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Clarity of Purpose: Uncovering Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Little-Known Acting Debut

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Hear directly from the film director who knew Giannis was a star before he impressed NBA scouts

Come Again? What Did That Say?

“They nailed their lines and gave a sense of authority to their characters,” said Tony Krawitz, director of the 2012 film Dead Europe, of the professional acting performances by Giannis Antetokounmpo and his mother Veronica in the film.

It’s accurate and factual, but that sentence still felt bizarre to write.

Memes Make Real News

I’m sure there is plenty of Giannis’ current and past life he chooses to keep private, as anyone would, but the things he has chosen to share all get repeated quite a bit. I think that is partly because he’s a superstar and partly because he’s so steady and free of drama that his news cycle gets regurgitated and cannibalized more than that of most others.

So, a couple of mornings ago when I was enjoying a probably-weird activity that is quite common for me—trying to find Bucks info that’s as far off the beaten path as it can get for the purpose of some combination of my entertainment/material for Bucks memes/procrastinating/decompressing—and I came across a not-playing-himself acting credit for Giannis (“Neighbor’s Son”)...from 2012?...for a film called “Dead Europe”...that, like, won awards?...and has actors I recognize in it?...and oh, Giannis’ mom Veronica is also in the movie, not playing herself, but playing Giannis’ character’s mom (“Neighbor”)?!

Well, as for the movie itself, Dead Europe is an Australian drama film (adaptation from 2005 Christos Tsiolkas book with the same name) that was released in 2012 and has received 13 award nominations and two award wins.

What is all this? A hullabaloo brewed as I Google-Fu’d my hardest to find out more. Information and footage was difficult to come by—at first I could only find the movie’s trailer and some media pieces that quite inconsiderately did not seem to have been produced for Bucks fans.

I thought, “There’s no way Giannis could have been in a movie with his mom 7 years ago and I wouldn’t have heard about it 1,000 times and seen it turned into a bevy of glorious Bucks memes since then. There must be some mistake.”

Don’t get me wrong—I wanted it to be true. I had doubts, but I wanted to believe.

I kept up my phrasing-chosen-for-accuracy vigorous probing of the internet until at last, right in front of my eyes, there they were—mother and son...acting as a mother and son different from themselves—and they even had lines in the script!

“How did they end up in this movie,” I kept wondering. Well, as it turns out, their life experiences made them perfect fits for their roles, according to the film’s director, Tony Krawitz, who was kind enough to let me interview him over the past couple of days for this article.

Working with local casting agents, Krawitz said they “were hoping to cast a family who could play as refugees, yet seem normal and open-hearted.”

Check and check.

“I vaguely remember a young man yes and his mum—though we credited him and his mum as ‘VERA ADETO KUNBO’ and ‘YIANNIS ADETO KUNBO,’” said Liz Watts, producer of the film.

First, “vague memory” of Giannis? Ha, I don’t think he does those anymore, but 29 NBA teams would like your contact info.

Second, Watts’ comments show what I think is one of the reasons this has flown so under the radar. I have never seen those name spellings/spacings as used by the Antetokounmpo’s before—the space especially makes me think it was an error, but I could certainly be wrong.

Either way, no one has Google Alerts set up for Yiannis Adeto Kunbo (until now, maybe) and casting/credits/etc. for Dead Europe are the only places I’ve been able to find these spellings, so it was a lot less likely anyone would recognize the name elsewhere and then connect it to this movie.

Side Note

I challenge anyone to find even one physical copy—any language/region/version/etc.—of the movie available anywhere (and of course get an extra for me and I’ll tip you). I’ve been scouring the internet and haven’t found one yet. Oh, plus the film’s director didn’t know of where I could find one. Maybe this is really all just a meme conspiracy…

So, What Next?

I mean, what next for me, in my part of the story, remember—vital matters of meme management?

Well, with the mystery seemingly solved, loads of laundry needing switching, a sink full of dishes and a full list of work I wanted to get done, I really had no other choice but to move on to immediately making a Bucks meme with this new material. After all, that old saying really is true, which I can confirm as a parent and a meme enthusiast: there are no (full) days off in parenting or memeing and humans are born with the ability to fully take care of themselves without supervision during Bucks games.

Life is special.

So I made the meme.

I think it’s a good-not-great-level meme.

It’s included underneath the clip of the scene’s original version further below.

I posted the meme on r/MkeBucks (the Bucks subreddit—come join!) and Twitter, still thinking everyone ELSE would’ve already known about the movie—but to my surprise literally no one did—weird.

My Scully doubt was gone though—it was time for my inner Fox Mulder to run the investigation, because now I knew for sure: the truth was out there.

So, I Started Digging

I knew it wouldn’t be very easy to find anyone with the information/context/quotes I was looking for, because who would/could have really had enough experiences with them to form opinions and memories of them—I don’t know that I’d be able to remember much of anything about two people who were in one scene 7 years ago and who maybe I saw in passing a few times.

So, I didn’t have much to start with, but while I’m no MVP, I did have three things going for me:

  • A total lack of respect for the value of my own time.
  • A possibly-masochistic willingness to viciously abuse my sleep cycle, whatever a sleep cycle is (and luckily my wife was off of work and didn’t mind! <3).
  • Having career experience that has had a byproduct of giving me a usually-but-not-today-useless strength: my pretty good version of a manual WUPHF!.

So I started hunting down contacts and finding the email addresses that companies think they can stop me from finding by switching up formats enough. Pitching, sending media requests, DMs, etc.—I was WUPHF!in’.

Fast forward some and I eventually found the right track to get on and started getting some good feedback. I only quote three people in this article, but with how spread out across the world and moved-on work-wise this group was, there were many people who were helpful in narrowing things down along the way. Maybe it’s not tons of info, but now it’s all assembled, which required a helpful web of people to piece everything together.

Worth it?

Yes.

I’d also like to mention that everyone I interacted with was just ecstatic—I mean, ELATED—to tell me how happy they are for Giannis and his family—and I’d say about half of them didn’t know Giannis had made it to the NBA until reading my email. He would have still been “Yiannis” to them and not seen for years, but their reactions were even stronger than those of people who knew Giannis as a star.

For real—look—this is the first email the film’s director, Tony Krawitz, sent me after Germain McMicking was a huge help and connected us:

“Hi Patrick,

“That is such strange timing! I recently moved to LA and caught up with the Line Producer from Dead Europe, who is Greek and based in LA. He’s also a huge basketball fan. He told me the story about Giannis.

“I remember him, his mother and his brother well. She told me their story, and how her sons were so committed to basketball. I was and am overjoyed to hear about his continued success!

“I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.”

And to me—a guy in Madison, Wisconsin, thousands of miles away, who has unfortunately never had an opportunity to meet Giannis, though I hear he’s a pretty neat guy and maybe some day our paths will cross.

Anyway, it was awesome how many people sounded like fans of a superstar but were unaware he actually is one—they’re just huge fans of Giannis the person and his family, regardless.

That’s pretty neat.

Antetokounmpo Acting Chops

The incredible story of Giannis’ rise to superstardom has been written, recorded, told and retold so many times, I’m guessing many fans would not struggle to recall from memory a majority of the most-frequently reported biographical topics: the son of immigrants, poverty, schlepping knock-off merch in Athens, YMCA-level competition, recognized, scouted, drafted, “smothies,” Wolters bromance, running to a game, justifiably and awesomely dispatching with Mike Dunleavy Jr., filling rookie D.J. Wilson’s car with popcorn, MIP, becoming the MVP, runnin’ and gunnin’ for a championship.

It really is truly amazing and inspirational—and that’s why I read/watch every one of those pieces on Giannis even if they’re repetitive—but how has the world so easily forgotten the silver-screen endeavors of 16-year-old Giannis and his mom? How could everyone have omitted Giannis’ professional acting role from the canon of his formative years, especially as it represents his so-far biggest moment in the spotlight?

Before Giannis became the MVP in 2019, before he won MIP in 2017, before he was drafted 15th overall by the Bucks in July 2013, before NBA teams started showing interest in him at the end of 2012, even about a month before Giannis’ first season playing for Filathlitikos’ senior team in a semi-“pro,” no-longer-existing, third-division league—a league that included at least one literal YMCA team and has a website that looks like this in 2020:

Before any of that, “Yiannis Adeto Kunbo” went to his first day of work as a professional actor on a professional movie set to begin filming Dead Europe in September, 2011.

So, how would he—and his mom—handle the unfamiliar pressure?

Well, he was younger and less experienced then, but come on—Giannis was born Giannis.

“They were amazing on set—open to direction,” said Krawitz of Veronica and Giannis. “We had a good chat about the story and their small part within it. I had chats with them in between takes about basketball and what it’s like being African in Greece.”

  • Coachable and will commit to system.
  • Desire to perform at the highest level despite workload.

Sounds familiar.

“The conversations were brief as I was busy making the film,” Krawitz said of his working relationship with the mother and son. “But in a short space of time I feel I got to know them well.”

Game recognize game—the Antetokounmpos like people who want to get to work, but still make the most out the time they do spend getting to know people.

“They seemed to me like a very impressive family—smart, talented and focused on making a better future for themselves,” Krawitz said of the family overall—and I think he might have been on to something there—seems to have worked out pretty okay.

Germain McMicking, the film’s cinematographer, similarly remembers Veronica and Giannis fondly.

“I remember them being lovely people, and I remember their performances were great, and honest,” said McMicking.

So, what about the actual scene? What were their performances like?

Veronica and Giannis really steal the show in their scene, which I would summarize thusly: their characters’ neighbor (the main character) been gettin’ way too rowdy, so Giannis flashes his DPOY future by shuttin’ ‘em down right quick, but then this insubordinate joker tryna come back and has the audacity to be sayin’ now he lookin’ fo’ some other dude who had already moved outta that place, but we all know Veronica ain’t takin’ none o’ that sass—she gets people got—she don’t get got—so she came with that instant and vicious clap-back to keep him in his place while Giannis talks some righteous trash to him as the family duo cruises to victory.

Okay, so that’s how I saw it, but it’s possible I might not be totally accurate.

Let’s defer to Krawitz and Watts to handle explaining the role of Giannis and Veronica, since they’re the pros:

  • Krawitz saw Veronica and Giannis as good balancing forces for the movie: “The main character is getting lost and paranoid—and we thought the contrast of a normal family would be a good one,” he said.
  • Watts remembered exactly where this all happened: “...they played the neighbours in a dilapidated old office block in inner Athens near Syntagma square where many refugees were staying in our story. And in real life,” Watts said.

Here’s the original scene:

Here’s the Bucks meme version of the scene!:

Giannis looked like a past version of himself I think most of us are familiar with—this is the “sharing shoes with my brother, selling knock-off merch, starting to ball a bit” Giannis I had seen many photos of, but never with “actor” included in that moniker list—until now (also, check out that promising mean mugging).

When I asked Krawitz to reflect on what stood out most in his memory when he thought about his interactions with the Antetokounmpo’s during the film’s production, he gravitated more toward the same concept behind why their presence on set even came to be—their fit with the film’s subject matter. The family’s ability to “seem normal” playing refugees, perhaps because at one point their lives probably weren’t too different—their ability to “seem” open-hearted in their roles, because they don’t have to act that, they just are.

“We were filming in a building in central Athens [Krawitz said one of Giannis’ younger brothers was along as well, but wasn’t sure which one] where many refugees lived—some of them crowded into small apartments. A two bedroom apartment might house 20 young men. It was very moving meeting all these people and working with them. We made this film partly as an ode to refugees, especially children,” said Krawitz. “Giannis and his family were much more settled as Greeks than the people who lived in the building. Their lives were on track. The refugees were living in a kind of limbo.”

I thought Krawitz’s point of view was interesting here—a very good reminder that while Giannis’ story almost seems like a fantasy movie, we should be conscious of not romanticizing parts of it that in real life is are life and death situations every day for almost every other family in that situation that doesn’t make it out.

Earlier, I suggested this acting role could very well have been Giannis’ first big moment in the spotlight—and I was interested in the juxtaposition of that with what “being in the spotlight” means for Giannis in 2020—but maybe there’s not much of a difference for Giannis since his family had already faced its biggest moment under the brightest of lights just before this acting gig.

The acting roles they played were those of characters living in the refugee “limbo” the Antetokounmpo’s had just made it out of.

That may be the actual Antetokounmpo fantasy story—not making it to the NBA or America—escaping limbo.

I told Krawitz he must be quite the talent scout since he put Giannis on the silver screen more than a year before any NBA scout took an interest in the future MVP. “What do you think Giannis would be best at after his basketball career is over?” I asked Tony, to conclude my questions for him.

“I saw star potential in him. A quiet confidence, a clarity of purpose,” said Krawitz. “I guess those are some of the qualities that have helped make him a basketball star. I think he could do whatever he sets his mind to.”

Clarity of purpose.”

That’s one of the better descriptors of Giannis I’ve heard. It makes him different than most superstars—maybe most people in general.

All have goals, but goals are different than purpose—and confusing the two only ends well if you never miss.

Maybe that’s why we hear the same Giannis stories over and over.

If so, here’s to more of the same.


I’ll be back in the near future with the next installment of my What Actually Happened column, but in the meantime, enjoy the ride with clarity of purpose.

Go Bucks.