Jume 2003 By Philip Berk
With a name like Melina Kanakaredes you better be good!
But even after appearing in soaps, playing bit parts in big Hollywood movies, and winning featured roles in top-rated TV series, nobody knew the name.
Until she was cast as a relocated plastic surgeon in the TV series Providence, and suddenly she became a household word.
Last week she won the TV Guide award as television’s best dramatic actress.
A strikingly beautiful, green eyed brunette, Melina is the first Greek American actor since Telly Savalas to gain that kind of acceptance.
In person she’s as dynamic as she is on screen.
And equally persuasive.
Providence confounded the experts when it overcame bad reviews, a bad time slot, and the stigma of being a midseason replacement.
But Melina has an explanation: “We live in a time of cynicism. A lot of the critics didn’t want to believe that a well written, funny, and interesting show could deal with decency and loving relationships.”
Now in its second season, the show consistently wins its U.S. time slot and has become equally successful in other countries.
So how did it happen for her? I ask her.
“When I got out of college, I went to New York to do theatre. I had done a lot of regional theatre in Pittsburgh while l was in school, but my first professional job in new York was in the daytime series Guiding Light, which I did for five years. After that I was offered NYPD Blue which brought me to Los Angeles. It was my first taste of L.A. and it appealed to me because it reminded me of Greece. After that I did a two episode segment of The Practice, and a little thing on OZ, and then NBC offered me a development deal, which basically allowed me to say no to scripts, which I did for a year until I read Providence. Right away I thought it was different. There wasn’t anything like it on the air. I liked the character’s accessibility. I could understand her problems, and I liked the fact that I had no idea where the story line would go; so I was thrilled to do it.”
Being of Greek heritage means a lot to her.
Not only is her name unpronounceable, her husband’s is equally ethnic. He is Peter Constantinides, a chef, whom she met at Ohio State University, which she attended before transferring to Point Park College in Pittsburgh. They have been married for eight years.
How important is her heritage?
“It’s a part of me that I hold near and dear to my heart. It’s my culture. I was born and raised in the United States, but my family spent every summer with our relatives in Greece, and when I finished college, part of my graduation gift was to go there, where I got a chance to do a play in the Amphitheater. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life because it allowed me to speak conversationally on a stage — as opposed to using your trained voice — and somebody in the top row could still hear you. And that somebody was my mom, waving at me.”
Was she ever advised to shorten her name?
“At the very beginning of my career I had a lot suggestions. But being the youngest of three girls — my father didn’t have a son to carry on the name — it was a question of pride for all of us to keep our names. Even in elementary school I can remember filling in all those little squares; the other kids had already started the test, and I was still on ‘ka.’ But I believe it’s about you. And if you do good work the person who gets the credit should have your name. I’m very proud of the name and of my husband’s name. Our children will definitely be Constantinides. I can’t tell you how excited my father was when he saw Kanakaredes on the credits. He was thrilled.”
Does she follow the religion as well?
“I was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. I’ve always had a strong attachment to the church, not only for religious reasons but because I feel it’s a wonderful place for the kids of our generation to learn their culture. As a child I was in a dance group in Greek school every Saturday. I hated it then. Now I’m thankful for it and the fact that I speak Greek fluently. I love the opportunity the church gives to our community to keep what’s special about our ethnicity alive. It’s wonderful to have that here and be not just be an American but a Greek American.”
Playing a doctor in Providence is a familiar role.
That’s true. My first cousin is an internist. Her father is a neurosurgeon. And another of my uncles is a cardiovascular surgeon.”
Did they give her any advice?
“They call me all the time. They correct me at every turn if something is wrong.”
Is she close to any of them?
“I’m very close to my first cousins. They’re like my sisters.”
How much research did she do to play a plastic surgeon?
“A lot, and when I found out that my character would be working in a clinical environment, I spent time at the Santa Monica Clinic. As far as I’m concerned, getting that information is the most important part of developing my character.”
Anyone else in the family in show business?
“No, just me.”
What about her sisters. What do they do?
“One is an attorney, and the other a working mom.”
Did her parents approve of her becoming an actress?
“Thankfully I had parents who were very supportive. They wanted us to be what we wanted to be, and they were not afraid if we took risks. But I was fortunate. I was the third and when you get to number three, they figure, ‘Oh well let her try something new?’
Could she still live in a place like Akron Ohio, where she was born.
“I go there quite often, but for me home is wherever my family is, so yes I would absolutely. I don’t know if I would be able to fulfill all my dreams in Ohio, but certainly I would enjoy being close to my family and watching my niece and nephews grow up.”
Is she ambitious?
“I don’t know,” she answered.
She certainly isn’t lazy.
While doing Guiding Light in New York, she did off Broadway theatre at night.
“We would finish shooting at about 7 o’clock on Guiding light, and I’d run over to the theatre for an 8 o’clock curtain, which for me was wonderful because the busier I am the happier I am.”
Does her husband do the cooking in their home?
Is that why she’s so slim?
“I’ve always watched my diet. My grandfather was a candymaker and my uncles are in the candy business. Food has always been the centre of our lives. And when family come to visit, and you have to feed them, I taste a little bit of everything, and everybody’s happy.”
Is Peter a good cook.
Does she ever cook?
“I set the table. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.”