Born April 23, 1967, in Akron, OH; daughter of Harry (a candy factory owner and insurance agent) and Connie (a homemaker) Kanakaredes; married Peter Constantinides (a chef and restaurateur), September 6, 1992; children: Zoe, Karina Eleni. Education: Attended Ohio State University, c. 1985–87; earned B.F.A. (magna cum laude), from Point Park College, Pittsburgh, PA.
Addresses: Office—c/o CBS Television, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, NY 10019.
Actress on television, including: Guiding Light, CBS, 1991–95; Due South, CBS, 1995; New York News, CBS, 1995; NYPD Blue, 1995; Leaving L.A., ABC, 1997; The Practice, 1997; Saint Maybe (movie), 1998; Providence, NBC, 1999–2002; CSI: NY, CBS, 2004–. Film appearances include: Bleeding Hearts, 1994; The Long Kiss Goodnight, 1996; Dangerous Beauty, 1998; Rounders, 1998; 15 Minutes, 2001; Into the Fire, 2005. Stage appearances include: Cabaret, New York, NY, 2003.
Melina Kanakaredes rose to fame as beleaguered doctor Sydney Hansen in the ABC drama Providence for five seasons. Since the show's end in 2002, the former soap star has gone on to play the vixenish Sally Bowles in a New York City production of Cabaret, and found a new home on network television as one of the leads in CSI: New York, a spin-off of the successful CBS cop drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Born in 1967 in Akron, Ohio, Kanakaredes was the last of three daughters for Connie, a homemaker, and Harry, who owned an Akron institution called Temo's Chocolate Company. Her parents were second-generation Greek immigrants, and Kanakaredes grew up in a close-knit family with strong ties to the local Greek-American community. She spent her childhood hanging out at the candy factory and store when not in school, but also began to devote increasing hours to the stage after making her age-eight debut in a community-theater production of Tom Sawyer. At Firestone High School in Akron, Kanakaredes was a member of its synchronized swim team, a hobby that dovetailed perfectly with her love of musical theater. "It was my way of being physical in high school after I realized how terrible I was at basketball," she joked many years later with Virginian Pilot writer Larry Bonko.
After graduating from Firestone High in 1985, Kanakaredes went on to join the synchronized swim team at Ohio State University in Columbus. She discovered the world of beauty pageants entirely by accident. "I was 18, and this professor said I could get scholarship money for school and I could sing in front of people and get some experience," she recalled in an interview with Cleveland Plain Dealer journalist Joanna Connors. "That sounded good, so I borrowed a dress, and I did a number from Chi-cago, called 'All That Jazz.' I won Miss Columbus, but I didn't know that it didn't end there."
Kanakaredes was obliged to go on to the Miss Ohio beauty pageant, where she was surprised to finish as the first runner-up. Her scholarship winnings were eventually spent at Point Park College in Pittsburgh, a smaller, conservatory-type school to which she transferred. A music, dance and theater major, she appeared on the stages of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, which was affiliated with the college, and Pittsburgh Public Theater. She also made her first television commercial, for a contraceptive called Semicid, while still in school. Upon graduation she moved to New York City, and scraped together the rent for her one-window, basement apartment by waiting tables in between appearances in off-Broadway plays and musicals.
Kanakaredes' break came when she landed a recurring role on the CBS daytime drama Guiding Light in 1991. She spent four years playing Eleni Andros Cooper, a good-natured Greek immigrant and local caterer, and was nominated for two Daytime Emmy awards for it. During this period she wed Peter Constantinides, whom she had met at an Ohio State organization for Greek-American students. They lived in New York City, where Guiding Light was filmed, but later settled in the Los Angeles area, where her chef-husband would open a restaurant.
Kanakaredes had a supporting role in a little-seen 1994 film directed by Gregory Hines, Bleeding Hearts, and then a recurring role in a joint Canadian-American sitcom project, Due South, a year later. After leaving Guiding Light, she was cast in a shortlived CBS sitcom, New York News. In it, she played a reporter at a Manhattan newspaper who, along with her colleagues, steers clear of their fearsome boss, played by Mary Tyler Moore. The series was not picked up for a second season, but Kanakaredes had better luck on a few episodes of NYPD Blue playing another journalist, this one the girlfriend of Jimmy Smits' character.
More supporting roles in feature films and failed sitcoms followed for Kanakaredes over the next few years. She appeared in The Long Kiss Goodnight, a 1996 action flick that starred Geena Davis, and was one of the fictional staff members at the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office in a quirky sitcom for ABC, Leaving L.A., along with future Oscar-winner Hilary Swank. After appearing in a few episodes of The Practice in 1997, Kanakaredes made a period drama, 1998's Dangerous Beauty, set in sixteenth-century Venice. She also had a role in another film from 1998, the Matt Damon gambling drama Rounders.
A part in a CBS movie, Saint Maybe, an adaptation of an Anne Tyler novel, earned high ratings and helped Kanakaredes score a development deal with NBC. She was offered scripts for several proposed television pilots, but passed on all until she read one for Providence. The creation of television writer John Masius, whose credits included St. Elsewhere and Touched by an Angel, the hourlong drama centered around a Los Angeles-area plastic surgeon who returns to her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, to start her life anew. "It was just a strong, intelligent, female-driven show," Kanakaredes told Virginia Rohan of the Bergen County Record. "It's rare to find great female roles. And she had so much potential to grow as a person, because she had been so far away from home, sort of detached from the family."
Kanakaredes made her debut as Dr. Sydney Hansen on Providence in January of 1999. In the pilot, Kanakaredes' character returns home for the wedding of her younger sister, but their mother Linda (Concetta Tomei), dies during the ceremony. After the funeral, Sydney returns to the Malibu home she shares with her Hollywood-agent boyfriend to find him in the shower with another man, and decides to give in to her father's request and move back home. She abandons her lucrative cosmetic-surgery career to become a doctor at a medical clinic serving Providence's poor. In an odd twist, her mother reappears regularly to berate her daughter, chainsmoking and wearing the same mother-of-the-bride ensemble she died in during the pilot. Other cast members were Seth Peterson as Syd's black-sheep brother, and her do-gooder veterinarian dad, played by Mike Farrell from M*A*S*H fame.
Critics wrote scornfully of the new NBC drama, chiding it for its overly earnest, melodramatic tone. Entertainment Weekly described it as "a new wrist slitter disguised as an upbeat series," and made much of its link to Touched by an Angel, another widely reviled but popular show. The magazine noted further that "you can understand why Masius built the show around Kanakaredes: She's a composite of current hit-show characteristics. She's got undulating mountains of dark curly hair that give Keri Russell's Felicity a run for her follicles. And with her large eyes and knowing smile, she also radiates a beatific calm similar to that of Roma Downey on Masius' Touched."
A New York Times critique from Caryn James was equally scathing. "Providence is loaded with uplifting messages about divine guidance and wishful thinking about the comforts of home. But there is not a hint of hard-won emotional truth or thought-fulness behind its feel-good sentiments." James conceded, though, that its "greatest asset is Ms. Kanakaredes, who tries not to overplay the saintliness of Syd, even as she branches out beyond her family and interferes in the lives of total strangers at the clinic. But there is no escaping the limits of such hackneyed writing."
Despite the critics' barbs, Providence pulled in impressive ratings. Slotted into a difficult Friday-night lineup, it ended its first season as the highest-rated new drama on network television, and the best finish in that category for NBC since ER debuted in 1994. "We've been both criticized and applauded for being an all-American family show," Kanakaredes said in an interview with Andy Smith of the Houston Chronicle. "Given the time slot we're in, I think that's OK. There's room for a lot of different kinds of families on television."
After the end of her first season on Providence, Kanakaredes planned to take six-week course in directing offered by New York University's film school. Instead she was cast in a crime-spree thriller with Robert De Niro, 15 Minutes, released in early 2001. In it, she played another journalist, this one a New York City television reporter having an affair with De Niro's police detective character. Though the movie failed to break any box-office records, it was a hit with Kanakaredes' large family—both back in Ohio and in Greece—for a brief scene in which De Niro speaks a few words of romantic Greek to her, for which Kanakaredes had coached the veteran actor.
Kanakaredes returned to work on Providence, where her character endured a raft of personal problems over the next four years. The second season ended with Syd in a coma, and its devoted fan base returned every season to see how Kanakaredes's character dealt with family dramas and ill-advised romantic relationships, including one with a mobster and another with a married politician. When Syd became the target of a malpractice suit, her lawyer seemed to take an undue interest in her. Both Kanakaredes and Masius had often said that the series should end with Syd's wedding day, but the star was stunned to learn that NBC was canceling the show during its fifth season. A two-hour finale wrapping up loose ends aired two months later, in December of 2002, which involved a hostage crisis at the hospital where the newly wed Syd now worked.
Kanakaredes was already expecting her second child by then, who was born in January of 2003. She returned to work that summer in a revival of Cabaret, the hit musical set in 1920s Berlin, in a production staged at the legendary Manhattan discotheque Studio 54. There were rumors of a planned CBS series for Kanakaredes set inside the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but instead she resurfaced in a May of 2004 episode of CSI: Miami with actor Gary Sinise, and their roles were spun off into a new franchise for the top-rated crime drama called CSI: NY.
On the new series, Kanakaredes played Detective Stella Bonasera, of mixed Greek and Italian blood, who was drawn into police work partly because of a traumatic childhood incident in which she was the one who discovered her slain father's body. Kanakaredes spent time with actual crime-scene investigators to prepare for the new role. "It wasn't just a random job they fell into. They have an unbelievable desire to discover the truth," she told USA Today's Bill Keveney. "It's the same thing in Stella's life. Various things that happened in her past brought her to this place."
Kanakaredes' own family background is a dramatic opposite to her character's. She returns to Akron frequently, where Temo's Chocolate Company remains in family hands, and spends several summer weeks visiting relatives in Greece with her husband and daughters. Family remains of vital importance to her, despite her life in Hollywood. "I'm the only one who went away, but when you grow up in a close-knit Greek community like that, family is everything," she told a writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mark Dawidziak. "That's what keeps me grounded, and my daughters are going to know their grandparents and cousins."
Akron Beacon Journal, October 16, 2000; March 7, 2001; July 25, 2005.
Boston Herald, March 7, 2001, p. 41.
Entertainment Weekly, January 8, 1999, p. 52.
Houston Chronicle, April 12, 2002, p. 10.
New York Times, January 8, 1999.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), March 10, 2001, p. 1E; May 17, 2004, p. D1.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 8, 1999, p. Y1; October 22, 1999, p. Y1.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), January 10, 1999, p. 4.
Time, February 15, 1999, p. 70.
USA Today, September 22, 2004, p. 5D.
Virginian Pilot, April 12, 2002, p. E1; December 20, 2002, p. E1.