Olympia opens with the titular actress unveiling her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, immortalized in concrete at the age of 82. Director Harry Mavromichalis further cements the personality and legacy of Academy Award-winning actor Olympia Dukakis in his new documentary, in virtual cinemas July 10.
Most known for her Oscar turn in Moonstruck and films like Steel Magnolias, Dukakis was one of the first actors to be taken seriously when making the transition from theater to screen. “She was the gateway to Hollywood looking at theater actors,” Laura Linney says in the film.
Dukakis helped found The Whole Theater, where she began a prolific stage career playing notable roles in Vigil, Mother Courage, and A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, to name just a few. She was inspired to create the company after being passed over for roles because her name was “too ethnic.”
“If they don’t give it to you for whatever reason, you have to build it yourself,” Dukakis said. “And that takes patience.”
Olympia is a reflective summary of a really interesting life, told mostly in the subject’s own words. From the start, it is an honest conversation between Dukakis and the filmmaker; viewers will feel like they just pulled up a chair. Stories are shared from family members (including her cousin and former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis), along with fellow actors like Whoopi Goldberg and Diane Ladd. But the real enjoyment comes when we get to see her in action.
Dukakis is clearly a story-teller by nature, and watching her interact with the filmmaker, her family and random strangers at the grocery store tells us more about her than any anecdote could. There’s no barrier between her and the audience, and she is rarely guarded.
Honesty is at the heart of Olympia: she is honest about not caring about for the frills of “fame,” truthful with the CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival about rejecting one of her films, and incredibly open with students in her acting class. A sequence at the San Francisco Pride Parade shows just how funny and self-aware she really is, as she smiles and waves while saying “They don’t know who the f*** I am!”
“Who in America doesn’t have an outsider feeling? That not belonging, not just in my work, but as a woman, never goes away.”Olympia Dukakis, Olympia
Mavromichalis effortlessly balances the past and present, showing that the work has always mattered most to Olympia. Her late husband Louis Zorich, to whom the film is dedicated, said that it’s always been about her work – and nobody does it better.
While the excellent work speaks for itself, this film celebrates the woman. In both her personal life and public persona, Mavromichalis is careful to sit back and simply show us her many facets. A viewer knows all she needs to know about Olympia by simply spending time with her, and the film lets us do that. An especially hilarious moment from her entertaining daily life is an animated interaction with Siri; Olympia even has honest conversations with iPhone software.
In a session with students at New York University, Olympia tells her students that actors are like a “prism,” experiencing multiple feelings at once, from all different angles. Olympia, the film and the person, is a reminder that people are prisms, too.