By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“How could you not open?” she told him. After a moment of reflection, Koch adds, “That might have not been the greatest advice.”
A performer in the show who wished to remain off the record said that Mullen had called the actors individually after the fight, trying to persuade them to boycott rehearsals until his demands had been met. Among those demands, outlined in an e-mail dated March 22, are: that all Sunday matinee box-office returns be distributed equally among the cast (who received no compensation from the producers, despite the production’s six-figure budget); that Vitali put up Claudius (who lives in Idyllwild) in a hotel; that Vitali employ a professional voice/diction coach; that he learn his lines authoritatively within two days of opening; that he yield full artistic authority to the director; and that (item 10), “Franko agrees to pay the Director ten thousand dollars (in full and immediately) in the form of a cashier’s check.” The actor reported that Mullen made no mention to the cast of item 10.
A few weeks ago it had all looked so encouraging. George Clooney and his Section 8 production company had just shown up wanting to film rehearsals for an upcoming HBO series. They offered to pay the actors a small fee, and Horatio (Nick Cagle) even got his Screen Actors Guild membership from the deal. It was all like a pleasant dream.
But how does a man with no stage training and a poor command of the English language wind up playing Hamlet in the middle of Hollywood? And what marketing genius suggested $35,000 billboards to advertise an 85-seat theater production? Yet, given such extravagant publicity, why didn’t Hamlet learn his lines? What were they thinking? All of them?
“Theater is my great love,” Vitali says. “I can’t imagine not doing theater.”
Francesco Vitali was born in 1969 to an Italian father and Greek mother in Athens, where he grew up. His father still owns a steel factory there, and his mother is a retired dermatologist, which means that Vitali had a financially privileged if emotionally rigorous upbringing. When 13-year-old Vitali told his father that he wanted to be an actor, the elder Vitali replied, “My son is never, never going to become an actor, so forget about that.”
When Vitali turned 15, his father refused to let him sit idle for the summer holiday and insisted the teenager either work at his factory or find another job. That’s when Vitali decided to try to get work as a journalist — a job where he might at least have some proximity to his nation’s leading actors and directors.
“So, I went straight to the field chairman, Alexandros Phillipopoulos, of the biggest newspaper in Greece [Ethnos, translated as Nation]. In the lobby, the chairman’s handlers were screaming at me to get out, but Alexandros opened his door. ‘What’s going on here, young man?’ he said.”
According to Vitali, the chairman invited the boy into his office, and Vitali handed him a recently penned composition, which the chairman read while the teen offered to work as an intern for free.
Says Vitali, “He called the head of Pireas[the newspaper’s Port of Athens bureau], so I started working.”
After a couple of months, a hunger-striking prisoner was hospitalized, and all the journalists in Athens were vying for an interview with the dying man.
“My job was mainly to hang around the office and serve people coffee,” Vitali remembers, “but I took the decision to go to the hospital, to find a supervisor, and beg her to help me get into his room, because it’s my only chance to prove myself worthwhile, or they would fire me.”
It was Vitali’s first acting role. He says a hospital supervisor allowed Vitali to don a nurse’s uniform and speak with the prisoner. After Phillipopoulos heard the interview tape, he put Vitali on salary.
Having died in 1990, Phillipopoulos was unavailable to confirm his participation in Vitali’s professional ascent, though reporter Yanos Floros, who has worked at Ethnosfor 18 years, told the Weeklyhe has never heard of Vitali; however, Vitali’s friend, actress Mary Chronopoulou, confirmed that Vitali had written celebrity lifestyle articles for Ethnos.
Vitali says that opportunities opened up for him after he became a journalist, that he had his own radio show for years and that he worked for a spell as a cross-dressing TV talk-show host interviewing Greek celebrities in the first such cable show on air in Greece.
At the age of 19, he says he opened a talent management company, which became the largest source of his personal income.
“It was a new concept then,” he explains. “The Greeks didn’t know what a talent manager was. By law, there was the danger that you’ll be defined as a pimp, a promoter of actors and actresses — we’re talking 16 years ago.”
Meanwhile, he was engaged to marry a woman whom his family didn’t approve of because she was 10 years older. They’d already been dating for three and a half years when 17-year-old Vitali moved out of his parents’ home to be with her. He says she eventually left him to protect him from the wrath of his family. Vitali says he did finally marry another woman, but divorced before he left Greece for America in 1997.
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