BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater resident Elena Kampouris got the audition information for a part in a new movie and almost didn’t audition.
The film was looking for a Mediterranean-looking girl to fit in with a large Greek family. Although Kampouris is Greek on her father’s side, her mother is French, and she has light skin and blond hair.
“I don’t look like the typical Mediterranean girl,” she said. “I thought my chances of getting the part would be slim and I didn’t even want to audition.”
But Kampouris couldn’t help herself, and, with the support of her father, she reluctantly put a tape together and sent it in.
Despite what she believed were unbelievable odds, Kampouris won the role of Paris, the daughter of Nia Vardalos’s Toula Portokalos and John Corbett’s Ian in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding II,” the follow-up to the runaway hit from 14 years ago.
“I reluctantly put together the tape, and Nia saw past my surface,” Kampouris said. “They made me a brunette for the movie so I looked like a mixture.”
“But Nia is responsible for launching me,” she added. “I’m a newbie. I’m like her in the first movie, and Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks launched her, and now she’s doing that for me.”
Kampouris said the studio originally wanted a name for the role, but Vardalos and the makers of the film believed in what she could do.
“Nia went for a Jersey girl who has no connection to the industry,” Kampouris said. “She believed in me and plucked me out of obscurity.”
It was a huge change for the 18-year-old from Bridgewater, who graduated from Gil St. Bernards, in Gladstone.
Kampouris was born in New York, and moved to Bridgewater when she was 2 years old.
“All of my childhood is in Bridgewater, and this is where all my memories are from,” she said.
Kampouris graduated from Gil St. Bernards two years ago, before she got a part on the NBC show “American Odyssey.” She said graduating early from high school made her more competitive for jobs.
“I was less competitive before because they would have to hire a tutor, and that was a disadvantage,” she said. “(Graduating early) was a business decision.”
Now, Kampouris said, she tutors one-on-one with a Cambridge professor, predominantly taking English classes.
“Right now this is working out well because my schedule is very erratic, and when I have down time, I am working with my tutor,” she said.
Kampouris said she only began acting about four years ago, catching the bug after she got a part on “Gossip Girl,” on the CW.
“I was freaking out because I love that show,” she said with a laugh. “I was on it for five seconds, but it was a huge deal for me.”
Being a part of an iconic show and learning the lingo of being on a set was eye opening for her, Kampouris said.
“You get to play out different fantasies, be different people and get lost in a whole other character,” she said of acting. “You learn a lot about human nature and the human psyche, which is really interesting to me.”
From there, Kampouris had her first major role on a tv movie for Nickelodeon.
“I really got to experience set life on a grander scale,” she said. “I really soaked in everything.”
“And after that, I got to jump to the majors,” she added, “and go to feature films.”
Kampouris next worked with director Jason Reitman on the movie, “Labor Day,” followed by “Men, Women and Children,” also with Reitman.
“I worked with Jennifer Gardner, Adam Sandler, JK Simmons played my father, it was absolutely insane,” she said. “Playing off these amazing actors, I really learned a lot.”
Kampouris said she did a great deal of research and preparation for her first roles, including losing 10 pounds, bringing herself down to 98 pounds, to play a character suffering from anorexia in one of her films with Reitman.
“I got really method, and it was a wonderful experience to get into character like that,” she said. “It was a very deep dark drama.”
Kampouris said she got so into the role that people thought she actually was anorexic, and so she joined Gold’s Gym, in Bridgewater, after the film to gain muscle back and help bring her weight back up.
Gold’s Gym later sponsored a meet-and-greet at Reading Cinemas in Manville to celebrate Kampouris’s big break in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding II.”
Although she had plenty of experience in a Greek family, Kampouris said she was very nervous to begin filming “My Big Fat Greek Wedding II.” In fact, she said, she didn’t even know what the role was until filming began.
“It’s interesting because when I did my tape and audition, the sides were fake because they were keeping the material secret,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a daughter role, and Nia had written dummy scenes. I flew out to Toronto to read for Nia in person, and actually found out what the role was.”
“It all happened super quickly,” she added. “It was all happening at once, I remember getting the news from her in the room and I started bawling.”
When she got on set, Kampouris said, she saw what great chemistry the entire cast had, and she felt the warmth radiating on the set.
“They took care of me, mentored me, taught me so much,” she said. “The wisdom they imparted is priceless. The people I worked with are amazing people and comedy veterans, and they imparted a lot of what they learned on me.”
Vardalos has been a mentor to her as well, Kampouris said.
“She really looked out for me, and she is a really inspirational strong woman,” Kampouris said. “She is smart, funny, she’s feisty. I really respect her and she’s helped me a lot. She fought a lot of adversity in Hollywood. She was not getting a lot and she created her own success.”
“That is something I really respect and look up to,” she added. “She relied on herself, which is beautiful.”
And with the film wrapped, Kampouris said she is very proud of its family-oriented feel.
“This film has such a patriotic element, unlike any other,” she said, adding that she visits family in Greece every summer. “It has been very special.”
But despite how much she loved working on the film, Kampouris said she was very homesick during it. When she returned home from filming in Toronto, she was excited to see her family and friends, and visit the Bridgewater Commons Mall.
“Toronto is beautiful, but it is nothing like Bridgewater,” she said. “I reunited with my friends right away. It was nice to be back with everyone I loved.”
With the film released, Kampouris said she has been meeting people around the area, thanking everyone who went to see it in the theaters. She said she met an Italian family in the theater and watched the movie with them, coming away with new friends.
“They are so supportive, we made new friends and that is the essence of the film,” she said. “It brings people from all different cultures, and it is a beautiful thing to see.”
The future continues to look bright for Kampouris as she is preparing for two new movies to shoot, first being the young adult film “Before I Fall,” in which she plays a girl who is bullied in school and driven to the point of insanity and suicide.
“It is a really powerful movie, and can speak to a young crowd,” she said. “That is coming out at the end of the year.”
Kampouris is also attached to the film, “Pretty Near Perfect,” an indie pageant drama that focuses on pageants in the south.
“The character I play is dealing with a bipolar mother,” she said. “It is the life story of the writer and director. I am super excited for this passion project.”
Kampouris said that for “Greek Wedding,” she had 18 years of research to play that part, coming from a Greek family. For her other films, she does preparation, getting into the physicality of the character.
“I am finding the mannerisms, and developing all aspects of the characters,” she said.
For “Before I Fall,” she did research into the human psyche, and for “Pretty Near Perfect,” she is planning to visit pageants in the south to see exactly what they are like.
“It is a lot of people watching, and I love to people watch,” she said. “I love psychology.”
Kampouris said the advice she would give to anyone looking to pursue a career in acting would be to never give up.
“Let notes and rejection motivate you to keep going,” she said. “Because I do a lot of research, I recommend going to classes and taking as many lessons as you can. It only makes you do better.”
For Kampouris, the work she has done and the support from the local community has made the work worth it.
“To me, this has been an amazing experience,” she said. “I am so happy that Bridgewater has supported me.”