Mario Filintatzis’s Lift Off! Memories
Joshua M. Griffiths
12 Mar 2020
This article is an excerpt of an interview published on The Aither on February 25, 2020. Read the full Q&A here.
If you were a child, or the parent of a child in Australia during the early to mid-1990s you were aware of ‘Lift Off!’ – a children’s television show produced by the ACTF, which aired for two seasons in 1992 and 1995 on the ABC.
‘Lift Off!’ was based on children’s developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which posits that humans and children have up to 10 types of intelligence and associated ways of learning.
As a result, ‘Lift Off!’ incorporated acting, puppetry, cartoons, documentary footage, songs, dance, a face-less asexual doll, able bodied actors and actors with disabilities to satisfy the various ways children learn and engage with media, and represent the vast spectrum of people who make up Australia. Lift Off! was a children’s television show unlike anything else before it.
Mario Filintatzis played Marco Ponti On Series 2 of ‘Lift Off!’. To learn all about the show, The Aither interviewed Mario about his experiences acting on Season 2 as a child.
Please share some of your favourite memories or tales about your experience on ‘Lift Off!’
Lift Off! involved a lot of rehearsals which I wasn’t familiar with, not having any previous acting experience. For weeks before we started filming, the cast including me would work with drama teachers to ensure we were ready to go when filming started. They were such happy times and they got us all excited for what was ahead, so when we started filming it wasn’t so daunting because we’d been taught by professionals.
Shortly after Lift Off! had been filmed, promotion began. It was not long after that were told we were going to Sydney not only to promote the show, but we all stood up on stage and performed songs for the media. It was a great experience – when you’re 10 years old and you get to go to Sydney for the first time in your life and spend time with other kids your age it is pretty awesome.
Lift Off! was filmed all over Melbourne but one thing I’ll never forget is when we started filming at the ABC studios in Elsternwick. This was exciting for me because we had full studios with amazing props – plus on a personal note I would always get excited when I would see an ABC celebrity around.
How did you get the role of Marco?
My older sister was involved in a modelling agency. At least once a year she had to go and get headshots done at an agency and me being too young to be left alone at home, my mum would take me along too.
In 1993 I followed my mum and sister to another annual headshot photography session. During this period my sister was getting some catalogue work, which excited the whole family especially when the latest Kmart catalogue was delivered, and my sister became a family celebrity!
One day my sister was at the agency and the owner of the agency went up to her and asked her out of nowhere if her brother always used a manual wheelchair. At this point in my life I was using a wheelchair from time to time because I had had a lot of physical orthopaedic operations which would often result in numerous encounters where I had casts on my legs which restricted my mobility until I recovered.
My sister said that I was often able to walk around, that I used crutches but sometimes I had no choice but to be in a wheelchair. The owner sounded very interested and told my mum about a children’s TV show that would potentially be something I could audition for, even though I had no acting experience whatsoever.
About three weeks later the agency called to confirm the audition, which was very unexpected for us all, especially as it happened a fairly quick fashion. I will never forget that evening, seeing my mum jump up and down from excitement and there I was, still not 100% sure what I was getting myself into.
What role did your parents play regarding your work on ‘Lift Off!’?
I’ve always been very close with my mum and still am. It is never easy for a single mum but to have her in my life, whether it was during the time of Lift Off! or supporting me through health issues and many hospital stays, she has always been there.
In terms of filming Lift Off!, the ABC arranged drivers for the cast so I would be picked up often at about 6am and driven to the set and then driven home at the end of the day. Some days I was able to leave in the afternoon after I had finished my scenes but there were also times when I saw the sun come up and then come down and I was still working.
If you were forced to explain ‘Lift Off!’ to some recently crash-landed aliens, what would you tell them?
Lift Off! was an educational kids’ TV show about
a group of children, some closer than others, who all lived in the same
apartment block and would go on adventures… some being fantasy-driven and
The show was best known for some pretty weird elements, like the faceless EC doll and talking backpacks.
If the conversation of Lift Off! ever comes up these days, the topic of EC had a big impact on kids who watched the show (people would tell me they had one of them when they were young) and when they got older the character would scare them!
What are some of your memories of working with Australian actor and comedian Mark Mitchell, who played both Mr. Seymour Fish and Mumsy Fish on ‘Lift Off!’?
Mark Mitchell was possibly the busiest actor on Lift Off!. His characters were in every episode, and none of us kids worked on every episode.
Despite being so busy and focused, Mark was one of the most pleasant people. He always gave his time to the Lift Off! kids, whether we were working on a scene together or taking a break. Mark was always there to put a smile on all our faces.
From my perspective, he was one of the friendliest people I’d ever met and when Lift Off! came to wrap, I can remember cast and crew saying goodbyes with tears in their eyes because we wouldn’t be seeing him every day anymore. I too was one of those, in fact it took me weeks to get over it.
How did the scenes work that involved you interacting with the various puppets and puppeteers on ‘Lift Off!’?
It’s funny that this question is being asked, as puppets and puppeteers were a fascinating part of the show. The amount of effort that the puppeteers went to make a scene work for TV was out of this world.
Seeing the puppeteers often having to tangle themselves into the walking legs of a Lift Off! kid or maybe kids looked quite dangerous, but they never, ever made a mistake.
There were always two or three of each puppet, so there was a massive need for puppeteers on the show. A main character was the EC doll, which featured in every episode.
The puppeteers were moving on a stationary ladder on the ground and had a second puppeteer pulling them. This happened in the background of the scenes.
The E.C aka Every Child doll on ‘Lift Off!’ is a divisive character – loved by some, whilst haunting the nightmares of others… What were your thoughts of EC at the time of filming ‘Lift Off!’, and have your thoughts on EC changed at all today?
Even though I may not have seen too much of the first season of Lift Off!, like a lot of young kids I was aware of EC and that he was an integral part of the show.
My first experience with EC made me realise that me being on Lift Off! was a big opportunity. EC was known by a lot of people and there I was, carrying him on a regular basis. Even though he was a puppet, I felt that I was accepted by the crew as a new cast member and as silly as it sounds it felt like I was meeting a celebrity.
The only time that I didn’t think about putting together a scene with EC was during the latter stages of filming or I was just simply exhausted after a long day on the set.
I still find myself talking to people about Lift Off!, which is a
nice feeling as it was such an unforgettable experience. These days, the most
popular topic that people want to talk to me about is the EC doll. I am also
often asked questions that involved what it was like to carry EC, was he real
and most commonly why EC didn’t have a face.
Almost everyone who spoke to me about Lift Off! would tell me that when they were kids they had an EC doll which you used to be able to get at the ABC Shop. That’s one of many reasons why EC was the star of the show and many people who used to watch the show still remember him.
Both seasons of ‘Lift Off!’ featured characters with a disability – Max Garcia, played by Robert Peschel in Season 1, and yourself in Season 2. How important was it at the time, and in reflection today, for a person with a disability such as yourself to be (re)presented as a major character on a television show?
Being a young boy with a physical disability (Spina bifida) always made me self-conscious, whether it was on Lift Off! or not. I didn’t think overly about my disability when we were filming but the reason for that was because, just like everyone else, I had work to do on the show. I even remember the crew on Lift Off! always made me feel comfortable with what was going to eventuate in scenes where I was in a wheelchair.
What I loved about Lift Off! is that it was authentic – my
disability showed that I was not able to walk in a straight line like everyone
else and sometimes my character was in a wheelchair. Having said that, my
experience with Lift Off! never, ever let me bring myself down.
Here I was, as a 10-year-old boy, going to work almost every day and being treated like everyone else.
What I did love about Lift Off! and the portrayal of disability in both series was that it taught young viewers to never discriminate towards people who might seem different, because we weren’t.
In terms of authenticity, the characters who had disabilities were played by young people who had disabilities themselves. As I got older, and quite a few years after the show, I realised how important it was to have given these opportunities to us. We are a minority and it would have been easy to go for the easier option and give the roles to people without disabilities.
Who was your favourite Lift Off! character and why?
I’d definitely say my favourite character was Nipper (Paul Cheyne). My character Marco and Nipper became good friends on the show, and we became good friends in real life. Our characters had a lot of storylines together. One thing written into the show to symbolise our friendship was when Nipper met my character when he first arrived into the Lift Off! world, he saw I was in a wheelchair and he made Marco feel welcome and included.
This article is an excerpt of an interview published on The Aither by Joshua M. Griffiths, with valuable assistance from Lift Off! mega-fan, Mr. Samuel Dalley. Continue reading the full Q&A here.