Elias Kacavas

18 September 2023

Photography Julia Sariy
Fashion Angelina Scantlebury
Interview Carolina Benjumea
Grooming Ryann Carter
Production Trevor Person
Photography Assistant Marcio Honorato

Around 535 BC, Thespis, a Greek poet, is said to have hopped on the back of a wooden cart and recited poetry, in character. There, drama was born and grew up ‘in the round’ under Dionysus and the stars. Just as long as drama has lived, so has talking about the weather as an ice-breaker. So in traditional fashion, Elias Kacavas and I start our conversation connecting our respective locations in New York and Paris by chatting about the background of pouring rain and heat waves. With him though, it turned out there was no ice to break, as he warmly complimented my golden earrings and our small talk quickly took a deep dive as we chatted about his childhood self, family, Greek tradition, learning to express emotions in real life, and being relentless toward a dream.

Elias is part Greek, has an identical twin, is in a band, and is a rising star, but other than that he’s just your average 20-something year old boy simply, as he says, “figuring out what [he] needs to figure out.” When we talk, he is in Long Island visiting friends, but manages to carve out an hour for us to chat just as I imagine he would with a friend. He has a down-to-earth charm that is perfect for a more intimate conversation. As we are amidst the backdrop of the SAG-AFTRA strike, our conversation took a more introspective route.

Just as Telemachus embarked on a journey seeking his own identity, Elias undertook a personal odyssey of self-discovery through acting. He tells me he has felt like the ‘Black Sheep’ of his family, being the only one who chose an artistic career, yet, this very choice brings him closer to his Greek roots. “I feel a certain relationship with the Greeks in the sense that they're the ones who invented drama, and that's what I do in my life.” Through acting, he has been able to delve into emotions he hadn't accessed before. This introspective approach grants Elias the ability not only to empathise and connect with characters, but also to establish a connection with his authentic self and unearth those unexplored facets of his being.

At 18 years old, Elias’ life smelled like coffee, books, and duct tape. He tells me of working at a Dunkin Donuts in New York City with two identical Greek twins (Elias is also an identical Greek twin), then getting home - a couch in a room lined in duct-tape windows - and reading all the books he picked up from Barnes & Noble in Union Square. And while that might not sound ideal, Elias considers it to be one of the most important lessons he learned about himself - courage that he tries to not forget about. He is relentless in chasing his dreams - in both acting and music - and is proud of what he calls his ‘Spartan-like warrior spirit.’ To Elias, learning is important, and he finds a lesson in every crevice of life whether it's in academic settings in childhood in New Hampshire, with family in Italy and Greece, or even in being mugged in New York (I won’t spoil that story, you’ll have to read it).

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is out in cinemas now.

How is your summer going? Do you have any fun trips planned?
Summer has been going pretty well. We are in the middle of the SAG-AFTRA strike. It's been a lot of resting, relaxing and leisure. I had a messed up back for a long time, so I had a back surgery and I recovered from that. Right now I am in Long Island visiting my friends from NYU, we've just been having a blast, going to the beach and stuff. It's been good.

Do you have any favourite summer memories from your childhood?
One of my favourite summer memories is when I was a rising senior in high school - this was six or seven years ago. My twin and I got into an Advanced Studies program, he got in for political studies, and I got in for an entrepreneurship and business study. It was one of the best summers of my life because we got to go to this private school and spend six weeks of the summer studying, learning, and making. I had a partner and we made a business plan for a Greek restaurant. I ended up meeting my first-ever serious girlfriend there. Looking back, it was such a beautiful time in my life because I was coming out of my shell for the first time and, you know, putting myself out there with a partner and letting myself enjoy the fun childhood.

Did you continue with your project on the Greek restaurant?
We ended up pitching it as part of DECA, which is an after-school business program during our school year, and we placed second in New Hampshire. They flew us to California to pitch it for an international stage. It was a really exciting trip. It was one of the first times I went to California - we visited LA, and I went to an Angels game. I think we went to the studios where all the sets are, and it was a lot of fun.

That sounds really amazing! Speaking of childhood before, I once heard that in order to find happiness, you have to reconnect with the essence of your childhood. Do you believe that acting brings you closer to the inner child that still resides within you?
100%! Especially the way I have learned to be an actor, which was in a Strasberg studio, which is a method acting basis. I pull a lot of real-life moments from my childhood, especially things that moved me and I experienced - you know, what did it feel like? What was I wearing? What was I smelling? What was I seeing? What was I touching? What taste? Going through my childhood memories in that way and dropping into the moment, really allows me to explore those memories in a much deeper way a second time. The memory manipulates how you want to see things sometimes. So, I get to see them in either a better light or a harsher light, depending on how I need to use them. I've been able to explore and kind of dissect and discover new things about my childhood in being an actor and pulling from those moments.

You were originally planning on going into the medical field but realised your passion is in performing. I know you took a gap year and slept on couches in NYC for that time. Emotionally, what was that like? What is one of the more memorable moments you’d be comfortable sharing from that year of reflection?
I was scared, and especially I was scared to mention this to my parents. My dad is a very old-fashioned Greek man, who came from nothing, a self-made man, and became the US Attorney of New Hampshire for President Obama, and he set a great example for his kids. But it also scared us to kind of take a leap, especially for me as the black sheep, the sensitive kid who wants to be an artist. Having to have that conversation with him was very tough, and to my surprise he was very welcoming and encouraged it, but he said he wasn't going to help me pay for anything - that was on my shoulders. He put a heavy burden of responsibility on myself to prove to him, to myself, my mum, and my brothers [that I could do it].

I just remember going to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn that year by myself as an 18-year-old, never having been to New York before, and having to get a job at Dunkin' Donuts and put myself through the winter. I think one of my favourite moments was when I went to the Barnes and Noble in Union Square and I bought every acting book I could find - Adler, Meisner, Strasberg, Hagen, Cohen - and I read them all in that cold little room where I was sleeping on a couch. Most of the windows were duct-taped instead of glass, so it was freezing. I had so many candles lit around the room for some ounce of warmth.

I just remember looking back, it was a bit of a struggle but in the end, it was so worth it because of what that took from an 18-year-old, I look back and [think], I had a lot of courage that I've forgotten about. I had to walk a mile down the road to the laundromat to do my laundry because there wasn't one in the unit, in the cold, in a sling over my bags. And I just remember it was a big year of struggle, and I learned a lot about myself and what I'm willing to do to chase my dream.

I think it must be really hard to struggle for the first time, really young, in a huge city like New York.
Yeah, it was. I didn't have many friends; I was 18 and I got into an acting class, and everyone was 25 and above, so I was like the baby that couldn't even drink and go out with them to talk about acting in New York and all that stuff. I had three friends - one of them was my roommate whose place I was at. He's 80 years old, and he let me sleep on his couch. His name is Tommy, I still love him. He's one of my best friends today. Also, I'm an identical Greek twin, and the two guys I worked for at Dunkin' Donuts are identical Greek twins, so when they found out, we just became pals.

Are there particular emotions that come most naturally to you and that you find easy to channel into your performances?
I grew up fighting a lot with my twin for an identity because, you know, we're identical. We had to share the same clothes, rooms, friends, teachers, sports, teammates, everything. We fought a lot, and I think from that I got a lot of anger. I have a very quick ability to turn on any sort of fire or fury in me. I haven't had a lot of opportunities in the work I've done to showcase that yet, but I've got some projects down the line that I'm excited for - you know, depending on when the strike ends, if they still happen. I think I have an ability to get vulnerable and kind of pick apart those things that tear me apart - whether it brings out a tear or whether it makes me emotional. I think I've got a pretty decent range, and I'm still trying to get better and work on it, but I've got a pretty good handle.

When portraying a character, which personality traits do you find most challenging to express, and which do you believe are the most crucial for creating a genuine connection with and effectively portraying a character?
I am totally obsessive, which is a blessing and a curse as a character trait for myself. I can obsess about my work, which really allows me to uncover things about a character and just spend hours on it. The backside is that I can get carried away or obsess about my anxiety as a performer. It's a double-edged sword there. Also, a difficult characteristic I find in myself is that I was born in a household that was full of young men competing in sports and trying to be students - crying and being vulnerable wasn't really something that was necessarily rewarded. I still find that block in myself sometimes, when I'm trying to prevent myself from being vulnerable, and I have to wrestle with that. It's been a process to re-sensitize myself, but my mom gave us all the love in the world. I still have that empathy and sensitivity, it's just about battling myself occasionally. It gets complicated sometimes.

Concerning what you just said, do you think that acting allows you to be more expressive with your emotions, or to feel more vulnerable in your personal life?
Absolutely because it's a catharsis for me. Acting is cathartic, and I get to release all the stuff that I didn't show when I was a child; it gets to come out now, especially now that I'm becoming my own person and I'm independent. I'm able to live my life how I want to emotionally.

For sure! And what would you say are your boundaries as an actor? Where is it that you draw the line?
I don't know that I've come to a line like that yet. I'm a firm believer in the saying, "Pain is temporary, film is forever." If I have to do something that is hard or difficult, it's worth it because if I do it to the best of my ability, I will be able to have that for the rest of my life, point to it and go: Wow, I did that. And, as I said, I've been fortunate enough to not have that line or that moment where I say, "This is not something I can do." But you know, hopefully [I’ll have] a long career and I'll see if those come along.

You also play the guitar and the piano. Is music something you might consider pursuing professionally in the future?
Absolutely. I started playing guitar in high school before I even knew I wanted to be an actor. It was the first piece of being creative in my life that I connected with. It was there first, and I think I just had a little bit more of a natural ability with acting, so I moved a lot faster when I set out to become an actor. But playing guitar and piano brings me an immense amount of joy. It's such a passion. I have a band, and we play in the city when I'm not on set. We do gigs at places like the Bowery Electric, the Knitting Factory or Chelsea Music Hall. Hopefully, I continue to develop my skills, and my bandmates continue to grow. And if I have time off, we can eventually tour. That would be one of my dreams.

What kind of music do you play with your band?
We do a lot of covers of classics like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Queen. My singer is a reincarnation of Freddie Mercury. He was one of my roommates at NYU. He's this big flamboyant showman with this beautiful big voice, and I thought putting some rock and roll behind it would sound good. And it does. We have a lot of fun. I write a lot of stuff too; a lot of my influences are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. So, I kind of write from those influences.

So, as you mentioned before, you have a Greek heritage, but you grew up in New Hampshire. How did these two cultures coexist in your life? What was it like growing up in these two distinct universes?
Funnily enough, there's a very big Greek culture in New Hampshire where I grew up, in Manchester. We have a massive Greek church and hundreds of Greeks, and we're so big that we have a festival each year called Glendi, where all the Greeks in the town come to St. George's Church, where we went when we were kids, and throw the big festivals - the food, the shops, the carts, the clothes. I had to go to a Greek school for six years. It was every Thursday after American school, an hour and a half of grammar, and then 30 minutes of Greek dance. So, we had enough of the community around us to instil a proud foundation of culture and identity in Manchester, which was great. And then we also still have family in Greece. We were fortunate enough to go visit them a couple of times in Greece, like three or four times. So, it's been very strong; we have a very strong culture there.

And you speak the language fluently?
[Responds in Greek] - I speak a little bit from Greek school; I still retain a bit. When I went to Greece last summer for a couple of months, I started to pick up the language again, but then I came back to the States and don't speak as much... I speak a little bit with my grandmother, but she speaks it differently, not like the classical version. So, I lose it every time I come back, but gain it when I go over. It was my dad's first language, so he speaks pretty well. And sometimes, you know, if I have questions, I'll ask him.

Have you ever thought about moving for a while to Greece or living there?
100%. My goal is to split a place with my twin. We want to get a place at Axus or Paros, where I can be there for part of the year with my family or my girlfriend. And then down the road, he can be there with his family and his girlfriend. I would love to live there for part of the year.

What traits of yours would you say are most strongly influenced by your Greek heritage?
I think it just adds tradition to my life, you know, which could have been anything depending on where my parents come from, but it happens to be Greek, and I couldn't be more in love with the food, the language. I feel a certain relationship with the Greeks in the sense that they're the ones who invented drama, and that's what I do in my life. We have a lot of great philosophers and democracy, and my dad was a politician for a little bit. So, I'm very proud of my ancestors and the Greeks before me.

The warrior spirit is something I like to think of - the Spartans. My papou's family was from Megalopolis, which is right near Sparta, the neighbouring town. So, we’ve got that Spartan mentality - my brothers and I - about going after our careers and our jobs. We want to be strong; there's going to be a lot of people who try to prevent us from doing what we want to do, but we try not to let them get in our way.

Is your twin brother also into the arts or an artistic career?
He loves the arts, and I'm able to talk about it with him, but he's in the military and went to West Point, which is the Military Academy here in the States. He's a second lieutenant, and he's about to deploy overseas next month. We’ve taken very different paths, but we think in a very similar manner in our respective fields. I couldn't be more proud of him and what he's done, not only to graduate and get into West Point but to show the courage and sacrifice that he's willing to go fight for our country and allow me the freedom to do what I love. I look up to him.

As a twin, you grow feeling a strong connection with someone, it’s something most people don’t get to experience. Do you think that experiencing this connection with someone since you were little allows you to connect better with your characters ?
That's an interesting way of looking at it. It certainly helps me connect with characters that I think are more similar to my twin. If I have a character who's got some of his traits, I'm like: "I know that so well. I can play that, no problem." It's also helpful because he's a very type-A person, he's very list-oriented, and he's very logical. I'm a little bit more abstract in the way I think sometimes, but if I see a character with his traits, I know exactly how to play it.

Can you identify a few moments in your life that you consider pivotal in shaping the person you have become today?
That gap year that we talked about before was a milestone in my life. My first two years at NYU before I left to pursue roles were very instrumental in my maturing as an artist and maturing as a person. Seeing myself being on sets, I've been trying to be a leader when I can be and a follower when I need to be, and learning how to talk with other creatives, share visions and support each other while also being truthful - it's something I've been doing over the past couple of years. Living in New York gives you a very independent mindset and makes you watchful. It's been kind of unfortunate, but I've been attacked a few times in the city. One time I was on a date and this guy kicked my date, and I had to stand up for her. Another time I was being mugged and I had to fight a guy off to keep my wallet, basically. It's just a life lesson. It's a microcosm for life, I guess. [I got] some good lessons from it. But yeah, I got a black eye and a dislocated shoulder, and it was tough.

Oh no, that’s horrible!
Yes, I mean, it's all part of learning. I have some great friends from high school and we kind of fought with each other. You know, it's learning how to wrestle and scrap. I'm very thankful for my childhood with the sports background and my friends. And then all the family vacations are great life lessons on how to have fun and how to enjoy yourself because there are a lot of people who don't know how to do that, or never learn how to live and have fun. When I'm with my family and we go to Italy or Greece, it's an absolute education on how to live.

I understand that social media plays a significant role for emerging actors. How do you approach your relationship with these platforms? Do you primarily use them to showcase your work, or do you also enjoy sharing aspects of your personal life?
I think it's going back to the idea that things can be a double-edged sword. Social media is 100% that, and that's no secret. It's poison in a lot of ways because it causes comparison between myself and others. I look at how happy they are, and I'm in my bed going through my phone. Maybe this person found a significant other and I don't have that. It gives you a reason to complain; social media always gives you a reason to complain. But on the other hand, it's nice. I've had opportunities to connect with fans, and honestly, they've made me cry from the nice words they've said, or they've shown support by posting about me or coming to one of my band's shows. I’ve had some Instagram followers coming to some shows. They let me know about a project that's out there that they think I should be cast in, and if I hadn't heard that I'd let my managers and agents know.

So, connecting with my fans is the main reason I have Instagram. I'll put out things like career updates or photo shoots that I do for magazines. That's the good side - a chance to connect. The bad side is it causes comparison and causes you to be unhappy. But I try to limit my time on it. There are some good things, you can see certain TED talks, you might come across a helpful quote that gets you through your week, or you can learn a little something about psychology or gain knowledge. There's a lot of great music stuff on there. So, yeah, there's good and bad.

Before doing the interview, I was stalking your Instagram page a little and saw your first post which dates back to June 13, 2017, with the caption "first gig." When you reflect on your journey and how far you've come in your career, what emotions or thoughts arise?
I feel so fortunate to have had so many people help me from that moment to where I am now. So many friends - I really feel just so grateful to them. That [post] showed the very first acting job I ever had. It was a national commercial with Mark Wahlberg, and I was sitting on the side of him with a hat. And I got to meet Mark Wahlberg, I got to meet the director. I feel very grateful from that post to now.

A lot of people consider their 20s to be a time of self-questioning. At the moment, what do you find yourself questioning the most?
I'm still discovering who I am and kind of shaping myself. A lot of that has to do with the people I'm surrounding myself with. The friends here that are hosting me, my New York friends; I’m kind of looking for my groups, looking for ways to expand myself through readings. But what am I really questioning right now? I guess I've always had an idea, when I started this acting journey of what I wanted to accomplish, which is something I still want to accomplish, but I think there's more, I'm not sure what it is yet. I'm just trying to figure out what I should be questioning about myself right now. Because I'm going to be 25 in a couple of months and that's my quarter-life crisis, I'd like to know what I'm looking to accomplish next. I've been very fortunate to have a good couple of years and now with this downtime, the strike going on, it's about time to reassess, so I have to think. I'm trying to figure out what I need to figure out next.

Looking back, is there something you wish you had known when you were starting that you'd like to share as advice with newcomers in the field?
Absolutely: “Nobody thinks about you as much as you think about you.” You can get so caught up in your headspace because you're so anxious about what you're doing. You're questioning every decision you make or the choice you make as an actor. Just make a choice. No one's really thinking about you as much as you are, and as long as you put your best foot forward and you do it with a smile and some grace and some courage, you're going to be so good. You don't have to worry so much or try so hard. You want to be in your skin and just let that be enough.

Looking toward the future, what are you most looking forward to at the moment?
I'm looking forward to the strike being resolved, and both the WGA and the SAG-AFTRA getting what actors deserve and what performers deserve - dancers and everybody - and being able to go back to work because it fills so much of my life. Being away from it is painful right now. It's for the best, but it hurts and I miss it terribly. So, I look forward to the conversations being settled, agreements being made, and the artistic community coming back to work.

Do you see yourself acting for the rest of your life?
Yes, absolutely. Especially because when you're able to see your improvement over the years, it just gets more and more exciting. Hopefully, more leading roles will come up as I build my resume and I'll be able to have a little bit more of an artistic Bar Mitzvah in each role and put my own spins onto it. It's one of the greatest joys of my life, especially doing a scene and being excited about what you just did. It's so exhilarating, and I hope to be doing it until I die, and the same with music.

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above left: Elias wears Jumper by Akobi Men and Shirt by Self Made Leather
above right: Elias wears Shirt by Helmut Lang, Trousers by John Varvatos and Trainers by Fila

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above left: outfit as before
above right: Elias wears Jumper by Hardcore Fashion, Trousers by Lucky Brand and Vest by Stefan

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above right: outfit as before
above left: Elias wears T-Shirt by Fila and Jacket by Akobi Men

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above left: Elias wears T-Shirt by Fila, Jeans by Hudson Jeans and Jacket by Akobi Men
above right: outfit as before

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above left: outfit as before
above right: Elias wears Jumper by Akobi Men, Trousers by Hardcore Fashion, Shirt by Self Made Leather, Shorts by Stefan and Boots by Roberto Cavalli

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above: Elias wears Coat by Kenneth Cole, Jeans by Hudson Jeans and Boots by Roberto Cavalli

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above right: outfit as before
above left: Elias wears Shirt by Stefan, Jeans by Hudson Jeans and Boots by Roberto Cavalli

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above left: outfit as before
above right: Elias wears Jacket by Monday Blues

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above left: Elias wears Shirt by Helmut Lang and Jacket by Ksubi
above right: Elias wears Jumper by Hardcore Fashion, Trousers by Lucky Brand and Trainers by The Confessional Showroom

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above left: Elias wears Jacket by Monday Blues, Jeans by John Varvatos and Trainers by The Confessional Showroom
above right: outfit as before

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above left: Elias wears Jacket by Monday Blues and T-Shirt by Nike
above right: outfit as before

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