Scorsese fans will be the first to note that this is not the only time Maniscalco and De Niro have acted opposite one another. In 2019’s Best Picture nominee, “The Irishman,” Maniscalco played Crazy Joe Gallo, a notorious gangster who ends up getting memorably bumped off by De Niro’s character, Frank Sheeran.
“A Scorsese set is such a grand production,” marveled Maniscalco. “Everything that I was involved in with that movie was just so heightened. When I walked into the courtroom scene, I was like, ‘My god, this is unbelievable.’ But the way that Scorsese spoke to me while he was directing me was extremely sweet and nice. I didn’t have a lot of experience with directors—I had nothing to compare it to, really, but I noticed how Scorsese would actually sit down with us in between scenes when they were relighting something. It would take a while, sometimes about an hour, so he’d sit and talk with us about his upbringing in New York City with his mother and his father, how he met De Niro and what have you. I applied that to ‘About My Father’ in that I wanted to make people feel at home on the set. When you are starring in a movie, you kind of have to set the tone, so I was very conscious of doing that right from the get-go.”
When I asked Maniscalco and his dad what aspects of their own experiences they were eager to have portrayed in “About My Father,” Salvo said that the film reflects his deep belief that “family is everything.”
“I wanted to bring an immigrant experience to the screen,” said Maniscalco. “My father came here at 15 years old and he didn’t know the language. He went on to build three businesses, start a family and build a home from nothing. I really wanted to show in the film that it’s possible in America to make your dreams come true. There are people who were born here and still speak the same language who haven’t done half of what he did. I definitely took a lot of his drive and perseverance and incorporated it into my own life. I wanted to show in the movie that the father-son relationship and that dynamic between them is extremely important. I think we did a pretty good job of sprinkling humor throughout that while also tugging on people’s heartstrings. In the movie, on Ellie’s side of the family, there are two brothers who don’t do anything. One is playing sound bowls, the other is playing basically every sport known to mankind because he’s got no job. Then here I come into this movie as a working class guy who has a job at a hotel. Sometimes in these wealthier families, the roads are paved with gold. Their kids don’t have to do anything because the parents are basically giving them money, and I wanted to kind of depict that.”
“I’m not saying all wealthy families do that,” he quickly affirmed. “I am very cautious of how my kids are now growing up a lot differently than how I did. I almost have to work three times as hard to instill in them the fact that this ain’t normal, and that I had to work to get here. For example, my dad and I went to a Chicago Bulls game in 1991. We sat in the third balcony with an obstructed view. I was behind a pole watching the game, but I was just so happy to be there because I got to see Michael Jordan play. Now, we have the opportunity to sit closer, but does that mean I’m going to take my kids to the third row of an NBA basketball game? I almost want to take them up to the third balcony first. My dad and I sat courtside at a Timberwolves game when we were in Minnesota, but I had perspective because I knew where I was and where I came from. The appreciation I felt of sitting in that seat was far greater than if I just sat in the front row to begin with. I want my son and daughter to know that you’ve got to work to get to the front row. But it’s hard because I did the work and I want to enjoy the front row. Do you think I want to sit behind a pillar? So I am very cautious, but I am cautious because my dad made me cautious and hopefully I’ll be able to instill those same morals and values into my kids.”