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Dimitri Leonidas talks his latest film Renegades, being trained by the German Special Forces, and his hopes for the future

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This month saw the release of Renegades, the latest work of Director Steven Quale and Luc Besson. In this heist/action genre mashup, a team of Navy SEALs learn of a forgotten Nazi treasure at the bottom of a Bosnian lake, and attempt to recover it before their unit is reassigned.  

The National Student spoke with Dimitri Leonidas (Monuments Men, Centurion), who stars as Jack Porter, one of five SEALs at the core of the story in 1995 Bosnia, about acting in his first military-action movie, his experience of the film industry and his hopes for the future.

Despite the role that saw him brush shoulders with industry legends like Bill Murray, George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, Leonidas considers Renegades to be his first military movie. “I’d never done a military movie in that sense, since this is a different kind of film and is more action-orientated”, he explains. The training undergone by the cast prior to shooting attests to this: “It was a little intimidating… and as intense as I’d imagined” he says of his military training in Berlin. “They had these German Special Forces guys teaching us to do it all, so I was a little apprehensive, because it was quite a tough start to a job. But it was a lot of fun!”.

With Director Steven Quale’s experience working with James Cameron on The Abyss and Aliens of the Deep, it should come as no surprise that a significant part of Renegades is filmed underwater, during which our protagonists attempt to retrieve the sunken Nazi loot. Leonidas explains that with the extensive training involved for the underwater shoot, “we got our Advanced Open Water certificates”, which was a bonus to the experience, but for him “the lessons I learned transcended the job itself, the self-discipline and that kind of stuff”. “If as a young kid someone had said to me then that I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them. It was like fulfilling a boyhood dream to do all that stuff, with the security of it being on a film set and not in real life,” he laughs.

“It’s the joy of my job that you have different challenges every time, and this was quite a physical one”, Leonidas explained when asked about Renegades' use of action. “We were in the gym every day… I think I put on a stone and a half in muscle. I turned up as this skinny actor that had never been to the gym before, and Luc Besson and Steven had only actually seen me on the self-tape, they hadn’t yet met me in person.” He laughs again, “And I’d intentionally filmed the self-tape to make me look a bit more muscular than I was, so when I turned up they were like ‘Oh wow, this guy needs to hit the gym like, tomorrow’”.

Clearly a bit of a film enthusiast, Leonidas casually drops in film references throughout, whether speaking of Luc Besson’s “strange comedic tone” particularly prevalent “in films like the Fifth Element”, or when he compares the Navy SEALs’ motivations for partaking in the heist scenario to “the Kelly’s Heroes movie with Clint Eastwood”. He draws parallels between the two films: “You have these guys taking advantage of a bad situation, and what they’re doing isn’t righteous by any sense, and they’re motivated by greed” but as the story progresses they realise Lara’s actions (played by the wonderful Sylvia Hoeks) are “righteous”. Leonidas continues, “I think they’re something interesting about that… their motivation might not have been right but without them it would never have happened. And I like that, it feels a little more honest”.

Dimitri Leonidas explains how he got started in acting, from taking drama classes as a child to being cast in Grange Hill, to finally realising that “okay, you can get paid doing this”, and at which point his focus sharpened on acting. Acting isn’t always easy though, as “You have this thing in your head after a job finishes, the horizon is completely blank and then it’s ‘now what?’. It’s a weird pattern that your life exists in these moments of frenzy; you’ve got a job, you’re travelling, whatever requirements are, whether it’s learning an accent, learning to drive a truck or whatever, and suddenly it’s all stations go. And then the job finishes and it’s back to going: ‘I literally don’t know how to fill my time’… it’s a strange thing to try and juggle at first”.

That won’t be an issue for Leonidas in the near future, since at the end of last year it was confirmed that Riviera, a Sky Atlantic television drama in which Leonidas stars alongside Julia Stiles, was being renewed for a second season. “That’s the first time I’ve actually had something on the calendar that I can plan towards,” he says cheerfully.

In the long term however, Leonidas sets his sights beyond the realm of acting. Directing and producing are “definitely, 100 per cent where I’d like to take my career; I love acting, it’s great, but there’s also stories I want to tell, and sort of try to take control of my life a little bit, and not be at the mercy of whether other people want you or not”.

He’s “constantly writing” with his old school friend, Olan Power. “I think it was on a school trip to Andorra, everyone else was asleep and he was still awake, and we ended up getting into a conversation about film, and then the conversation sort of didn’t end for two years!” Together they have written a mixture of features, but are still waiting to “find what would be the right thing to make next, what would have the right impact”, and get the right funding. “One day,” Leonidas muses, “we’re hoping to pool it all together and open our own sort of little production company, where we can make our own stuff… but it’s just the early stages… and to get your foot in the door, to get people to trust you enough to give you their money, that’s one big leap that we haven’t quite managed to make yet.”

Yet in the meantime, the young actor awaits the release of his most recent film, a small-budget French-British production called Kill Ben Lyk, in his own words a “mad comedy thriller with quite a strange, cool tone… Quite a barmy story”. Most likely this film will be released in April of this year, in time to make the film festival circuit.

Renegades is out now On Demand.




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