WiRED International Interviews Michael Constantine

BY ALLISON KOZICHAROW AND BERNICE BORN

 

Introduction

 

Award-winning actor Michael Constantine’s film and TV career spans more than 60 years. Identified most recently as the Windex-spraying family patriarch Gus Portokalos in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies, WiRED International knows him best as a member of its Honorary Board of Directors.

 

Drawn to WiRED in the days when the organization set up centers around the world for isolated doctors to access medical information, Mr. Constantine eagerly volunteered his services to WiRED and was honored by WiRED in 2010. He appeared in two videos to spread awareness about WiRED — both directed by future Oscar-winner Jason Zeldes — to help physicians in underserved countries. Today Mr. Constantine looks to WiRED for information on health topics such as the Zika virus.

 

WiRED recently caught up with Mr. Constantine in a phone interview conducted by WiRED Board member Allison Kozicharow.

 

Excerpts from the Interview (Michael Constantine [MC] and Allison Kozicharow [AK])

 

AK: You’re still making movies, Michael. Tell us about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.

 

MC: The movie was a lot of fun. Someone once said that you can be funny by being very serious and not by trying to be funny. My Big Fat Greek Wedding won’t find a solution to world peace, but it’s good to laugh. Good laughs relieve stress. He who laughs, lasts.

 

AK: You once said, “We all have to make a living, but if that’s all we focus on we’re very poor.”

 

MC: That’s one of the reasons I respect WiRED and care about it. In my profession, everyone is approached to work with organizations. We can’t do that with all of them nor can we contribute, but we pick ours. For me, it’s WiRED. What else can you do that is more important than staying healthy? It reminds me of my sweet mother, who, in her strong Greek accent said: “You health is you wealth.”

 

AK: Do you follow WiRED’s work by reading its website stories?

 

MC: I try, but I can’t read everything. When something new comes across like this Zika virus, yes, I want to learn about it. WiRED offers some very useful and understandable information.

 

AK: We just wrote about the possible link between Zika and neurological diseases such as meningitis.

 

MC: Meningitis is the devil in my family. I had a little sister who died from spinal meningitis. I was 5, she was 3. This stays with a family.

 

It’s a different society today than when I grew up. I never forgot what a teacher told my class long ago, that what a human needs are three things: food, clothing and shelter. So I grew up thinking that if I had food, clothes and decent shelter, I’m happy. Then I went to New York City and came across a guy with neurosis. I thought, this guy has food, clothes and shelter; what’s he upset about? It’s still hard for me to understand. It’s part of the illness of the times that people are so stressed out. One way to remove stress is to think of others. That’s what WiRED does so spectacularly.

 

AK: Besides making the current movie, what do you enjoy doing these days?

 

MC: The nice thing about being famous is that it goes away pretty soon. I figure that when the movie buzz settles down, I’ll get back to writing. I really enjoy writing; I love writing the most. Nearly 20 years ago I started writing and wrote screen plays. Recently I wrote a book called Sins of Holy Men, which deals with how the Christian religions got started. It’s a love story connected to the account of the First Council of Nicea’s efforts in 325 A.D. to consolidate Christian beliefs and canon law. It’s fact-based and offers what I think is a useful analysis of the period several centuries after the death of Jesus.

 

Conclusion

 

When most people think of Michael Constantine, they think of his films and television roles. It’s hard not to envision him as the forceful patriarch in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and in his roles in his 179 films and TV shows. Mr. Constantine, though, has an inspiring and spirited life off the screen as a researcher and writer, a philanthropist and humanitarian. He is deeply involved in U.S. and global matters that improve the human condition. Although in his eighties, he has the energy of a much younger man, as he helps people laugh a little and find joy, even in difficult circumstances. Mr. Constantine’s involvement with WiRED demonstrates his compassion for the health of poor and forgotten populations that benefit from the organization’s free health education programs.

 

 


Michael Constantine

 

Award-winning Greek-American actor Michael Constantine was born Constantine Joanides on May 22, 1927, in Reading Pennsylvania.

 

Before making My Big Fat Greek Wedding Mr. Constantine acted in TV, stage and film. He won an Emmy for playing the principal on Room 222, produced by the late William De Angelo, an early founder of WiRED. Mr. Constantine made his Broadway debut in 1955 in the Play Inherit the Wind. He took the role of the head of an institute for the blind in The Miracle Worker when the play opened in New York in 1959. His acting career in television included parts in Gunsmoke and Magnum P.I. and in movies such as The Last Mile and The Hustler.

 

Today Mr. Constantine continues his film career, but concentrates on his family and on his writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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