As soon as Mita Xenakis appeared in Netflix’s hit Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, I was rooting for her. It didn’t matter if the character was a hero or villain (she’s a hero, in case you’re wondering), that knee-jerk instinct from growing up supporting Greek or Cypriot performers in Eurovision meant – even in fiction – she was already douze points.
Mita is played by Melissanthi Mahut; not only a brilliant actor, who makes a lasting impression as the sultry siren, but as is rarely the case when Hollywood casts Greek characters, is – shocker – a Greek!
Melissanthi is also one of us. She studied in London and permanently resides here today. (No, she hasn’t been to Southgate yet, but assures me she will.) When we speak on the phone, she’s at her home in Athens taking a break, musing over the past year. Her English is incredibly fluent, considering Mita has the thick accent we recognise from Yiayia’s favourite ALPHA telenovela, so it catches me a bit off guard: “My Dad’s Canadian, and obviously I’ve lived in London for a while”, she says.
Her voice is recognisable to anyone who has played Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, a popular video game set in Homeric Greece in which she voices the lead character Kassandra.
“I loved doing that, I grew up fascinated with animation and voice acting, and so to play such a cool character was a real pleasure… It was a risk for the company to hire Greek, or Greek Diaspora actors, but they committed and it paid off.”
Melissanthi’s vocal work was nominated for awards, but today you will recognise her from the Netflix film. The story focuses on an unlikely Icelandic duo who are accidently entered in Eurovision, facing off against the likes of Mita, but not Britain because, “nobody likes the UK”, as Dan Steven’s Lemtov quite rightly points out.
When asked if she followed Eurovision before taking the role, Melissanthi says, “in Greece, it’s obviously a huge deal, but I first began to appreciate it when studying in London.”
Her and the other students (“many from different countries in Europe”) would hold parties and watch it together, cheering on their respective nations, “that’s when I discovered the unity, tolerance, and camaraderie of the show, which the film really gets to the bottom of.”
In fiction as in real-life, the Greek singer is one of the favourites to win. Her ‘Masquerade’, like all the songs in the film are “meant to relate to the characters.” That’s why it’s such a fun tune, she adds, because “Mita herself is about having fun and playing games…you expect her to be a villain, but she turns out to be the opposite.”
With that in mind, Melissanthi decided to approach the character as a ‘sort of flamboyant feline with a heart of gold’, on the prowl for Will Ferrell’s obnoxious but lovable Lars, but ultimately caring by the film’s end.
Viewers noted the Russian Lion of Love himself, Lemtov, and Mita’s on-screen friendship: “It’s very sweet the way they are there for each other. I’ve noticed people on social media calling for a spin-off where Lemtov and Mita sail around the Greek Islands,” (referring to a scene at the end). While the film’s top-billed stars are Rachael McAdams and Ferrell, fans online have voiced their love for the Greco-Russian pair’s friendship, she laughs: “About the spin-off, I joked it might be fun if they met the Mamma Mia cast whilst island hopping around Greece! All I’ll say is, watch this space.”
With a live-action version of Disney’s Hercules on the way, I also think she would make a perfect Megara, and put the idea to her. “I mean, that would be amazing,” she says, humbly, “what we do need in films like is better representation for Greek or Greek diaspora performers… Hopefully, they do that not only with Hercules, but more films based on our culture and mythology.”
It’s one of the reasons why seeing Melissanthi on-screen is so satisfying. “I find that Greek characters that we come across tend to be based on a stereotype that makes them more caricatures rather than real people,” she says, “but things look like they’re moving slowly in a different direction, and perhaps with bigger involvement in projects, we will have the chance to explore wider variety (and nuanced characters).”
Mita Xenakis is one of those. She appears like a zap of nostalgia, as we follow a Greek diva storming through Eurovision portraying all the confidence and elegance we’ve come to expect. It’s how Melissanthi spins our expectations that make it such a great role, and prove her to be a great actor. For the meantime, she’s going to take a break and figure out what’s next.
“I don’t feel a rush to get back”, she says, “perhaps by September, that’s when I’ll return,” and by then, she assures me, acting-aside – it’s all koubes and baklava at Aroma.
Interview by Chris Cotonou