Fame star Paul Iacono flips a hat up in the air during this new photo shoot taken earlier this month.
JJJ caught up with the 20-year-old actor to chat about Fame, his new MTV pilot and growing up as a child actor. Check out what he had to say:
JJJ: Can you tell us a bit about your character in Fame?
PI: Neil is an ambitious filmmaker. He’s a dreamer with really big hopes and ambitions. He’s the sort of guy that sometimes lacks a realistic approach to his life and dreams. It’s a double-edged sword. He just charges ahead, takes life by the horns and really pursues his stuff. But at the same time, my character goes through hardships in learning the reality of Hollywood and not always being able to trust the right people.
JJJ: Have you seen the original Fame?
PI: Of course! Alan Parker’s film is a masterpiece. Hopefully this film will only do it justice and serve as a second chapter to that film. Our film doesn’t necessarily cross any boundaries or retread characters/legacies. Our film starts with a refresh button so to speak. We have a clean slate, so the people coming into this don’t need to have seen the original film. But if you have, you’ll understand some of the ideas and the returning motifs a little bit more.
We are still paying tribute to the original film, because in 1980, it was a groundbreaking film. No one had ever given a gritty, realistic, human outlook on the lives of young inspiring performers. Our film is going to do that for today’s generation and give it an honest and real look. This is as opposed to seeing all [of it] glossy and sugarcoated, the sort of American Idol – what fame is today and whatnot. It’s a more realistic, hardworking, people who are really striving for their talent, instead of just achieving notoriety.
(Click inside for more of JJJ‘s exclusive interview with Paul Iacono…)
JJJ: What was your favorite scene to film?
PI: My favorite scene to film by far was a karaoke scene in which Megan Mullally and Kelsey Grammer, who play two of the teachers in the movie, take a small group of the kids to a Lower East Side karaoke bar in Manhattan. Megan tells the students, ‘Well you can all sing and perform in class, but let’s see how you fare in front of a bunch of strangers.’ Each of the kids get to go up and take their turn rocking out to the song of their choice, and mine happened to be Barenaked Ladies’ ‘One Week’ and it was just an amazing day where Asher Book and Paul McGill, Megan and Kelsey, and all of us basically sat around a karaoke bar all day, taking turns singing and performing for each other. There was just this amazing sense camaraderie to be able to perform alongside Megan, who is just a stellar performer. Her and Kelsey did nothing but motivate us and propel us into a stronger state of performance.
Originally, the movie was over a hundred pages of script alone. We have all of these musical sequences and whatnot, so it’ll be interesting to see what makes the final cut of the film. I have no doubt that our director Kevin Tancharoen will give us nothing but the absolute best because he’s a young guy himself — 24. He was a dancer, turned choreographer, turned director, turned producer and only a couple years older than myself and the other kids. He was able to relate to this just as much, if not more than the 10 leading characters because this is the exact same journey he has gone through in the last decade.
JJJ: You worked on soap operas when you were young. Has shooting Fame differed from that experience?
PI: Actually, I’ve been a child actor ever since I was able to talk. I never made a conscious decision to become an actor. The soap opera stuff that you’re referring to just smaller roles when I was younger. Typically what I found myself doing in the past couple years (besides being a part-time student and working a couple odd jobs like every other actor in New York my age) was doing a lot of theatre. Gaving a theatrical background prepared me in more ways than I could ever imagine for bringing a character to life on the big screen. When you are on stage, you need to live and breathe in the moment and be completely in character at all times for two hours or more. You don’t get the chance to break and say cut and start all over again, fix your hair or brush your teeth. Coming from that kind of training, I was quickly able to apply that kind of stamina to 12- or 14-hour shoots when we were knocking our heads against the walls, dancing, singing, acting and having to nail all of these things. So I highly recommend theatre to anyone who eventually wants to become a full-time actor.
JJJ: You mentioned you were a part time student, where do you go to school at?
PI: I attended the Professional Performing Arts High School in Manhattan, the actual high school we ended up shooting the movie. A complete coincidence! I did spend a year at Marymount Manhattan College after high school, and I quickly learned that it wasn’t for me. That’s a hard decision to come to in a world where there’s such pressure to follow the typical academia path of going to high school and then college. I admire people who have enough drive and ambition to sort of say, ‘You know what, school isn’t for me right now and then I can put 110% of my energy behind my auditions and my acting.’ And that’s exactly what I did. Within a year of dropping out of college, I got the movie.
[I'm very fortunate] but growing up as a kid actor in New York, you learn that stamina very quickly. And like I said, it’s a hard decision to make because clearly your parents want you to stay and school, succeed, and have a safety net to fall back on. I actually went and took the safety net off and said ‘No, I’m going to do it, and if I fall, I fall.’ It was this or nothing for me.
JJJ: You wrote your first play, Prince Elizabeth, which premiered in 2008. What is the play about?
PI: The play is about four pretentious struggling artists all in their teens or early twenties. They are all extremely passionate about their craft and about their passions. It’s these four characters who all split an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s all about their reactions and the decision to be made when one of the four is cast in the biggest, blockbuster film of all time. It’s sort of how these very passionate art-driven people respond to one of their own getting their big break, and they sort of consider it selling out. So it’s all about the jealousy, rivalry and the envy and all of that which comes with success at a young age. Rhe idea of selling out as opposed to really working for your craft or passion is something that I can relate to.
JJJ: Do you have a favorite Broadway play?
PI: That’s a tough one! There’s too many, I would say currently this past revival of Company that was on Broadway with Raul Esparza definitely tops my lists of top Broadway productions that I’ve seen in the last couple of years.
JJJ: You just wrapped up a pilot for MTV? What can you tell us about it?
PI: I just wrapped yesterday morning at 6 AM on this incredible new pilot directed by David Katzenberg, the son of Jeffery who’s president of Dreamworks opposite of Steven Spielberg. The writer of the project is an incredibly smart man named Seth Grahame-Smith, who just wrote the New York Times bestseller ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Zombies.’ The show is called Hard Times and it’s sort of like Wonder Years but for the Superbad generation. I play R.J. Burger who is a loser in high school, can’t really get the girl kind of thing.
JJJ: Who else stars in the pilot?
PI: There’s an amazing supporting cast! There is an extremely funny actor named Jareb Dauplaise, who was in a bunch of those spoof movies, in Meet The Spartans, Epic Movie. He plays my best friend and he’s sort of this big, fat guy, and I’m kind of small and skinny one. We have this like Laurel and Hardy edge going for us and he basically prompts me to use my new talent to my advantage to get us popular and get us into the party and what not. Kara Taitz also plays my other best friend, and she was on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody for a while. I believe she took over the role of the candy counter girl, the one that Ashley Tisdale plays.
JJJ: Yeah, she played Millicent.
PI: Millicent! Yes, and she is absolutely amazing. It focuses on the three of us, and our very sort of quirky best friend relationship. But you know it goes a little bit deeper — she has a crush on me but he doesn’t really like her because she’s stealing away attention from her, and X Y and Z. It’s extremely funny and talented young cast, and very original at that.
JJJ: Do you know when it’s going to premiere?
PI: It will premiere hopefully around September, the same time that Fame is coming out. My fingers are crossed but no promises have been made because it’s only a pilot as of right now. Our chances are better than most, though. I really think that it could reshape MTV’s formatting, since they’re trying to get away from all of their reality stuff that they’ve pigeonholed themselves with in the last decade or so. It’s time to get back to more scripted programming! So with Hard Times, the hope will be that it’s the first sort of endeavor towards that movement.
JJJ: I read that you performed at age 4 with “Old Blue Eyes” from Frank Sinatra. Is that your favorite Sinatra song?
PI: How I broke into the business was that my parents are from New Jersey, and they’re Italian, hence they like to listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra in the car. As the story goes, I was somewhere between 2 or 3 years old and I was sitting in the back seat and they were playing whatever usual CD it was. They turned off the radio, or rather they turned off the CD player, and they heard a little voice from the backseat continuing to sing the lyrics unprompted. They turned around and said “What!?” and there was me singing the song “Summer Wind”, belting my little face off. Apparently I had heard it so many times that I knew it, like a kid learns ABC and sort of impersonating Sinatra and other theatrical favorites was my first shtick, my first sort of lead into the business.
JJJ: What was the last CD you bought?
PI: Everything is on iTunes!
JJJ: What type of music do you usually listen to?
PI: I hate labels, so I would never classify a specific genre of music. I’m a huge Ben Folds fan, Rufus Wainwright, The Bird and The Bee, Animal Collective to name a few – Kings of Leon.
JJJ: You are the national spokesman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society? Are you still involved in that?
PI: I’m definitely still affiliated with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, although I haven’t had the opportunity to work with them much in the last year or so. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about it. I am a Leukemia survivor. I was diagnosed when I was 7 years old and had 2 years of chemotherapy. I never lost my hair because it’s thick as thieves, so I’m a survivor of that and it’s something that’s extremely close to me and something that I feel passionate about advocating for. Twenty years ago the survival rate was of Leukemia in children, which is the most common cancer in children was something like 20%, and that was 20 years ago, it’s now up to about 88% due to research and fundraising from this particular society. My theory is that eventually the survival rate will be 100% and no kid will have to go through what I had to go through.
Absolutely [a hard thing to go through], but again, everything in my life, every speed bump that I’ve hit, has in some way taught me a lesson and made me a stronger person. I was still performing when I was sick, and it was the only thing that really kept me going and kept my spirits up. And if I didn’t have that, I really don’t know what I would have done. I was doing local community theatre productions of Oliver, going to the doctor, getting chemo treatments and then going to the theatre Thursday night and putting on a big show.
JJJ: You’re turning 21 this fall, what are you doing for your 21st birthday?
PI: That is a very good question, I’m not quite sure, but I can tell you that whatever it is I will be with my best friends and to be honest that’s all that really matters.
Fame is set for a September 25th, 2009 release.
Posted to: Paul Iacono