New Jersey's Finest
By Melissa Clark
Federico Castelluccio was born in Naples, Italy. His family migrated to the United States when he was a little over three years old. Growing up in Paterson, N.J, Castelluccio was envious of characters on television and longed for being the entertainer he so distantly admired. He loved to make impressions of people and flocked to shows that had entertainers on them, such as Rich Little.
Most famous for his character Furio Gunta in the hit 1990's Soprano's, Castelluccio was constantly confused with a genuine Italian off the boat because of his persuading accent. He would often paralyze fans and his castmates after he got out of character.
Castelluccio has numerous gifts, and being a natural-born painter is one of them. Creating art is the place where he discovers serenity and tranquility, he explains, "If acting and entertainment left my life, I would still have my canvas and brush. At the end of the day, art is what I have control over entirely and freely."
New York City journalist, Melissa Clark sat one on one with Federico to discover more about the man behind the brush.
Photo by Maurizio Bacci
Photo by Maurizio Bacci
How do you get past the nerves in an audition?
"We all get Nervous at an audition, it just comes with the territory, because we want to be great and want everything to go perfectly. We sometimes overthink things, and this can get in our way. I think preparation is the best remedy. Work on your scenes over and over and try to get totally off book, or as much as possible, this will boost your confidence and calm your nerves."
What would you tell an actor who does not get the role for which they auditioned?
"You can be the best actor and do the most amazing job with your audition; however, keep in mind that you may not fit that role. The director may have a completely different type in mind. So try not to get down on yourself. Most of the time, it's not about you; it's about what the director and producers are looking for in that role. On the other hand, if you really blow them away in your audition, even though you're not what they imagined in that role, they may offer you another role that's more fitting, or create one for you. I've done this as a director myself."
Out of all the actors that you've worked with, who was the most influential to you?
"I would have to say James Gandolfini was one of the most influential. Getting to know him as a person and working together on The Sopranos, I observed how dedicated and involved he was in the development of Tony Soprano and how committed he was to the character. He was a tremendously gifted actor who cared about the work and about getting it right. I will always cherish the work we did together on the show, and he will always remain an inspiration to me."
Having met you a few times, you are a down to earth person, what advice would you give to an inspiring actor?
"I strongly believe in studying and trying different acting techniques. You'll naturally gravitate to something that you feel comfortable with and works best for you. I happen to like Meisner. I am a true believer in listening to the other actor, reacting, and using strong imagination. If you're auditioning, I would suggest being prepared, learn your lines, and always be on time. If you are prepared, did your work, and put your all into it, you've done all you can do, at that point it's out of your hands, you have to leave it up to the universe."
What would you recommend to an actor who is uncomfortable with a scene?
"When it comes to acting, sometimes one must get out of their comfort zone and venture into very dark places within yourself. You may have to do a scene that may be immoral to you or uncomfortable. But in order to be true to the character, you have to separate the person, "you" from the character, you must allow yourself to break down all barriers and go to those uncomfortable places. If you're still struggling with the moral aspect or some other aspect that you personally don't agree with, you have to ask yourself simply, would the character that I'm portraying do this? If the answer is yes, then you have to go for it."
If you weren't an artist or an actor, what would you be doing as a profession?
"I think I would have been an Orthopedic Surgeon. I studied painting in college and took several years of anatomical drawing. I understood human anatomy very well. On several occasions, I was invited by different doctors to draw from live surgeries. Because of my anatomical knowledge, there was a sense of familiarity and a connection to what I was witnessing and drawing. I had a fleeting moment of inspiration back then, where I could've gone down the road of orthopedics, but my passion for painting and acting was much stronger. Now I have two Nephews who became Doctors in my family."
Photo by James Devaney
You are a talented painter, and you once said in an interview that you've been painting since you can remember, when did you know that you can act?
"Well, I didn't. Painting came naturally to me at a young age, but I knew I wanted to perfect my skills. I chose a high school that was out of my district because of the incredible art program they had. At the time, it was called Passaic County Tech and Vocational High School. However, they didn't have a theatre program at the time, so my entire focus was on art. When I graduated High school, I received a full scholarship to the school of Visual Arts in New York City. It wasn't until my last year in college that I was inspired by a friend who invited me to watch one of his monologues that I knew I wanted to pursue acting. Acting has always been a passion, and when I saw my buddy transform into a different character, it motivated me to dive in headfirst into a class."
When was your first debut as an actor on television?
"I was driving by a film set near a bus stop in lower Manhattan, this was back in the late '80s, when I was studying acting, so I parked and walked over to check it out. I saw Gilbert Gottfried shooting a scene as a bus driver for a comedy segment on USA “Up All Night”, that's when a woman came over, who introduced herself as the director and asked if I'd like to be in the next shot as a patron getting on the bus? I said, of course, I accepted. I told her I was an aspiring actor, and soon after, she called me and hired me to do a few more jobs for USA Network."
You talk about constancy in an audition – what advice would you give to a new actor on a cold reading?
"A cold reading gets thrown at you sometimes, but try to remember to remain true to the character that you're auditioning for. It's all about reading the script, understanding the character and circumstance, and making a choice, a decisive choice, so it's clear to the person you are auditioning for. It may not always be the right choice, but you may make a lasting impression, and it could get you to the next step in the audition process."
The Apple and the Fly
A still-life of a fly
contemplating an apple
resting on an antique
Oil on panel
5” x 7 “
Sticks and Stones:
A still-life centered with branches and surrounded by various stones.
A small piece of paper at the bottom center with different symbols, which in a comic strip indicates sweat words.
It is a play on the old saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me."
Oil on Panel,
16 x 20 in.
What was your process like with getting the part of Furio, and how did you find out?
"The show had been on for a season already, and I expressed my interest to my agent. You have to understand, coming from Paterson, NJ, I grew up around guys like the characters from the Sopranos, so I felt like I had something to offer. I made it clear to my agent that I did not want to take a day player role or an under five-line character, I was looking for something to sink my teeth into, something with a character arc. As months went by, I hounded my agent, and finally, I received the call to audition for the part of Furio (no last name) who was slated as Tony Soprano's cousin from Italy. The requirement for the character was to be able to speak fluent Italian with a convincing Italian accent when speaking English. I spoke fluent Italian thanks to my Italian parents, and now I just had to perfect the accent. I did this by going back to the social clubs in my old neighborhood in Paterson and listening to the Italian men speaking broken English and also to various people in my family. I read for the casting director, and when I finished, she thanked me and said: "Federico, that was a breath of fresh air." I felt great after that first audition! My agent called me and told me that they wanted me to read for the producers the next day. I went in and read again, I felt the audition couldn't have gone better, but I waited over two weeks before they asked me to come in and read again, this time with James Gandolfini. After the audition was over, Georgeanne Walken, the casting director, said I would get notified when they make a decision. It was a Friday night; this was my third audition, I thought, how much longer am I going to have to wait before I know something? It was nerve-wracking. The weekend had passed, and I received a call on Monday morning, and the woman on the line said, "Federico, we just need your sizes." I was a bit confused, so I said, who is this? They asked, "is this Federico Castelluccio?”I said, yes! She said, "We need your measurements for the role of Furio." I was so excited and shocked and confused at the same time, and I said, does this mean I got the job?! They were surprised no one told me and said: "yes, you got the role, congratulations! “ So there you have it, I learned about getting the role from the Sopranos wardrobe department."
Would you have done anything different with Furio?
"I don't think so, I was pretty happy with the choices I made, maybe I would have changed his choice of clothing (laughing). Just kidding! Furio was from Naples, Italy, and the director and producers not only wanted to make Furio sound like he was from Italy but look like it too. Furio's wardrobe definitely set him apart from the other guys, but as time went on, Furio starting dressing like the rest of the crew in New Jersey."
How did you feel when you first found about James Gandolfini's passing?
"I was doing a table reading of a film in NYC with Alec Baldwin and other notable actors, and I saw Alec continually looking at his phone and texting the entire time. Halfway through the script, we had a coffee break, he came over to me and said, "Federico, you're not going to believe this, James Gandolfini died of a heart attack in Italy. At first, I thought it was a fake internet rumor, but Alec confirmed it through his agent, who was texting him during the reading, that it was, in fact, real. It was devastating; my heart sank; I miss him to this day."
Photo by Renzo De Ceuster
The "Me Too Movement" has been quite the talk nowadays. Twenty years ago, it was more on the quiet side. Without going into grave details, have you ever had a moment in your career that has been uncomfortable, and how did you handle it?
"Whenever this happened to me from the opposite sex, I dealt with it very diplomatically. I never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings. I grew up with a sister and am very close with my mom. I have nothing but the highest respect for women and people, and in general, I hope people will show me the same respect."
I've heard you mention your mom a lot in interviews, what does family mean to you?
"I am the youngest of four siblings. Every move I make is with the thought of my family. We, unfortunately, we lost our dad a few years ago, so we keep mom close. Being Italian-American, we were born to know priorities, and the importance of family, the family comes first."
What is your next project?
"I have two films out called "The Fifth Borough," and "Exit 0". I've recently been asked from the producers of a feature film I directed called 'The Brooklyn Banker" to direct their next film called "A Queen for a Day" in 2020. I'm also in the development stages of several independent film projects. Lastly, I'm participating in the first-ever Mob Movie Con, at Harrah's in Atlantic City this April 18th and 19th, 2020."
You recently were auctioned off at a charity event that raised a lot of money in a short amount of time, can you tell us about that?
"Madison Square is a Boys and Girls Club that held a fundraiser in NYC. It is to help underprivileged kids who need assistance with funding for education. I was being auctioned off for dinner, and I noticed two tables aggressively bidding on me, and one table gave up after another outbid them at $12,000. Still, I could tell they really wanted to win, so I proposed to the auctioneer, that if they would both pay $12,000 each, I'd go to both dinners separately and without hesitation, they both accepted. We raised $24,000 in about 5 minutes for this wonderful cause. I honestly feel humbled to be in the position to give back to people in need, especially children."
What is your definition of cool?
"I think being at peace with yourself and knowing who you are. To me, doing the right things in life is cool!"
- By Melissa Clark for Cool Magazine Online