With her talent and her strong personality, she made our country known to the whole world, while with her beautiful face she captured the lens. Irini Papa is one of the few actresses who went beyond the narrow limits of Greece and made a career abroad. He was lucky enough to work with great directors, such as Giorgos Tzavellas, Michalis Kakogiannis, Costas Gavras, Francesco Rosi, Elio Petri and Manoel de Oliveira.
Who was Irini Papa?
Irini Lelekou, as her real name was, was born in Chiliomodi, Corinthia on September 3, 1926 to parents who were teachers. She first appeared in the artistic field at the age of 15 as a singer and dancer. She then studied at the Dramatic School of the National Theater and in the first years of her career collaborated with various troupes.
During her studies she married the actor Alkis Pappa (1922-2018), who helped her in her first artistic steps. The couple will divorce in 1951 and the beautiful actress will keep her ex-husband’s last name (with a p), by which she will be known worldwide in the following years as Irene Papas.
In 1948, now a final student at the National Theater School, she captivated Alekos Sakellarios with her beauty, who included her in the revue “People, People” that was staged at the “Metropolitan” theater on Alexandra Avenue and left an era.
Excerpt from the movie “Lost Angels”.
In the same year, she made her film debut in the Finos Film film “Lost Angels” (1948), just like the writer Nikos Tsiforos in his first directorial attempt. Irini Papa imposed herself both in Greece and abroad with her role in Frixos Iliadis’ film “Dead State” (1952). With his own money, Finos sent the film to the Cannes Film Festival, where it was not awarded, but its leading lady was heavily involved in the world press. Photos of the dark-haired beauty with hunky playboy Aga Khan, who was said to be in love with her, flooded newspapers and magazines around the world.
“Electra” by Michalis Kakogiannis
The publicity he gained in Cannes opened the doors to Irini Papa. In Italy he participated in the historical films “Attila” (1953) and “Theodora, Empress of Byzantium” (1953), while three years later he replaced Grace Kelly in Robert Wise’s western “Tribute to a Bad Man “) co-starring James Cagney. In 1961 he had an important role in the great international success “The Guns of Navarone”, which was also filmed in Rhodes and directed by John Lee Thompson.
In the same period, she appeared in the Greek films “The Lake of Sighs” (1959) by Grigoris Grigoriou and embodied Bouboulina in the film of the same name by Kostas Andritsos (1959). Her performance in the film “Antigone” (1961) by Giorgos Tzavellas, which was discussed at the Berlin Film Festival and won an award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, was unforgettable.
Her performances in the films directed by Michalis Kakogiannis were also notable: Elektra (1962), Zorba the Greek (1965), The Trojan Women (1971), Iphigenia (1977) and Sweet Homeland (1986). He also collaborated with Kakogiannis in theater performances in Greece (Sophocles’ Electra in Epidaurus, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in Herodio) and abroad (Euripides’ Medea and Bacchus in 1980 on Broadway).
Other notable films in which he appeared were: “To each his own” (“A ciascuno il suo”, 1966) by Elio Petri, “Santa Mama” (The Brotherhood, 1968) by Martin Ritt, “Z” (1969) by Kostas Gavras, “Anna of a Thousand of days (“Anne of the Thousand Days”, 1969) by Charles Jarrott, “Christ stopped at Eboli (“Cristo si e fermato a Eboli”, 1979) by Francesco Rosi, “Eréndira” (1983) by Rui Guerra and “Chronicle of a death announced” (“Cronaca di una morte annunciate”, 1987) by Francesco Rosi, based on the works of the same name by Gabriel García Márquez. One of her last big screen appearances was in John Madden’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001).
The “living Caryatid” from Chiliomodi in Corinth lives under the Attic sky in the neighborhood of the Acropolis that she loved so much..