John D’Leo shares his thoughts on movies, acting and his future ambitions
In the dark action comedy The Family, Mafia boss Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook, Goodfellas) breaks the sacred code of omertà and snitches on his crew. Given the new identity of Fred Blake, he and his family are relocated to a sleepy town in France under the Witness Protection Program. Despite Agent Stansfield’s (Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln, No Country For Old Men) best efforts to keep them in line, both Fred, his firecracker wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer – Stardust, Scarface) and their children, all-American Belle (Dianna Agron – “Glee”) and wannabe wiseguy Warren (John D’Leo – The Wrestler), can’t help resorting to old habits by handling their problems the “family” way.
But the Mob doesn’t forget and, as his old crew closes in on their location, chaos ensues and old scores are settled as Fred is caught in the middle of a life-or-death showdown between his two families.
Following the home entertainment release of Luc Besson’s The Family, The Fan Carpet‘s Paul Risker had an opportunity to speak with John D’Leo, who shared with us his thoughts on working on The Family, his long-time love of the movies and acting, as well as looking ahead to his creative ambitions both in front and behind the camera.
Why a career in acting? Was there that one inspirational moment?
When I was around ten years old I would see these moving images on the TV screen, and whilst back then I didn’t know how they were made, I was interested to find out. I didn’t understand the whole process and just how many people it took to create a film. Of course once I figured it out I fell in love with cinema, but acting and movies are two things that I have always loved. So I knew from a very young age that I wanted to act.
Speaking with actors and filmmakers about their inspirational moments, childhood has become a common thread. As children films have the ability to resemble dreams. With age and knowledge do you think we consequently lose something in the way that we experience movies?
Some of the imagination is lost because reality replaces it, and that is why it is important as you get older to stay in touch with your inner child. It is that time in your life when you possess a pure innocence, and when you lose that it is not so much fun anymore.
Bringing the discussion around to The Family, how much of an opportunity did you have to shape the character? Was the script Gospel or were able to improvise on set and explore your character?
Well we would sit down and do a couple of table readings with Luc, and if I had any questions or any suggestions I would then talk to him about the specific scene or my character’s choice. The majority of the time if I had a good idea he would let me do it. He was pretty flexible when it came down to everything on set, and all he wanted was to get the best result.? ?Is that a common experience you have had working with directors or is it mix and match? ? ?It is definitely better for the creative process when the director listens to the actor. In the end Luc likes to give himself options in the editing room, and on set I knew that he’d know when he’d seen a perfect take. But we might do one take based on my idea and another his way, and then afterwards we would figure it out.
How familiar with the work of your fellow cast and director were you going into the project?
I knew Michelle Pfeiffer from such films as Married to the Mob, and of course I’ve seen countless of Robert’s films, because I have been watching his films since I started acting. Funnily enough I knew a lot of Luc’s films before I even knew who Luc was. When I looked him up and I put all of his movies together I thought, oh my God this guy is amazing. Then I couldn’t wait to work with him.
When you are young you consume films, the guiding thought being what you like and what you don’t like. Then you hit a point where you begin to connect the dots, and you become aware of directors and their body of work. It’s a process that has always interested me.
When you are younger you just watch films; they are just entertaining. But then as you get older you realise that this film was made by this person. So you begin to realise who your favourite directors are, and what genres you like. As you get older you start to appreciate the whole process, but the love for the art never goes away.
On the subject of genre, The Family merges the gangster with the comedy and action genres. How would you pitch The Family to audiences?
I wouldn’t characterise it as your basic gangster film. It is more of an action comedy, and for me what is important is that it is about the family and their story. The reason I liked it was because it is different. It’s not your average mob film. The perspective is different, as it is more zeroed in on the family, and getting to know the characters.
Having discussed your interest in the filmmaking process, are you looking to continue to explore your creativity beyond the space in front of the camera?
Oh yeah. I recently bought a camera and I’m starting to develop an interest in photography. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures for my school functions and I’m starting to direct a couple of short films. I love the whole universe of filmmaking – in front of the camera as well as behind, and hopefully one day I can direct and star in my own feature.
The Family is available to own now on Blu-Ray and DVD courtesy of Entertainment One