefront – watching my mom lose her partner and best friend.
Zele: It’s what Clara doesn’t say that I find exciting. And you’ve written a script allowing us to explore. Some inexperienced writers tend to explain too much, thus not trusting the actor. You haven’t done that. Your script has so many layers which is another reason why I am so excited. How’s that for kissing your butt?
Brendan: Yes, I’m very unfamiliar with this level of appreciation. My Irish Catholic upbringing makes me suspect something horrible is about to happen.
Zele: Don’t worry- my Greek Orthodox background will make sure there is no ‘evil eye’!
Brendan: What do you think are going to be the biggest challenges of playing Clara?
Zele: Finding all her levels. Being three-dimensional. Honesty. I don’t want her to be cliche.
Brendan: All the conversations I’ve had with the actors have been about exactly that – how to keep the characters as real and grounded and honest as possible.
Zele: I don’t want to be an ‘ACTOR”. So many directors have wanted over-the-top in the past and it just doesn’t work for TV & film. OK, maybe Mel Brooks but that’s it.
Brendan: And PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Which – I confess – I’ve never actually seen. Is the first or the second one where he gets kicked by a horse?
Zele: He gets kicked by a horse? That must be the second one.
Help Zele and the rest of the SUNDOWN team by supporting the movie at our Kickstarter page.