Inspiration: Marcello Rubini in La Dolce Vita
starring Marcello Mastroianni
Shirt, vest and trouser, all by United Bamboo;
sunglasses by Ray Ban
10 QUESTIONS WITH
PAUL IACONO FROM FAME
Homebase: Originally from Secaucus, New Jersey,
now resides in New York City
Inspiration: Oliver Twist in Oliver Twist
starring Barney Clark
Shirt by United Bamboo; jeans by Cheap Monday;
cap by Yohji Yamamoto; suspenders, stylist's own
sneakers by Converse by John Varvatos
1. What was your earliest memory of wanting to become an actor of stage/screen?
I have never made the conscious decision to become an actor. It's always been something enabled inside my identity. I think that says something about my constitution in terms of never giving up and never really doubting myself. I never had a "Plan B." It was either this or bust!
2. Early on, you started out your career in theater. Could you tell us the difference between doing stage work vs. film work? If you had to choose between stage and film, which one would you choose?
Theater is the last great collaborative art form. It is the greatest stepping stone for any actor. It completely built a sense of awareness and a sense of living in the moment at all times which is something that you don't necessarily need in terms of film. By growing up with a theater background, I learned a sort of stamina and endurance, a sense of really being in the moment. I think that contributed a lot to my film acting later on because if you can master being on stage for 2 1/2 hours and never breaking character, then you can sort of apply that in a different way towards working a 14- hour day in front of a camera where you need to keep switching your character on and off when necessary. I think that is one of the greatest lessons I have learned.
In terms of stage or film, it's apples or bananas really. I love theater because I think it is the absolute closest way that a human being can sense what it is like to watch the human condition in real time play out in front of you. I think there is something absoultely beautiful to that. I think there is a real sense of connection that you get as an actor or an audience in the theater. And with film, it's a similar concept but it's a little less direct correlation to real time or what not because you are seeing a piece of work that has been shot, taped and sewn together.
3. Could you tell us your friendship with Rosie O'Donnell that lasted through the years? You have been on her past talk shows numerous times. How did that come about?
When I was younger, my shtick was impersonating a couple of celebrities/personalities, notably Frank Sinatra and Ethel Merman. It is definitely not something a kid at the age of 6 or 7 would normally gravitate towards. My parents, who knew nothing about the stage or film business, had the common sense to realize that, at the time, the mid 90's, Rosie O'Donnell would be the ideal person to expose me to. If anyone would appreciate a seven-year-old boy who impersonates these type of characters, it would be Rosie O'Donnell.
My father bought tickets to her show and was absolutely determined to get me to meet her one way or another. As fate would have it, she was a few hours late to the taping of her own show due to a lunch appointment with Madonna. The warm-up guy was a real mensch doing everything in his power to keep the audience at bay. Eventually it had gotten to the point where he sort of turned to the audience and said, "Does anyone in the audience got talent?" My dad sort of kicked me in the ass to go. I sort of did my shtick. So Rosie called me up for another taping later in the day and referred to me as the cute boy who does some great impersonations. We hit it off from there and from then on, she would call me back to her show, eleven times in total for anything from giving Oscar predictions to singing duets with Minnie Driver and William Shatner. I was sort of her go-to kid for the extent of her television show and it was a very lasting impression. Rosie O'Donnell is such an original personality. I think that she is the person that validates my weird habits and celebrates them, whereas, coming from a small town in New Jersey, singing Frank Sinatra and Ethel Merman songs wasn't exactly the coolest thing on the block. Rosie O'Donnell validated that for me and gave me the encouragement to continue with that. I owe her a lot for that.
Inspiration: Marcel Marceau
Shirt and jeans, both by Cheap Monday;
shoes by Yohji Yamamoto
4. You were diagnosed with leukemia back in 1997 and now you are officially free from the illness. How did you overcome this? What advice would you give to anyone about overcoming adversity like that?
I am a very firm believer in a positive thought process. I credit my father and mother for lending me that method of thought. They are two of the most wonderful loving and beyond supportive parents in every aspect of my life. From being with me bedside at the hospital everyday for 2 1/2 years to being backstage while I was undergoing treatments and giving me my medicine during intermission so I could go on and perform the rest of my performance on any given day. There was never a moment during that period in my life that I wanted to stop performing. I think that my parents saw that. They could have, for better or for worse, insisted that I take a sabbatical instead- just rest and get better and then pursue your pipe dream. They never did. They knew that performing was the only thing that fulfilled my creative outlet and gave me a purpose to go on and to make it through the treatment and sickness. If it wasn't for them, I don't know if I would be here right now.
My advice would be that positive energy and thinking go a long, long way. It is like a muscle that needs to be trained. If you wake up in the morning and you are faced with some form of adversity, like everyone else, you have two choices: You can say, "Fuck my life"—you will see nothing but an negative outlook—or "Enough of feeling sorry for myself, let's move on!" You say to yourself, "Today is the greatest day of my life" because I am alive and I am gonna pursue my life the way I see fit. I will tackle my dream and I will overcome adversity. I stuck with the plan and it has gotten me this far.
5. How did you land the role of Neil Baczynsky, an up-and-coming filmmaker in the film, Fame? Could you tell us about the casting process and how did you got the role? How did you prepare yourself for this role? How would you describe Neil?
Fame is like any audition. I was a 19-year-old kid, I dropped out of college and was just short of my first year out of school on my own in the big city. I did odd jobs such as waiting tables in the meantime to make ends meet. I was interning at a theatrical PR company and I was writing as well. It was another creative outlet that I needed to fulfill myself. When I first heard about the audition for Fame, I was in my kitchen at my parents' home in New Jersey. There was just something about it that sounded really good. I sort of felt as if I was due for something big, like the universe was sort of like pushing me in the right direction. I read the entire script, I watched the original film because I had never seen it before. I came to the audition extremely, extremely prepared. That audition lead to five other call backs, starting in May and ending in the middle of August. I was with a couple of friends when I heard the good news that I have been cast in the movie. It was the most gratifying and humbling experience ever. I had taken a lot of risks, all in the hopes that this would work out and when it did, it was the greatest thrill in the world. In my heart of hearts, I felt I was destined to be in this film. Having been a student for four years and have the experience of being in the real Performing Arts High School, having made the transition from awkward, suburbanite kid with a passion of film and theater, and doing things no one on my block appreciates or even respects, making that transition to the High School of Performing Arts, where not only is it respected and understood, but celebrated. I truly came into being an individual throughout my high school experience. I owe that school a lot. In a weird way, this is sort of me having the chance to share my journey through this film and possibly help any other social misfits out there who have great passion wanting to achieve their goal but their parents might not understand or their friends might not appreciate but to know that there are people out there.
As for my character in the film, Neil is a very ambitious, driven and passionate kind of kid. He really, really has the love for cinema. He is extremely naive to reality sometimes, which is a double-edged sword for him because he sort of will plow ahead through life and will tackle his ambitions or whatnot without sometimes seeing the negative. He needs to learn that you cannot trust everyone in life. Not everyone is looking out for your greater interest. The way I prepared for the role was I went back to journal entries I had written when I was in high school. I looked at where I was and what was important to me. What made me upset vs. happy. I went back and watched the American Film Institute's 25 Greatest Films of All Time because Neil was a devout connoisseur. I thought it was my duty to watch some of the films I had never seen like North by Northwest, Casablanca, and others.
One of the films I watched while preparing for Fame was The Bad and the Beautiful, directed by Vincent Minnelli, starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner, about this famous director who dies and his son is sort of forced to step in and round up all of his father's companions, the writer, the actress, and get them to rebuild his father's legacy. He will stop at nothing to get his father legacy in order. I think that Neil has that aggressive energy about him. Not in the negative sense, but he would sacrifice everything for the craft. That is something I relate to and that film really spoke large volumes to me.
6. What was the experience of making Fame like? Was it difficult being in a film that is an ensemble cast? How much Paul is Neil?
Being in Fame was the most amazing and open experience that any young actor could wish for. I would be totally prepared for my scene days before I had to go in but at the same time, once I get there, I have to be ready to let any of my ideas go because sometimes when you are on set, it is not exactly as you thought it might turn out to be or the other actors might have other ideas and you sort of have to go with the flow. Again, it becomes an organic process. Our director, Kevin Tancharoen, was very, very open-minded to any improvisational ideas that I had or tweaking of lines. There's actually a scene in the film where my character, Neil, is pitching his baby idea he has been slaving over for quite a while, and as it was written in the script, it didn't sound like the type of film Neil would have conjured up in his head, so I was actually given the opportunity to write out my own synopsis for Neil's film. I rewrote it so that it would be believable for me to portray. That monologue is now in the film. Not only was I bringing myself to the film in terms of my personality, but I was able to bring my own writing into it. I was able to flush out this character with ideas from myself. When you are able to do that, you are able to connect to the material ten times more. It was such a beautiful and awesome experience to be allowed to do that. I don't think that many actors on their first film have the opportunity to do that. That by itself made this very special memorable adventure.
I think Neil and Paul are very similar in some ways and yet very different in others. It was fun to play a character that I could relate to somehow because it was easy for me to bring out my eccentricities and apply them to him to make it to work organically.
I loved the ensemble cast, period. I love plays, films or television shows that have ensemble casts because it can really make for a stronger sort of storytelling. When you are getting ten people's narratives, you are just gonna get a bigger picture, you are gonna get more color. I was absolutely honored to be working with the nine other cast members of Fame who shares the spotlight with me. They all are such distinct, strong personalities. They all have ambitions and passion in their real life that are sometime alien to me, but just the share passion alone paved the way for a high level of admiration and respect. I never felt that I was competing with anyone; if anything, we are bringing out each others' best performances because everyone's expectations of their own performances are so high. It is increasing our motivation and accelerating to the next level. That is a beautiful thing.
Inspiration: Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times
starring Charlie Chaplin
Blazer by Yohji Yamamoto; fedora by Brixton;
shirt and tie, both by Thom Browne
7. Being a graduate of the High School of Performing Arts, is the fictional version of the film, Fame differs from being a student in the actual school? What was the experience of going to school there like? How many students that went to the school actually become what they dreamt to be?
The film is exceptionally believable. In fact, everything you see in this film, you will never question if this really happened or not because our director made sure that this film is set in a gritty, dirty reality.
But, there were times when there would be scenes that would depict kids walking in and out of classes and I would tell Kevin, our director, that's not how it is. At the school, there will be times when the kids would be leaving the class doing backflips and someone will be practicing their song in between class and singing as loud as they possibly could and without shame. I was always pushing for a bit more of the realism of the school.
I was in a graduating class of 100 which was one of the largest graduating class ever from the High School of Performing Arts. And out of that 100, I would say that there are about 10 alumni in my graduating class that are still pursuing this full speed ahead. I think the reality vs. fantasy aspects of this profession is the reason why so few make it in the end.
The kids that goes to the High School of Performing Arts are sort of like a group of misfits. In the film, I felt like my character and two other cast members (that I spend most of my screen time with, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle and Paul McGill) were the misfits of the misfits. We were the ones that were more left out than the rest of the group. Out of the sense of community and shared appreciation for quirkiness or not, the three of us really bonded. I always gravitate towards people that are different or eccentric. I find that originality and uniqueness are the best qualities to have. That was a very easy transition for me to make in the film.
8. You have worked with a lot of great actors in your young career, from Mickey Rooney, Christine Ebersol, and Elaine Stritch to Lili Taylor. What did you learn from working with them that you could share with us?
Be bold. Make strong choices. Don't be mundane, be specific. Be opinionated and take risks. Wave your freak flag as high as you possibly can.
9. Since you have done a film musical now, which past musical is your favorite and which song was your favorite from the show/film?
That's too hard of a question for me to answer. I have to say John Doyle's Company on Broadway starring Raúl Esparza and Barbara Walsh was one of my absolute favorites theatrical experiences in the last decade or so.
If there is a musical I would like to be in, it would be a film adaptation of any Stephen Sondheim musical, especially Assassins. I am still quite young for the roles but perhaps in another 10 years. The musical is quite abstract—it's about the assassination of a president. Under the right director though, I think it has strong potential. It's one of the most original, politically charge and thoughtful piece of work.
Inspiration: Neil Baczynsky in Fame
starring Paul Iacono
Shirt by Converse by John Varvatos;
fedora by Brixton
10. What's next for Paul Iacono after the release of Fame? We heard you have been developing a screenplay for a while...
I have been working on and off for the last two years on a play entitled Prince/Elizabeth, which refers to the cross streets in Nolita in Manhattan. It is essentially the story of four very art-driven pretentious actor types sharing this loft on the Lower East Side. One of them is given the opportunity of a lifetime to star in this mega-super-blockbuster propaganda film but it is a very right-wing kind of narrative...his other roommates are totally opposed of this story line. But money, fame, and glamour can make you burn out your morals. The play is mostly about this character's decision to take this role. It is all about art over money, over fame, etc. Two years ago when I started to write this story, I had no clue where my life would be two years later. The play has now evolved because of my own success and the new journey I have begun and new people that have entered my life.
11. Bonus Question: What's your motto in life?
Today is the greatest day of my life.
I was living with a roommate, he is a graffiti artist by the name of Brian Ermanski, he was constantly seeking inspiration and when he found it, he would begin painting right away. He is completely sober and extremely focused. I admire him for all of that. In his room, on his wall, there was a date...under it, he wrote, Today is the greatest day of my life. I asked him, what happened on that day? I was thinking he was going say, I sold this painting for $5000 or I met the girl of my dreams. He goes, nothing special, it was just another day. Every day is the greatest day of your life, as it should be. Because you are alive and you are here, and that is enough. This has always stuck with me...whenever I have a bad day, I will always remember this.
Fame opens in theaters nationwide September 25, 2009
IMAGES: Alex Freund-www.alexfreund.com
FASHION EDITOR/PRODUCER: John Tan
GROOMING: Anna Bernabe for Davines-www.annabernabe.com
TEXT EDITOR: Jonathan Shia
Special thanks to Noelle Keshishian and Michael Gagliardo at PMKHBH for their support.
Converse by John Varvatos-www.converse.com