GIFF heard it through
the grapevine with award winning actor Joe Pantoliano.
Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF) had an advance screening of From the Vine earlier this week at the Bedford Playhouse. The newly renovated theater, equipped with a “Tasting Room” was the perfect venue to take in the heart warming production followed by a Q & A session with the Joe Pantoliano.
Joe is no stranger to the big screen. He made his Hollywood debut nearly 40 years ago as the tough, quick talking pimp, Guido in Risky Business. That supporting but memorable role led the path to his long and successful career. Joe went on to act in classics such as The Goonies, Running Scared, La Bamba, Midnight Run, The Matrix and Memento to name a few. His talent has earned him an Emmy for his role in The Sopranos, as well as, two SAG Award nominations.
Joe was raised in a humble, hardworking, Italian household in northern New Jersey. Academics were a struggle during his childhood due to his severe dyslexia. Lucky for us, Joe’s fascination with the theater inspired him to act. Immediately following high school Joe moved to New York City to develop his craft.
In addition to his successful acting career, Joe is also a spokesperson for mental health issues. He authored two books on this important issue: Who’s Sorry Now?: The Story of a Stand Up Guy and Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother’s Son.
Currently Joe is starring in the off-Broadway show, Drift, directed by Academy Award® winner Bobby Moresco. The show is housed at New Work Stages, 340 West 50th Street, through May. Moreover, the film, From The Vine is about to hit the theaters.
From The Vine is a moving story set in the picturesque Italian countryside. Sean Cisterna directs an ensemble cast that follows Marco Gentile, played by Joe, through the journey of resetting his moral compass and reconnecting with his family. In spite of Joe’s busy schedule, he graciously carved out some time to speak with GIFF.
How has your methodology in preparing for a movie evolved over the years?
I don’t think anything‘s changed. There is a process of breaking down the behavior of a character based on the circumstances provided by the author. I try to make them interesting and different from other characters that I’ve played but this becomes more and more difficult. I only have so many tricks in my toolbox.
Your body of work spans many genres, is there a specific genre you haven’t done and wish to in the future?
No, I find most creations interesting. It’s very difficult to be lucky enough to be given a good part and a good picture. I’ve been more lucky than most.
In addition to being an accomplishment actor, you’re also an author. What motivated you to venture from acting to pen two books?
Well my two books are really stories of my life family. My personal struggle with life and how it affected me. In my second book, I’m hoping that sharing my journey might help others. To examine their emotional disease. They might see a little bit of themselves in a little bit of me.
How did you come to work on the film, “From The Vine”?
Sean contacted me through my agent. He said it was shooting in Italy, that was enough for me!
What was it about the character, Marco Gentile, that made you want to take this role?
I was very excited to find out that Wendy Crewson had agreed to be in the film. Also Marco Leonardi from Cinema Paradiso. In talking to Sean, Paula and Willem it gave me the sense what they were doing. It was a journey I wanted to take. I was very lucky to be asked.
The Italian scenery in this film looks beautiful. What was the most rewarding and challenging aspects of shooting in Italy?
It was all tremendous blessing. At times the infectious local people became a challenge. Reversely, it was a magical time of year that we were shooting. The fact that Sean used all of the locals to be in the movie made it special. I’ve been around long enough to understand the magic that happens in movie making. Sometimes the Gods have a plan. Perhaps we were so high up in those mountains it was easy or for the creative Gods to hear us they lent us a helping hand. Also we had the most extraordinary cinematographer who understood the limited nature of our shooting schedule and sculpted the shots accordingly.
You’re currently making the transition back to the stage by starring in “Drift”. How did you become involved in this project? How are you preparing for a 1950s blue collar urban landscape?
Bobby Moresco who is directing this piece and I have been friends for a long time. I’ve known him for almost 47 years! We were in a NYU Film together directed by Bruce Postman. We got our SAG cards on that job. We’ve been graced to have decent careers. Bobby won the Academy Award® for writing Crash with Paul Haggis. Also I worked with them on a very interesting TV show called EZ Streets with Ken Olin. It was an opportunity to work with my old friend.
I understand the theme of this story. I am the product of 1950s blue collar or dirty blue collar. It’s exhilarating to be able to work with such young gifted actors. I am the old man of the group. These boys keep me on my toes. It’s an ensemble piece and my piece is just about as much as I can handle.
What is the biggest challenge in transitioning from the screen to a play production?
It’s a new play so it entails working with the playwright director creative team. Also working with actors in a small arena is challenging. We grow attached to our characters in various story moments. It’s a new piece never been tried; we have changes– shit happens. Now that’s not to say that doesn’t occur with movie making. It does, there’s a lot more freedom in movie storytelling, more opportunities. There is less risk to take chances and try things because they take those pieces and play with them in editing. You can toss out the stuff that doesn’t work. In Drift, we are at the stage. A stage where after five weeks of rehearsal we can put it in front of a preview audience to really find out what’s working what doesn’t, what can or can’t be repaired. The environment produces nerve-racking, anxiety producing rage and with luck the opportunity to sublimate all those feelings into the foundation of my character. It’s exciting, every night a different audience a different point of view.
It’s scary, even just thinking about it, my heart’s racing. I feel like I’m 18 again up on that high school stage in front of my first audience ever 50 years ago. It’s good feeling to be this frightened, such a gift to still have a place to practice my craft it’s what I love doing. I’m also incredibly grateful to our producers who are spending good money and to be supporting a new playwright all the while entertaining a whole new audience.
To keep up to date with Joe and his current projects, follow them on Instagram at: @realjoeypants, @fromthevinemovie and @drifttheplay.
GIFF gives a special thanks to the Bedford Playhouse for hosting this wonderful evening, in particular Lindsay Hearon and John Farr, the evening’s moderator. Moreover, to Ted Emerson for supplying the delicious Italian wines which can be purchased at Siemers Wines & Spirits in Bedford. Thank you Fairfield County LOOK for the pictures!