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Cyprus face in Hollywood

diaspora main photo by hannes söderlund
photo by Hannes Söderlund

A Cypriot who grew up in London is putting his heritage to good use in the film industry finds PAUL LAMBIS

Simon Kassianides has a distinct presence. He began his career alongside Hollywood legend Woody Harrelson in the play The Night of the Iguana in London’s West End before more success in the UK and US film and television industry.

A British Cypriot actor, film director, producer and screenwriter, Kassianides’ impressive credits include The Mandalorian, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Pearson, as well as the 2008 Bond film Quantum of Solace.

But behind the acting persona is a surprisingly humble person who attributes his decision to pursue a career in the entertainment industry to his mother, who he says worked very hard to provide him with the opportunity to pursue his dreams.

Kassianides’ family relocated to the UK from Cyprus shortly after the war in 1974, “and like most Cypriots of the diaspora at the time, they were trying to set themselves up as best as possible and educate their children.

“When I got to a certain age, it was obvious to me that the hope for most parents was the traditional professions, so I opted for a career in finance and banking,” he said.

But his “first love” was writing and literature, and after a year in the banking industry, he began exploring various options in the arts while familiarising himself with the theatre and film world.

He began as a set assistant and, after creating a network of contacts, worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming an assistant director. “As my confidence grew in an industry I knew very little of at the time, I realised it was acting that I wanted to pursue,” he said.

When Kassianides finally made it to the West End, his entire family showed up to watch his performance, taking up the first rows of the theatre. “Even Woody Harrelson remarked how the entire front row was looking at me rather than him,” he said.

Kassianides was brought up in Clapham Town, far from north London where the vast majority of Greek Cypriots had settled. “It was a rough part of town at the time, but my family made sure we had everything we needed. We went to good schools and grew up in a wonderfully loud environment filled with family centred on Cypriot traditions and customs.”

diaspora in the mandalorian
In the Mandalorian

Kassianides’ family was working in Kyrenia and building a tourist complex in 1974. “I grew up with the shadow of the war over me, but thanks to the influence of going back to Cyprus for family vacations and understanding where my origins are, including the stories passed down from my grandparents, it makes me very proud to be a Greek Cypriot,” he said.

“It is incredible to see how Cyprus has changed so much in recent years, and I wholeheartedly believe that the island has the potential to be a reputable filming destination,” he added. “I also believe that as the incentives grow in popularity and stability, there will eventually be a film studio space in Cyprus which will help international projects.”

Looking back, Kassianides is proud of the projects he has been a part of, from producing a sold-out run of Grease at the George Square Theatre while still at university, his 2010 film Geezas, which he produced, directed and starred in, playing to sold-out screenings at the 2012 Hollywood Film Festival, to becoming an active member of the Hollywood community.

Although he maintains a relatively quiet presence on social media, Kassianides has been working very hard behind the scenes with his eye focused on Cyprus, “and how we can be there in a meaningful way, and in a global standard way, which takes a lot of careful work, which I am engaged in.

“Cyprus has a lot of inspirational people that are doing things within my industry, and I am particularly proud of them,” he said. “Who are doing incredible things to establish Cyprus’ reputation as a film hub.”

When it comes to his belief system, Kassianides insists that working hard and keeping interested are critical. “I am very proud of this ethos, which was instilled in me from a child, and, as an actor, you have to invest and work hard with every project, understanding people, and the characters you portray, resulting in a rewarding, lucrative and creatively stimulating career.”

His impressive career, talent and humble demeanour have undoubtedly established Kassianides as an ambassador for Cyprus’ film industry abroad, while his achievements are the result of his work ethic, a large part of which is attributed to his hardworking Greek Cypriot family cheering him on from behind the scenes.

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