Interview With Elena Kampouris, Star Of ‘Wifelike’

While Wifelike, the new film by James Bird (Honeyglue), isn’t really a horror film per se, it is pretty terrifying. A smart sci-fi thriller about the future where men can buy an AI companion/wife, the film reminds me of what we are all already afraid of, that women will no longer have control over their own bodies. It is already happening. It’s already a truth that we’ve been fighting to stop. If something like Wifelike were to become reality—I know that there are some companies really trying to make this happen—then what could happen to flesh and blood, breathing, living women? Would we start a revolt like the ones in the film or would we be complacent and just let it happen? I hope I never find out.

To celebrate the release of the film, I chatted with star Elena Kampouris about playing an AI, preparing for her role, what’s up next, and more!

PopHorror: I really liked Wifelife. I thought this was something really good for you. It’s quite a departure from your other stuff. You did amazingly. What intrigued you about the film and made you want to be a part of it?

Elena Kampouris: My gosh. I recall from when we had our chat last time, we both love intensity. We really like intensity and that kind of nuanced material. And to me, this had that. It was a really compelling world. The themes that were at play were just really fascinating to me. It’s a different take on AI in the sense that this was a human being, and she’s modeled after this human being, and is there to please and serve the husband. That’s her programming. And you’ve got this whole journey where this AI is discovering emotions, discovering truth, discovering singularities, discovering identity. That whole journey of going forward one step and then two steps back. It was a lot to absorb.

When I first read the script, I was like, “Wow.” There’s just so much that’s under the surface here. A commentary on intimacy, on technology, on humanity itself, and also women and women’s roles throughout history, and has this really changed that much? How women have been treated and what’s expected of them. So there was so much swirling around. I also, just off the page, saw a challenge. It excited me very much so there was a lot that was enticing.

PopHorror: Was there anything that you were adamant about bringing to your character?

Elena Kampouris: I think a big part of what I was adamant about in discussions with James Bird, our director, and [Producer] Steven Paul was keeping at the baseline of the story, if this makes sense. It starts out—without giving too much away—like a love story between Meredith and William, but one thing that we discussed that we were all on the same page on was that it actually becomes a love story between a robot and a ghost, AI Meredith and human Meredith, the Meredith that she’s modeled after.

And I think what it becomes in her discovery and what she finds out about—again not giving too much away—her origins and what happened to the previous Meredith, it becomes a story of not quite being an avenging spirit from death and bringing justice but honoring and tributing the original Meredith. Fine-tuning ego, choosing her own identity over ownership. That was a theme we were all on the same page with and wanted to find ways to make sure that that rises as the ultimate message at the end of this story. Which hopefully comes across.

PopHorror: It does! Your character, Meredith, is an AI that is pretty devoid of any emotion. How did you prepare for your role?

Elena Kampouris: Well, I know we talked about this way back, but I’ll go back into the language sphere. Being that I love playing with language and with Minnow [Elena’s character in Sacred Lies], I was thinking about how she perceived language being that she came from a cult. So with this situation, how does Meredith perceive language being that she is an AI robot? It’s going to start out more code, more digital zeroes and ones, and then it’s going to become, “Okay, she’s hearing words she hasn’t heard before, but she’s learning.” She’s constantly improving her levels as far as what she understands about human emotion, the human psyche, and in turn, creating her own. I think that was a big part of it.

What’s her language? And then what’s her physicality? And then how does that all kind of build itself and go from there? It was interesting, because although the roles I have played before are humans, now I have to play this role that’s a machine, but a machine that there’s more than just mechanics at play. And not just with Meredith, but with the other characters too, which is what I like. She’s a companion that starts at a certain level, but the other companions also have their own stuff that they’re going through. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s something that happens with one of the companions that does something that you’re like, “Woah! That would not be an AI program move!” I think that it’s very nuanced and exciting to get to play. It’s a lot to sink your teeth into, which is what you always hope for.

PopHorror: I like that you brought up language, because I know that you love to sing, and I know that you really love to learn other languages as well. When you were singing in different languages in the film, it was very mesmerizing. It was one of my favorite parts because I knew from talking to you before that you are really into different languages. I thought it was super cool that it was integrated in the film.

Elena Kampouris: Yeah! What was so lovely is we had our creative team, James Bird, Steven Paul. They were very much excited by the fact that I love language and singing. They were like, “We should find a way to weave this into the story.” We were brainstorming and we were like, “Hey, wait a second! On your phone, you can change the keyboard to a different language. You can change Siri, you can do all of that in the settings. So why don’t we show that aspect?” Because this is the advanced, super advanced version of an iPhone. These are our infant kind of style of our companions, and this is the manifestation of these down the line. We’ll say it’s kind of a cautionary tale of sorts. But we wanted to play with it in that sense, and we thought this was the perfect way to bring that out. And it was a lot of fun. When we did the singing part, what is so cool, the words that I’m singing, in Hindi, and Italian, and Spanish, are all to do with what I’m seeing around me because I’m talking about the sound of the leaves. So what we did is, James wrote the lyrics and I sing them, but if you see the translation, Meredith is essentially seeing leaves, seeing water, seeing wind. She’s taking the external elements and making it into lyrics.

So it’s essentially like taking your phone and saying, “Siri, sing me a song about the weather.” And she uses what is banked in her database to give you a song about the weather. We were going for that. There are little nuggets, there’s little eggs in there that you can delve into if you translate the lyrics. They all have to do with what she’s looking at outside of the window, and she makes that song up on the spot. She composes it out of that, her environment around her. Like a computer would. That was the fun stuff. The details and nuances that we got to infuse with all of us bringing our heads together. Another thing was the blinking aspect. I was trying to make sure, and James would help me, that every blink was intentional. That every movement was what a machine would do. I wouldn’t tuck my hair, I wouldn’t itch, I wouldn’t slouch, I wouldn’t swallow. There would be a take where I would swallow like a natural reaction, and James was like, “No! You did it on that tape and it looks too human! We’ve got to do it again!” So little things that would help keep me in check. It was a consciousness about everything – the essence of her physicality, essence of the cadence of her language, the rhythm of her words and not inserting ‘likes,’ or ‘ums,’ or any of the human ticks that we don’t even think about. Those mannerisms. So it was a lot, but a fun thing to be conscious of, that we don’t really think about too much.

PopHorror: That is really interesting. I’m going to have to watch it again and pay attention to that because you’re right. I would be tucking my hair. There was no absent-minded touching.

Elena Kampouris: Steven and James helped me too. They would break it down into percentages. In certain scenes, this is the percentage AI she is, this is the percentage human-like she is, like how much more human-like she is. She is evolving as she’s learning and growing. And another thing is they would break things down into steps. So if I’m going to sit, any movement that I did, we would break it into 1, 2, 3, 4. I studied Chinese ballet and that’s how I learned Mandarin, so they went, “What’s Elena’s language here? Let’s use counting and dance steps.” So we would use any physical thing, if I’m running, if I’m opening a door, if I’m sitting down, we’d break it into steps – 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. So in my brain, 1, 2, 3 so I could have that more mechanic quality without it being too much. Also, if you pull up videos of gazelles, and escalators, you see that there is a rhythm to escalators, and there’s a certain awareness of a gazelle in the way they turn their heads. So it’s just studying and absorbing all this stuff, and then letting it go. They were all very helpful in giving me thought or to think about and play with and study. And then they would help me on the day. We’d find stuff together. That stuff is fun. It’s a good challenge.

PopHorror: You know I’m a huge fan of yours, and I’m excited for this to come out. What is up next for you?

Elena Kampouris: Well, I know you love horror, so I’ll throw this out at you. Children of the Corn. A total reimagining. It started during Covid in Australia. Talk about a Greek odyssey. That was absolutely insane but an experience that I will never forget. I’m very proud of it and I can’t wait for you to see it being that you love horror. I’m going to need to hear your review of it, Tiffany. And aside from that, I’m in Greece right now.

PopHorror: Oh, wow!

Elena Kampouris: I just finished shooting My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3!

PopHorror: That’s so awesome!

Elena Kampouris: (Picking up her laptop and going to the window) You know what? You’re in Phoenix but I’m going to take you with me. I’m going to give you a little looksy at the view here. You can soak it in with me.

PopHorror: Oh wow, that is amazing!

Elena Kampouris in Children of the Corn.

Elena Kampouris: Look! There’s the Acropolis! Right now, I’ve been just delving back into my roots in Greek mythology and history, and also music. It’s been an experience unlike anything else, to meld work in with home and family because I’ve grown up coming here. And to work with a Greek crew? Oh my gosh. It’s been a dream come true.

PopHorror: That is so cool I can’t wait for this. I have just one last question for you. I usually ask what your favorite scary movie is, but I’ve already asked you that.

Elena Kampouris: You know what I was thinking? It changes! We’ve definitely watched more horror movies since we last talked.

PopHorror: Oh absolutely!

Elena Kampouris: Let’s recap. I know last time you mentioned Texas Chain Saw, I think, right?

PopHorror: Yes!

Elena Kampouris: What have you seen recently? I’ve got a notebook here. I’m going to make my go-to list because you’re a horror expert so please enlighten me.

PopHorror: The one movie that I have been telling anyone who will listen to watch is Fall. It had me on the edge of my seat.

Elena Kampouris: I’ve been under a rock recently so I’m writing this down.  All right, I’m going to look it up. So I’ll tell you, my mom and I, we always watch our horror movies together. It’s like our thing at home. We just binge them all. We watched All of Us Are Dead. We also saw Hatching. That was a great one.

Thank you so much, Elena, for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out Wifelike, on digital now!

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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