Al Sapienza Exclusive Interview

Al SapienzaAl Sapienza has appeared in a multitude of movies and television shows, including Law & Order, Prison Break, Cellular, The Sopranos, and so many more. We talked with Al about his newest roles, the recent teen flick, American Mall, and his current gig as Mayor Frank Panzerelli on Brotherhood.

THE STAR SCOOP:
You did the movie, American Mall. Why did you want to be a part of a teen movie?

AL SAPIENZA:
Yeah, that’s exactly why. I thought it would be a lot of fun to play a dad, because I just reached the phase where I’m playing a lot of dads. They made a 15 million dollar musical out of Dirty Dancing, and I play the Jerry Orbach role, Baby’s father. The plan is I’m going to do Broadway when it opens on Broadway. Usually I’m mobsters and cops and senators. This was really nice. It’s also a musical. I love to sing and dance. I started out in musical theater. The American Mall came along, and I’m like, Okay. It’s a modern day musical. I totally want to do it. It was a lot of fun. [My character in American Mall] wasn’t the greatest father…always put business first, wasn’t around a lot, so [his daughter] felt neglected and wanted to open a chain of stores. I played Max, like a Donald Trump who owned malls all over America.

THE STAR SCOOP:
Fans will see you coming up in Saw V.

AL SAPIENZA:
My wife, she’s a psychiatrist, she’s a doctor – she loves those movies! [laughs]. I never saw one, and she loves them. She thinks they’re really crazy and she loves it. We watched one, and I was like, I’ll do it. She watched all of them, and she gets a kick out of them. I watched it, and I went, Alright, this will be different. A horror flick. As an actor, it’s so much fun to just play as many different roles as you can and to be in as many different things as you can. You’re learning about new things if you research your character. You read a script, it’s like reading a good book. I find it all fun, or else I wouldn’t be doing it anymore.

THE STAR SCOOP:
With such an extensive career, how did you go about building it, getting started?

AL SAPIENZA:
That’s a good question actually. My dad, who was really a great guy – he died a couple years ago – he was a little bit old school, and he was worried about me. So, he didn’t quite understand what show business was in America and New York. So he really discouraged me from doing it, so I couldn’t do it full blown until I was about 24. That’s when I really, really could put in the hours and really study and learn my craft. Before that, it was very conflicting. I graduated from NYU, I was getting pressured to go to law school. A lot of people get into it when they’re 13, 14, 15, and they really get into it. By the time they’re 25, there’s 10 years experience. They know casting directors. I came from the cold. I was a little bit older. “Beatlemania” [was] an incredible stroke of luck. I got that four months out of college. I played the drums since I was eight years old, so I was a really, really good drummer. I auditioned for the part of Ringo and I got it. That at least put me in showbiz, and I used that money to study in Los Angeles. Doing it later in life, I had to really focus and then I kept on studying, did anything that was sent my way – a bunch of plays. You start to get work here and there, and luckily, I was getting work. I just hung in there. You have one life, you gotta do what you want to do. I started to get work, and one thing led to another, and then when I got The Sopranos, my whole career changed. The probability is I’ll work for the rest of my life. I may never be John Travolta, but I’ll certainly work. That was the turning point. I got tons of jobs after that. I really do find it all fun.

THE STAR SCOOP:
Do you feel that it was important for you to go to college? Are you glad that you went?

AL SAPIENZA:
That’s an excellent question. That’s really an excellent question because it’s what artists struggle with. As an artist, to be a really good actor, you have to understand a lot of things. You have to really be smart. You have to understand all types of people and all different psychological states of people, and economic levels of people. And if you don’t truly understand those things, you can’t perform those things. How can you play a millionaire politician unless you really understand what makes them tick? How can you play a drug addict unless you’ve really studied and understand what an addict of any kind goes through? An addict is an addict. If you’re a food addict, a drug addict, or an alcohol addict, or a chocolate addict, you’re an addict. There’s a famous line, If you could kill a fly, you could play Othello, meaning if you could kill a fly, you could play a murderer. You’re killing a fly; you’re killing life. Killing is killing, right? In college, if you go to the right school, and you read your books, it just makes you smarter. It makes you know more, you have more knowledge, you have more knowledge of the universe and the world, and you use your brain a little more those four years.

It’s a tough call. Do I wish I was acting those four years? Yes. I should have done both. I should have started acting when I was 15 and continued my education. And a great actor never stops learning, ever. Doris Roberts, from Everyone Loves Raymond has won three Emmy’s; she’s probably worth 15 million dollars; she still goes to that acting class every Saturday morning in LA. She’s in her seventies. Richard Dreyfus still goes. Elliott Gould still studies. Jenna Elfman’s in that class…Kirstie Alley…an actor, you need to study your whole life; you need to study everything so if have to play that part, you know what it’s about, or else it’s not going to be good. There’s no regret. An education can never hurt you. You can never know too much. Tell those fans to make a list of their fifteen favorite actors. The fifteen actors that they think are the best, and I guarantee that nine out of ten of them went to college.

THE STAR SCOOP:
Do you have other projects in the works you can tell us about?

AL SAPIENZA:
I’m on an excellent show right now, it’s called Brotherhood on Showtime. We’re filing the third season as you and I speak. That show won a Peabody Award for writing. There’s some really good acting on that show. It’s very intelligently written show. It’s about Providence, Rhode Island. I play the major. I just did a really cool movie with Christian Slater and Wes Bentley called Dolan’s Cadillac; that’s a feature. That’s going to be in theaters. I also did another horror picture with Angela Bettis, called Scar. That’s going to be coming out soon I’m told.

THE STAR SCOOP:
Why do you think Brotherhood has been such a success?

AL SAPIENZA:
It’s an extremely intelligently written show. It’s got the Mafia action for the younger thrill-seekers. The political stuff is quite intriguing, and it’s definitely an adult-themed show there. The couples have marital problems. People in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s can relate to all of that. It’s got a wide scope of appeal. It’s got the gangster stuff, which young people love. It’s got the adult crises of marriage and choices in occupation. The lead is choosing now between being a good mom and having a career. The head writer, Blake Masters, who created it, is a really smart guy. It’s really written well, and that’s why it’s so successful. People who watch it love it. Either people have never heard of it, or they’re addicted. It’s not the kind of show you watch once or twice and then don’t love. It’s too good of a show.

THE STAR SCOOP:
You’ve done so much and been a part of so many great shows and movies. What does it mean to you to have accomplished this much?

AL SAPIENZA:
It means a lot to me because of the commercial nature of what we do. There’s the artistic nature, where you just love creating these characters, and you love acting. Acting is just fun, to me it’s fun. It’s like playing cowboys and Indians. You just lose yourself in a new reality. The commercial aspects of what we do indicate by me being in all these shows that I’m a success. I’m defined as a success. To be on The Sopranos, and to be part of that, and to be Jimmy Gandolfini’s first nemesis in the first season, it was really exciting. Then to be in the first year of Prison Break, I loved that show, too. It’s exciting to be in so many different things, and I’m really grateful that I’ve been in so many different things, and I hope for the rest of my life I continue to be in so many different things. I love the fact that I’m playing different characters all the time. It excites me.

THE STAR SCOOP:
Do you have a favorite series you have worked on? Why?

AL SAPIENZA:
It wasThe Sopranos, there’s no question. A lot of life is just about timing. If you meet the right woman, and you’re not ready to get married, it’s a disaster. If you’re ready to get married, and you meet the right woman, it’s great. So much is timing. The Sopranos happened just at the right time. The world needed a show like that.

THE STAR SCOOP:
What message would you like to leave your fans with?

AL SAPIENZA:
They should never lose sight of the fact, if they we’re watching the television show, or going to the movies, it wouldn’t be there. Because we’d have no one to make it for. Our art depends on them. It’s a family. It’s a partnership. Without them, there’d be no us. I think about that all the time, and I’m really grateful. I hope that I continue to make them laugh, to make them cry, and to make them think about things. Keep an eye out for the Broadway musical, “Dirty Dancing.” It’s really fun.

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