Sunday, October 25, 2015
Auditioning for Mafia Stuff
Sometimes I get called to audition for mafia-themed productions. While I am, as my agent says, squarely in the "ethnically ambiguous" niche, roles depicting Italian-Americans are a natural fit for obvious reasons and very often, still, a character designed to be Italian or Italamerican is situated in a drama or (worse) comedy about Italian-American organized crime.
I have no affection for our culture's fascination with Italian mobsters and their sons. It would be wonderful to audition for a drama about Sacco and Vanzetti, or Joe DiMaggio or the laborers on Trolley Road or the Bostoniani of the north end but noooooo, "the industry" keep producing shit about the mafia.
Let's be clear: I'm not at all interested in erasing history. Organized crime is very much part of the story of Italian immigration in America (even though we are talking about a few hundred people out of a population of millions), just as it is a driver of history in its major cities. I'm not categorically opposed to telling stories about these organizations. I think The Godfather is a wonderful movie: that's a story about a young man who wants to avoid the family business but gets sucked into it - and, tragically, is sucked in due to his positive attributes. The characters are Italian-Americans but it's a human story.
But I think we all can see that in entertainment media, Italian-Americans are represented as associated with organized crime more reliably than other ethnic classes. It's part of our "brand." In popular culture, we are associated with that far more closely than the alternatives mentioned above - and we could develop a much longer list.
And our culture's fascination and love for it is strange to me. I don't understand what made John Gotti (and other Gambino officers) such beloved figures among various sub-cultures, from well to do caucasians to hip hop and around. This has been studied and there are papers and research I could read if I had more taste for the topic.
So anyway, I've got these sides for someone auditioning me to play Paul Ricca. Paul "the Waiter." He worked with Capone in Chicago and became boss himself. Coincidentally, he was a mentor to Sam Giancana, who was a character in my most recent play (Marilee and Baby Lamb, a new play written and directed by Mark Medoff which had its first run in downtown Las Cruces this month.)
I'm surprised Ricca hasn't been the star of a mafia film yet, because he fits the stereotype beautifully. Napolitano, heavy accent, violent, ruthless; killed people with his own hands and had a lot of guys killed on his behalf.
And I'm reading these sides and the lines are in fluent, complicated English, nothing like how Ricca would have spoken. (His accent was reportedly so thick, non-Italians had trouble understanding him.) Hard to judge from the sides but it looks like fake mafia-tainment. Write a stock character and stick an Italian name on him.
And I need money, so tempted as I was to just say the lines in Italian and send the video, fuhgeddaboutit - no, I played the lines (without an accent) and sent the tape.
An actor's life.