Sometimes when you meet a celebrity or someone who has been in the public eye it can be disappointing to discover that they don’t measure up to their larger than life on-screen persona. But this is definitely not the case when it comes to Jason Stevens.
The ex footy star come TV host come writer, producer and director is just as warm, friendly, genuine and humorous as the Jason Stevens that Australians have come to know and love over the decades since he first catapulted into the public eye.
We are catching up to chat about his latest project – ‘Finally Me’, due for release early next year and set to be the hugest Greek themed movie to hit the screens since My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Described as “'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' meets 'Bring it On' and 'Hairspray'” by Stevens, who wrote, produced and directed the movie; ‘Finally Me’ tells the tale of 16 year of Soula Mitsos, who is Greek, plus size, and works after school in the family owned take away souvlaki store.
All Soula’s dad wants her to do is take over the store and marry a Greek boy named Jimmy. All Soula wants to do is cheerlead for her school Westend High.
Despite being a complete novice at cheerleading, Soula’s dream becomes a reality when she is unexpectedly chosen in the team.
“Essentially the movie tells the story of the dynamics of young girl going toe to toe with her dad about her dreams,” says Stevens.
“Not only in Greek households, but in a lot of European households there is a whole dynamic of loyalty where chasing your own dreams can be seen as going against your family.
“Soula deals with all of this and also with her own fears within herself."
Starring NIDA graduate Jazz Laker of 'Starstruck the Stage Musical' fame, the cast of ‘Finally Me’ is peppered with Aussie acting greats such as Underbelly’s Rhys Muldoon, Hot Shoe Shuffle’s Rhonda Burchmore, ‘Wog Boys’ Tony Nikolakopoulos and George Kapiniaris, as well as up and coming actors Alea O’Shea, Josh Heuston, Camila Ponte Alvarez and Naomi Sequeira.
“Mary Coustas, she really helped me a lot. She gave me advice as to who to speak to in the Greek community,” says Stevens of his stellar cast.
“For example, she told me: “There’s no one else who can do this role but Tony”,” he says, in reference to his casting of Tony Nikolopolous from The Wog Boys and Alex and Eve as Mr Mitsos, a character who, as Stevens’ tells us, was loosely based upon his own Pappou.
“Similar to Windex in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, garlic plays a big role in ‘Finally Me’,” Stevens confides.
“This came from my grandfather – our dad figure. He used to walk in the house always smelling of garlic.
“He would tell us: “I eat a clove of garlic everyday that’s why I never get sick!”” Stevens remembers, laughing.
Although a familiar face on Aussie TV screens for years, something that most people may not have known until reading this, is that Stevens is proudly of Greek heritage.
“Yes, my Pappou Angelo Papadopoulos, was Cyprian and also my Yiayia on my Father’s side was Greek,” explains Stevens who says that he grew up in Brighton Le Sands - what was the then Greek capital of Sydney.
“My neighbours’ names on all sides were Soula, Toula and Stavroula – I kid you not!” he laughs.
“Greek culture has always a big part of the family – from the tradition of dyeing and cracking of the eggs at Easter, to the often animated style of communication between family members to which Greek families are often accustomed.
“We grew up very much influenced by European culture – the food, the jokes, the loud talking! I remember introducing my wife Beck (who was my girlfriend at the time) to my family and she was left often confused as to whether we had just had a fight,” laughs Stevens.
“She would say; “why do you talk so loud why are you fighting?” I would laugh and inform her that we weren’t fighting, that’s just how we talked!”
Seeing as the Greek family themes in the movie are borrowed from Steven’s own family life I can’t help but wonder whether the parts of the storyline about the main character Soula’s self image issues were based on his experiences also.
“I was a really big boy when young and was teased a fair bit,” admits soon-to-turn 50 Stevens, who initially wrote the film in 2011. “Older boys at high school would pinch my stomach.”
“But if someone really embarrassed me, I kept it to myself. I held it all inside – maybe that was a sign of the era,” says Stevens, admitting that it may also have been partly because he wanted to protect his family against further worries after his younger sister Vanessa suffered horrific injuries in an accident.
“’Finally Me’ attempts to normalise issues that many young people face,” says Stevens.
“I want the movie to speak to young people who feel out of place – and to tell them: don’t let that stop you from achieving your dreams.
“As part of any journey people may ridicule you or you will upset people. Don’t let anything stop you.”
By now you may be thinking; “What’s a Greek ex rugby league player doing making a cheer film?” and agreed, that is an interesting question!
“Well,” explain Stevens, “I loved cheerleading films and my grandfather is Greek, so I wanted to blend the two themes into a film that would encourage younger people who had a dream but deep down didn’t believe they could achieve it,” answers Stevens.
“When playing footy we always travelled by bus to the different grounds in locations such as in Newcastle, Canberra and so on, and the guys could make their own suggestion as to what movies to watch,” says Stevens. “They would always choose movies like ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and action movies.”
In stark contrast was Stevens’ suggestion of cheerleading comedy film ‘Bring It On’.
“The guys never did watch it,” Stevens admits, laughing.
“In a similar vein I loved the movie ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ and actually was lucky enough to have interviewed its star Heath Ledger years later which was an unbelievable experience.
“I just always loved that genre.”
So by now you may have guessed that Jason Stevens was not just your average sport star.
In addition to a successful Rugby League career where he played at the highest level (NSW and Australian representative) for 14 seasons with both the Cronulla Sharks and St George Dragons, Jason also managed to complete a Bachelor of Commerce degree at UNSW and is an author of two books, one of which, Worth The Wait, became a best seller in Australia.
Since retiring from the game in 2005, Jason’s charismatic and witty nature landed him on Australian TV screens - on The Footy Show, ABC’s The Fat, Channel 7’s Matty Johns' show and now currently Sydney Weekender with his wife Beck. In 2010, Jason hosted his own lifestyle/variety show on 7Two called “Big J’s Place”.
Steven’s various roles on TV have seen him swap smack down stories with The Rock, flex his muscles at a blushing Nicole Kidman on the red carpet, sing with The Village People, talk a good plan with Liam Neeson. He learned dance moves from Carmen Electra, though he says this didn’t help him, as he finished last in the 2010 Dancing with the Stars series.
‘Finally Me’ is the second movie by Stevens, his first feature being ‘Chasing Comets’, which was nominated for an ADG (Australia Directors’ Guild) award.
In cinemas soon, ‘Finally Me’ is one the most highly anticipated films of 2023 - and you’ll have to line up behind me to get a ticket.
Resplendent Pictures Presents Finally Me
In Cinemas Soon
Written, Directed and Produced by Jason Stevens
Cast: Jazz Laker, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Josh Heuston, Alea O’Shea, Naomi Sequeira, Tianrnie Coupland, Felicity Price, Rhonda Birchmoore, Rhys Muldoon, Gary Eck