Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Flushing, Queens. I went to Holy Cross High School. Then, I went to St. John’s University and I graduated with a degree in business management. Now, I live on Long Island.
Tell me about your Italian roots.
Both of my parents are from Potenza, Italy. Potenza is the region of Basilicata, which is near the heel of the boot. I feel that it’s very unique that both of my parents are from the same city and town in Italy. I try to travel to Italy as much as I can. I try to go there every year, but I didn’t go this year. I speak fluent Italian.
I get emotional when I travel to my parent’s town– I hold it near and dear to my heart.
What is something interesting about your parent’s town?
There’s a zip line in town that’s a big tourist attraction. It’s called Volo dell’Angelo, the Flight of the Angel.
Why does your family’s town mean so much to you?
My parents went through a lot immigrating to America. It just shows how far they’ve come.
How did you get involved in acting? How did it become an interest to you?
I was always a big fan of movies as a kid. I also loved TV. I was fascinated by cinema. It became a passion. I went to the movies early on as a kid.
What is your earliest memory of going to the movies?
Growing up, I was a huge Sylvester Stallone fan. I begged my parents to take me to see the first Rambo movie, First Blood. That was one of the first movies I saw in the theater with my parents.
When did you start pursing acting?
I eventually started taking private acting classes when I was 15 or 16. Then, I found my way into live theater. At the time, I was juggling school and work. When I was out of college, I was still dabbling in taking acting classes. About 15 years ago, it clicked that I wanted to be a professional actor. I decided to leave corporate America and pursue acting.
When did you move to Los Angeles?
I moved to LA in 2006. I just decided simultaneously that I would move to LA—and everything kind of shifted when I moved there.
I started working with an agent and I started getting some jobs out there. This was the dawn of YouTube, so I was advised to put together a reel and put it on YouTube. Rob Siegel offered me the role to play Paton Oswalt’s brother in the movie Big Fan, just from seeing my reel on YouTube. A year later, the movie was at Sundance Film Festival and it was up for Best Picture. It was a substantial role. That changed the course for me as an actor.
What was it like acting in the new Capone movie? I’m a huge Shameless fan, so I was excited to see that Noel Fisher was also in the film.
First of all, Noel Fisher is a sweetheart. We would have breakfast together every morning. He’s a really nice guy and a great actor. The writer and director on Caponewas a co-producer and editor on Big Fan, Josh Trank. Josh wrote my role for that movie with me in mind. Any big star could’ve played that role, but he believed in my ability as an actor. We shot that film in Lousiana and they made it look like Miami. It was a fantastic experience and it was one of my biggest roles.
What was it like playing Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo in the movie The Irishman?
Although I’m only in the movie for five minutes, the scene took us two weeks to shoot. For me, it was like begin a kid in the candy store. I was able to sit next to Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino for two weeks. I was in the same room as Joe Pesci, Kathrine Narducci, Ray Romano and Martin Scorsese. Even though I was in the movie for a short amount of time, I went through a rigorous audition process. I read the book, I created my own monologue, I video-taped my audition, and then I sent it to my agent. My agent sent my audition to the casting director. The casting director liked my tape, and she showed it to Martin Scorsese. Finally, I was able to go in and audition for three more roles. The casting director had me on ice for about six months. There were thousands and thousands of actors who would’ve killed to be in my position.
What is something that people wouldn’t know about the incredibly talented actors Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, Ray Romano and Sebastian Maniscalco?
I would have lunch with Ray Romano. He’s just a regular guy from Queens, New York! It’s hard to believe he was one of the highest paid TV stars with Everybody Loves Raymond. But, he’s one of the most grounded, sweetest guys. You would never know he was making $2 million an episode! Joe Pesci is very serious on set. I wasn’t with Sebastian Maniscalco on set, but I worked with him on the movie Cruise. He’s very grounded. He also started from nothing and is a first-generation Italian American. He’s a very hard worker.
Italian Americans keep their heads down and work hard. A lot of people like to put us in a box. Many Italians changed their last names because people didn’t want to hire Italians.
What advice would you give to an aspiring actor?
It’s about the journey, not the destination. The best advice I would give someone is you don’t have to know how to do something, you just have to believe you can do it. Everything else will fall into place. If you truly believe in your heart you can do it, everything else will follow. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I couldn’t tell my parents I wanted to go to film school. My parents didn’t really understand much about film school. I was always a dreamer. I really do believe dreams come true. Now I’m in my 50’s, and I kind of pinch myself that I’m here. But, I got where I am today because I never gave up. If I would get knocked down, I would get back up.
What’s coming up next for you?
I just wrote a children’s book! It’s called Athena Visits the Marina. I’m going to have a soft opening for the book during the Christmas season. I realized that there isn’t a lot of books about children with hearing loss. I finished the book during the pandemic. In March, it’ll be in bookstores and Barnes and Nobles. I’m also working on a pilot with a friend of mine. It’s loosely based on my life as an adult about an up-and-coming actor who gets his big break. My character is an Italian American actor and there’s a lot of Italian American actors in the project. After we’re done filming the pilot, we’re going to try and pitch it to networks.