How did you become an actor? And why?
I've been acting almost all my life. Thatís just about the only reason I am still alive. I come from a big family with mob connections. When I was a kid I saw people killed... by the time I was 12 or 13 years old I was an alcoholic. That was the only life I ever knew, the only thing... So I was a street guy, a bank robber. And in order to survive, one of the skills you got to develop is acting. I been shot, beaten to a pulp with lead pipes, you name it, at various times in my past life - Iíve even been pronounced DOA one time when they took me to hospital. Altogether I survived ten contracts on my life - ten. And how? By acting. I became a TERRIFIC liar. I talked the gun right out of my face and I never ratted on anyone, my whole life.
I never wanted any part of it. When I was very much younger I had goals. I wanted to be a better person. Deep down I wished I could be a good person, you know. When I was 16 I tried to sign up to go fight in Vietnam, to be a credit to my country, but they sent me back home because I was under-age, back home to the only life I knew.
I never wanted things to be the way they were back then... matter of fact, if I make it really big on the screen I know very well that I'll get blamed for things I never even did. That's not the worst of it though, Ďcause I also expect to be sued by at least fifty extremely attractive women. Ha ha ha.
As for becoming a professional... One time after a heist I went into a bar, and I saw this beautiful lady sitting there. I asked her for a date. She had links to the entertainment industry and, after weíd been together for a while, she suggested to me that I had the talent and the looks to be a screen actor. I told her: ďGet outta here. I ainít gonna be no actor.Ē But she finally persuaded me to have some headshots taken, and then I met someone else who offered to represent me as my agent. The first thing I did was a TV program called US Customs Classified. I played a criminal in a re-enactment, but the good part was that, in reality, my character, Mickey Carzano, was actually an undercover FBI agent. So for my first acting part I got to play this kind of ďdual roleĒ.
When I was working on the program I also met a director - a very good director - called Eddie Barbini, and he suggested to me that I should write my life story for a movie. And thatís how I came to make - and star in - my first movie, WHACKING COWS, which Eddie wrote and directed. I played a guy called Richie Scelfo. But Richie Scelfo was Castellano - it was MY life story, shot on the streets of Brooklyn. And it was the hardest thing Iíve ever done. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But we made a great movie.
How did you land the role in ANALYZE THIS?
I was sitting home after weíd made WHACKING COWS. Aside from the movie Iíd been playing extras for two years - and doing stand-up comedy, would you believe... I played Gladysís Comedy Room, New York Stand-Up, Comedy Central, all those. I used to get up on the stage and kick off by telling the audience: ďListen, Iím not a comedian.Ē Now that always got a laugh, but the things I would tell them werenít jokes or made-up stories - they were straight out of my life. I just told them what was happening to me.
So thatís where I was. And one day around this time when I was sitting home I took a bit of a brainstorm and wrote Robert De Niro a letter. In it I said how much I respected him as an actor, but I asked him how come a real street guy never turns up in a mafia movie. I told him the truth; I said: ďIím an ex-convict, but Iím from the streets and, not only that - Iím a great actor too. I think I can give you a run for your money.Ē
Well, I never got an answer, so, after a couple of months, I wrote him again. This time I sent him a photograph of me with my autograph on it. Pretty goddamn cheeky, I know, but I did that. I also sent him a video copy of WHACKING COWS.
Anyway, finally, though my agent, I got the chance to read for five one-line parts for ANALYZE THIS, and Harold Ramis and Robert De Niro were there trying me out and they decided that I WAS good, and they gave me the fourth lead role. What's more - it turned out that Bobby De Niro never got either of my letters! How about that?!
What was it like to work with Robert De Niro?
Electrifying. The man is a legend. He taught me. Heís very low key, straight to the point. He concentrates. Heís an absolute perfectionist. You know, I know how this sounds, but for me - for me it was like working with Jesus Christ himself. But I kept that feeling well hidden - thatís where being an actor helps.
Bobby De Niro is a magnetic, terrific person, and the greatest actor of our generation - without a doubt - without a doubt. Speaking personally, I never took to anyone so much, or so quickly, and I felt very comfortable working with him. He made me comfortable.
How did you prepare for the role? Is the character of Jimmy Boots in Analyze This based on someone you know?
Someone I know? Heís ME! Heís me the way I used to be - the way I used to think I HAD to be - you know what Iím saying? Listen: for the three or four months we were shooting ANALYZE THIS I saw Jimmy Boots in the bathroom mirror every morning and last thing every night. I was fighting and arguing with my own shadow - when I was young I was a callous son of a bitch, and thatís Jimmy. I dug deep into that, and not just what I used to be like, but I dug into some of the characters I watched when I was young. Jimmy Boots was easy to slide into but very, very hard to shake. When the movie was over the challenge was NOT BEING Jimmy Boots anymore.
Hell, I scared Billy Crystal! Now Billy Crystal is a truly terrific guy. Before I knew him personally I thought of him as a comedian and a very talented comic actor - it was a real shock to see how serious a guy he is, how serious he is about acting, and how great he is at serious parts. But, like I say, I think I scared him. Thereís one scene in the movie where me and Joe Viterelli are hanging Billy over a wall ready to throw him to the sharks, and me - well I wasnít Richie Castellano, I was Jimmy Boots - and I was just about ready to throw Billy to the fish. Really ready to throw Billy to the fish. And Billy read that in my eyes, and... well letís just say his true feelings about what was happening injected even more realism into the scene. Ha ha ha.
Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal couldnít have been nicer to me or more understanding, though. After that, almost every day before weíd start shooting, Bobby and Billy would say to me politely: ďGood morning, Richie - or is it Jimmy?Ē And Billy would keep askiní me: ďWhyíre you staring at me so much?Ē Well that was Jimmy Boots that was stariní at him, not Castellano. Matter of fact, when we were winding up the movie, Warner Bros even considered shooting an extra scene, for my personal benefit, in which Jimmy Boots gets killed - just to send me the message that Jimmy was dead and gone and I could go home and forget about him.
What was it like to be directed by Harold Ramis?
Harold Ramis is a great guy. On ANALYZE THIS I got to know him, and I got to like him. He introduced me to his wife and his kids. And as a director - boy that guy knows EXACTLY what heís doing. Heís absolutely determined, painstaking, professional to his fingertips. He respects everybody - I mean everybody - but he has the final say. He is one truly excellent director, and a great man. Everybody on ANALYZE THIS was great with me, and I thank Warner Bros for giving me the opportunity of working on this movie and working with such people.
Whatís your next project?
I got two terrific projects in the pipeline just now. One is a crime thriller called FOUR DEADLY REASONS. The story was written by my son, Richie Castellano Jr, of whom Iím very, very proud. Thatís coming together real soon. Eddie Barbini - who directed WHACKING COWS - is directing it. In a way FOUR DEADLY REASONS is not so much a ďcrime thrillerĒ as... well, to be honest, I prefer to think of it as an All-American movie about four confused *#@&$#ers. Excuse my French, but itís true. Four wannabe mobsters who come together in this really negative way, because negativity - the negativity of their life - thatís all they know. And when they come together for a heist, all kind of shit happens, like an A-bomb detonating in a shithouse. Ha ha ha. No, thatís true. Thatís what itís gonna be like. Weíre gonna try to shoot the movie in 30 days - how about that? We shot WHACKING COWS in 18 days, so why not?
The other hot project cooking is a movie called FIREBALL, written by Mike Bradburn. I think everybodyís gonna be blown away when that one comes out. Itís gonna be like no other movie ever made.
Any advice for young up and coming actors?
Donít go to acting school! Be yourself. You gotta dig deep. Study character. Start with your own. Look in the mirror and commune with yourself - you got to know who YOU are, first and foremost, before you can ever be anybody else. And if youíre acting, I mean really acting, you gotta BE that person. You have to become the character. Let the character take over your being. And donít just read your lines - read the whole script. Read everybodyís lines; understand everybodyís character.
Never, never, never over-act.
Do you plan on producing or directing in the near future?
In a sense Iím already producing one of my upcoming projects - FOUR DEADLY REASONS. I helped produce WHACKING COWS inasmuch as I did all the casting, checked out the locations, and rounded all these guys up in front of the camera. I added scenes, wrote dialogue and helped Eddie Barbini, the director, capture my old neighborhood in Brooklyn authentically. I tried to make it real.
So as for directing, yeah... yeah I think I got the potential to be a great director. I would love to sit in that chair... Sit in it, Iíd stand on it, man! One day Iíll get an opportunity to direct. If I donít find an opportunity, Iíll make one. And then: look out!
Hey, forget about it. Itís your time, buddy. Thank you.
ANALYZE THIS opens 5 March 1999.
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