Spotlight on a Star of Greek Heritage: Actor Gilles Marini

by Markos Papadatos

Recently, I was afforded the privileged opportunity to interview a multi-talented actor of Greek heritage and a true gentleman - the incomparable Mr. Gilles Marini. Throughout the past year, Gilles Marini has established himself as a household name. He swept the hearts of America while competing as a star on Season 8 of America's reality dancing competition, Dancing With the Stars. At the season's finale, Marini was declared the runner-up winner of the show, a title which propelled him into world-wide fame.

This past month, Gilles Marini was featured as a special guest at the Greek Independence Day parade that took place on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. On receiving such recognition, Marini remarks that "it's always amazing to be able to be so far away from your country, and it's always great to remind yourself where you are from. I was really honored. It was a really cool feeling."

Marini remarks that "Dancing with the Stars changed his life from A to Z." He adds that "life was really good before. I was really blessed, and then the show came up. I just wanted to make everybody proud, from myself, to my family, and the people that were watching. The next thing you know, it becomes this kind of phenomenon and everybody is loving it, and obviously life has changed quite a bit. Now I have more offers when it comes to movies and television." Previously for Marini, getting an audition was much more of a struggle. Now it is a very different story. "I am very happy now," Marini says.

From the Dancing With the Stars experience, Marini misses "the moment when I am about to dance. All the energy from all the people that were watching on stage [700 of them], all that emotion, looks like it was transferring into my body, and it was an amazing feeling from all of them in that they wanted me to do well. It's very difficult to explain. Then, I was really enjoying the moment, because the struggle to get there was very difficult. Then, you are being transported by the people around and I am re-craving for that adrenaline and that feeling, and I miss Cheryl [Burke]".

Mark Sullivan/

On being partnered with professional dancer, Cheryl Burke, Marini notes that "she dedicated herself to me, and I dedicated myself to her to the maximum extent. I was a soldier and did exactly what she wanted me to do. I never played the part of 'the star' in the show. I was her solider and I did everything I could to make her proud. She is a beautiful, amazing person." "Cheryl molded me into this 'dancer' and now I have a new skill," he says.

Marini's favorite dances on the show include the paso doble, the Argentine tango and all the Latin dances. In the Argentine tango, he and Cheryl Burke had scored the first perfect 10 of the season. Their performance of the Argentine tango garnered rave reviews from the judges, where Bruno Tonioli dubbed him as the "quintessential Latin lover," and Carrie Ann Inaba admitted that in that dance she "could not distinguish who was the professional and who was the celebrity." His least favorite dance was the jive, because he had a hard time with it, especially since the dance involved learning a lot of steps.

Gilles Marini's mother is originally from Athens, Greece. His mother was a huge inspiration in his life. She was always very friendly and very honest with her feelings and the way she was teaching him. Marini remarks "she made me become a man at a very early age, and was explaining to me everything the way it was. She made sure that 'respect' is the most important thing in life. My mom influenced me a lot with regard to respecting others, especially the elderly around the world. She is also a very strong woman. My mom is the boss until the day she dies, and she always will be. I will always be her baby. She will always be the mother. Our culture is very strong, and she is not going to give in to any other culture."

Marini's father was yet another big influence on him. His father was the opposite of his mother at many different levels. His father [who was of Italian descent] worked a great deal in his life for his family. He toiled as a baker from 9 PM until 2 PM of the next day, and he did that since the young age of twelve. Every kid in the neighborhood loved him, since his dad would give food to the children on the streets; the people loved him to death and called him "uncle." When his father passed away back in 1995, it was a devastating blow to the neighborhood. His father's funeral was massive; every nationality came together in his church in an effort to sympathize with the family and mourn the loss of his father. Marini states "my dad was an example to the people. I don't think I will ever be like him, if I ever become half of what he was, I will be a very happy man."

In Marini's profession, there is a high degree of uncertainty that comes along with it. One can be in an amazing place today, but tomorrow can be a total nightmare. He may be successful one day, but this can be taken away any day, for whatever the reason may be. The "unknown" is a very stressful thing, since you never know when this ride is stopping; however, he finds that the rewards in acting are greater than in any other job.

Marini's proudest professional moment was sitting down across Academy-Award winning actress Sally Field by the pool of a pretend house on Brothers and Sisters, "giving my lines and listening to her, and having one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever had in my life." This aforementioned scene was from the Brothers and Sisters episode "Last Tango in Pasadena."

Marini is an individual who is able to juggle both a family and his professional career. Luckily, his beautiful wife, Carole, and two wonderful children, George and Juliana, are very supportive. A loving father and spouse, Marini takes his family with him everywhere he goes, and enjoys spending as much time as possible with them.

In a perfect world, Marini would like to star in a "massive" romantic comedy or romantic drama that would involve dancing in one way or another. "That would be a cool movie," he says. "I could be a tango teacher, and maybe some amazing Greek writer may think that this is a good idea," he laughs.

In his spare time, Marini loves staying active and enjoys mixed martial arts (MMA), playing soccer, fishing, hiking, nature, as well as going to the gym.

Marini is very driven and does not want to give up anything. He wants to be remembered as the guy, who came 'out of nowhere,' without speaking a word of English, and landed in America, who lived his dream all the way to the very end.

For the Greek-American youth who wish to pursue careers in the acting industry, Gilles remarks that "practice makes perfect. If you know how to read, nobody can teach you anything that you cannot learn on your own. For sure, it is important to never give up. The day you do give up, you will wake up ten years later, saying "why did I?" He further adds that "trying is one of the most courageous things one can do in life. It is important to do this job [acting] as a passion, since doing it for the fame does not bring the true essence of happiness. Be truthful to who you are. Do things that make you feel good, and do not let anybody tell you that you cannot do it. Work at it, and enjoy every aspect of it. Do great things around you. I love people, and I always want to help the people that I meet. Respect people and enjoy life, because it is so short! That is the best advice that I can give to everybody." Marini is a firm believer of the French saying "spreading the good seed around will always bring you happiness." Gilles is living proof that all this is possible.

For Marini, success is "the feeling when I see my children smiling at me when I am doing various things on television. It is a priceless feeling. That means the world to me. I think success does not mean that you are successful, but having the people that I love the most say 'we are very proud of what you do,' means a great deal to me."

Marini concludes by thanking his Greek-American fans for all their support and hopes to make them proud of his Greek heritage. He adds "America is a very special place in the world, which we cannot turn our backs on, since they have accepted us here in a beautiful way. I love America since it gave me the chance to be who I am inside."

(Posting date 30 May 2010)

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