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Storia Di Una Capinera (Sparrow) Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
My old room mate at the time, Alan Marshall, came back from an open call and told me that Franco Zefferelli was looking for an unknown to star in his latest film. So I grabbed my things and went to a little studio off of Ventura - it would turn out that THE SPARROW would be the first big thing I would do with my acting life.
I had to audition over 6 times. When I finally had to fly to Rome for the screen test. I found out I was auditioning against actors from England, Italy, New York and another actor from LA. That actor turned out to be my other roommate, Michael Woolsen. Strange, but true.
Some incredibly talented people were there - way more experienced, way better prepared, way more handsome, but I guess I had the quality Franco was looking for. I HAD it as he would say.
Probably based on my look mostly, but I can say this, one of the audition pieces was from "Death Of A Salesman". I played Biff and I think the rawness of that character blended in with the energy I owned back then. I was very edgy in other words.
After the screen test I found out I had won the role when I was home in Maryland...even though Franco stated to me I wasn’t ready. He said I didn’t talk right, stand right...so I was flown to England to train with teachers from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts everyday/ all day. And then flown back to Rome after the teachers felt I was ready (about three months).
Angela Bettis was my costar and we got to see some amazing sights. We heard incredible stories of Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Richard Burton, Lawrence Olivier etc. It was an artistic dream.we stayed in Franco’s villa. We feasted on the best Italian food ever and I became addicted to blood oranges.
Franco Zeffereli was such a wonderful teacher. He started his career as a set designer so he was a painter and drawer such as myself. Before I decided to act I was an artist all through my schooling art was my focus, so Franco and I had alot in common.
When the other cast came aboard and we started filming - It was clear I was out of my league and a little overwhelmed. Academy Award winners: Vanessa Redgrave, Frank Finley and a cast of English actors such as Sinead Cusack and John Castle.
They took us under their wings and all through it I was given great acting advice, like always find a sense of humour in any role you play. Something I try and bring still to this day to each performance. Well. I think I was horrible in the movie, yet I had a certain presence that worked for the film.
That’s the thing I heard all the way through my young acting life, was how present I was on film. Some of my peeps say that the presence equates to soul. I guess, that’s the best way of looking at it. Lord knows how hard I studied and how focused I was through my career, but no matter how subtle or honest I was most people just think I have big lips.
Back to THE SPARROW, Franco and I didn't get along very well. He drank too much...which I probably will be doing at his age also. But I learned a lot and after the film was over. Franco was so upset with me - he dubbed my voice. More for personal reasons then professional.
I had the worst temper back then and as my father would constantly tell me,”You can’t yell at your bosses , it doesn’t work that way.” That was a hard lesson for me to learn.
Franco was the boss so he could do, whatever, he wanted. He decided to use another actor from England to dub my voice. He didn’t even give me a chance to try...he just didn’t want me around was the truth. The film never got any notice and several years later Franco invited to me dinner and apologized for dubbing my voice. He admitted he was wrong.
He even went so far as to offer me another role in "Tea With Mussolini" opposite
Later in my career just to prove to myself it wasn't my fault. I went and played an Englishman in a little known film called "Woundings" I went back and studied the accent again and this time, I won some awards for my work. I starred opposite Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone. I think it’s called "Brave New World", available somewhere on the net. (And on DVD) I have no regrets anymore about that experience. I kept my integrity through the whole thing.
I also took away so much artistry and I got to learn at a young stage as an actor so much more than most American actors ever do.After that I got a determination to prove Franco both right and wrong. Right for hiring me. Wrong for dubbing my voice. But looking back I can say I did it, but as anyone could imagine at the time I was scared to death.
The saddest part of it all - I came back after being gone a year and Roy London (my acting coach) had passed away. That left me with a huge hole in my heart and a feeling of being lost I had never felt before. Let me tell you Los Angeles isn’t the place to be lost and that's how this madness all started.