'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' star Chris Diamantopoulos on raising 3 kids: 'Every day I wonder if I'm completely doing it wrong'

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Actor Chris Diamantopoulos on parenthood, making films for kids and sharing his Greek heritage. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Actor Chris Diamantopoulos on parenthood, making films for kids and sharing his Greek heritage. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.

Take a look at Chris Diamantopoulos and you'll recognize the actor from a slew of TV series (Episodes, Silicon Valley, The Starter Wife, 24, The Office, Arrested Development and Good Girls Revolt, to name but a handful), plus just-released Netflix projects like Red Notice and True Story. Take a listen, and you're bound to hear a voice that's popped up in a number of kid-friendly offerings, from The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse to the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid film. 

The latter screen credits have proved popular with the Canada-bred family man who shares three kids — an 11-year-old son and daughters aged 8 and 2 — with wife Becki Newton, best known for her Emmy-nominated role on Ugly Betty. The acting couple also recently had occasion to add "teacher" to their respective resumés, pivoting to homeschooling after pulling their kids out of their New York City Waldorf school and relocating to Los Angeles early on in the pandemic. 

"We took a year and homeschooled the kids, and that was an incredible learning experience," says Diamantopoulos, who worked with Newton to create a curriculum with the help of teaching aides and set tutors, though the children are now in public school. 

Ahead, he opens up to Yahoo Life about being on "full dad duty," passing on his Greek heritage and dealing with "choice paralysis" as a parent. 

You're married to an actress. How do you both juggle successful acting careers with three kids?

There's sort of an unconscious desire to not work at the same time. It doesn't always work out that way, but for the most part, for the better part of 20 years, we're not working at the same time. When Becki was shooting a series for Netflix earlier this year called Lincoln Lawyer — which is going to come out in the new year and she's just spectacular and it's going to be a great show — I sort of took on full dad duty, and that was while we were homeschooling. And, you know, it's not [laughs] necessarily the easiest thing for me, but it's a finite amount of time and pressure can turn coal into diamonds. I'm hoping that every time I get put in the opportunity to sort of really step up and do that in the parenting sphere, that I will turn into a diamond and not combust.

We try not to work at the same time. When we do, then we have to make other plans. I think it all really does boil down to sort of letting things come as they will. There'll be a time, I'm sure, where Becki's working and I have to work, or if I have to go away for work or if she did, we would pivot appropriately. It's one of the benefits of being married to someone who does what I do. There is no one else in the world that I could be married to because of the challenges that are placed on us as a result of what we do. We haven't been able to book a single vacation in our 20 years together that hasn't been impacted by one or another's job. And we just know that now.

How would you describe yourself as dad?

I would describe myself as lucky. My wife and I didn't get to pick our kids, and I feel like we were given the kids that we couldn't have dreamed of getting, and I say this without a shred of insincerity. Parenting is challenging, and every day I marvel at the fact that you have to get a driver's license to drive a car, but there's no manual for rearing children. Every day I wonder if I'm completely doing it wrong and at the risk of ruining these perfect beings, but they remind me... So much of who they are — how they rise right out of the package — it's like, man, I cannot believe the vastly different and unique idiosyncratic behaviors in all three of my children, and they've all been raised in the same house. And there is a unifying nature, of course, but they're so distinctly them. And so I would describe myself as lucky, for sure. 

What's your parenting style? Are you the stricter parent, the goofy dad?

My wife and I kind of trade off. I feel like I don't really think about it in terms of parenting style. It's so funny. My folks did the best they could, and I think they did a great job. I'm the son of Greek immigrants in Toronto, and in the early days they were trying to figure out if we were going to have a meal, trying to put food on the table and make sure that we went to school and had the winter coats that weren't gonna let us catch cold. But they did a great job. 

We, in this day and age as parents, have a plethora of options and a veritable cornucopia of philosophies to choose from. I think that parents can end up with choice paralysis in terms of who they're going to be or what they're going to be. And I think that whenever that happens, whenever we have too many options — OK, should I be this? Or should I do that? Or would they like this? Or would they like that? — I find that the best thing to do is stop and really just simplify. So I think my parenting style is akin to what my living style is trying to be, which is just: real and present. 

There are times where Becki will tell them it's time for bed and they completely disregard her and I have to go, "Hey, did you hear your mother?" And they're like, "yeah," and then they sort of hop to it. And vice versa too, when we're watching TV, and I say, "I think you guys should go up" and they start snuggling me, and then Becki comes in and looks at them and they know it's time to go brush their teeth. So I think we trade off appropriately, and you feed off of energies. Not everybody is the same every day, and they're certainly not the same today as who they were yesterday. So I think that flexibility is key. I can be as goofy as they come, but I can also instantly become stern if I see them not being kind. All bets are off if we break any of the cardinal rules. 

The actor shares three kids with wife Becki Newton. (Photo: Austin Hargrave)
The actor shares three kids with wife Becki Newton. (Photo: Austin Hargrave)

Is that your cardinal rule, being kind?

I think kindness trumps everything. I think if we start from a place of kindness, it'll inform so much else, whether it's learning a new skill, whether it's a play date, whether it's cooking, whether it's hanging out. We say this all the time: "Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" Before you say something, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind? And if you really just get the "kind," so much of the rest kind of fills itself out.

You mentioned your Greek heritage. How big of a role has that played in your parenting, and what you pass on to your kids?

It's very important for me. I identify culturally as Greek, and they do as well — my children are Greek Orthodox, they're baptized, they've been to Greece many times. The language part … they're getting there. I mean, look, it's called the mother tongue for a reason. My wife does speak Greek. She took courses at Columbia when we first met 20 years ago and she does speak it, but it's not her native tongue and perfectly frankly, it's not my native tongue either. When I was growing up, I spoke it at home because that was my parents' first language … In order to speak another language, you have to speak it. It is challenging. 

At first I tried with my son to speak only in Greek to him — and it goes back to being authentic and being in the moment. There's so many instances where my reaction to our playing or whatever it is that we were doing would have come out in English, and I was stifling it by trying to teach him Greek. And I thought, This isn't the right way to do this. There will be a time [when] Greek sort of happens organically in terms of a language. For now, I just want to live truthfully. 

We cook together. We have a very Mediterranean-style diet, and I'm constantly grilling lamb chops and making Greek salads and my wife is baking with them. And church comes into play because Greek culture and faith are very tied together, so there's that element. The kids have a sort of happy, non-pressured cultural understanding of where they come from. My 8-year-old is intensely curious about the Greek language, and she's been doing Duolingo on the iPad. My son sort of picked up on it a little bit too, and they love the country, they love the food. I'd love to maintain that positive connection with their heritage.

With young kids, I assume Diary of a Wimpy Kid is more their speed than say, Red Notice. When you do voice acting roles for children's entertainment, do they recognize your voice or get a kick out of it?

It's been so fun having them as my little test audience for things. I've voiced Mickey Mouse for over 10 years as well, and so much of what I do as Mickey really sort of plays off of things that they do. I pick up a lot of their behaviors and put them into my body when I'm vocalizing Mickey and those little movements end up on screen. And it's just so interesting to see moments where Mickey is my son, or Mickey fully is my daughter…

They love the Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse; they love Centaurworld, which is another one I just did this year for Netflix. But Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a huge one for them. They absolutely love that, and that was a ball to work on. That's got such a big audience, because it's just such a universal tale. 

With some of the grown-up [films and TV shows]. they're aware that I do it. Certainly my son is more aware because some of the kids in his class have older siblings and they've broken the seal on certain things. My son'll ask me about certain things. He's like, "What's this Silicon Valley thing?" I'm like [laughs], "We're a few years away from that one." That's about as expletive-ridden as anything is.

But I love what I do and I love it today even more than I did when I started doing it 35 years ago. And to be able to show them how great it feels to love your job and to wake up every day excited by the potentiality of a new opportunity. I feel like that's a really good lesson, when they see me going to work crazy early in the morning or coming back really late. Or if I'm away, there's never that sort of like, "Ah, dad, is it hard?" They're like, "Was it fun? What'd you do? What was the adventure today?" It's just this notion of, if you love something it's going to challenge you and you're going to have to sometimes give up other things that you love, but if you really, really love it, then it's worth it. And that's how I feel about about acting and how I feel about the animation stuff. It brings me back to being a kid and Saturday morning cartoons. I'm a supremely lucky fellow to do what I love doing. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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