Tag Archives: HBO

Comedian Susie Essman headlines North Shore Towers 40th anniversary, talks craft

| svrattos@queenscourier.com

Photo by Julie Weissman

Comedian Susie Essman, best known for her portrayal of the profanity-laced character Susie Green, which she played for eight seasons on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO, performed at a dinner show on June 13 celebrating the 40th anniversary of North Shore Towers in Floral Park.

To watch Susie Essman perform, one would never think the Bronx-born stand-up comedian had anything else in mind as she was growing up.

“I never really wanted to be a stand-up comic when I was a kid. It wasn’t on my radar,” she said. “I wanted to be a comedic actress from the age of, I don’t know, 5, a Broadway musical comedy actress.”

It’s natural to think someone who makes their living being funny came from a funny family, but on paper — as the saying goes — with a father who was an internist and a mother who taught Russian language, frivolity would seem to be wanting in Essman’s childhood setting.

“It was a family with a good sense of humor. Let’s put it that way,” she said. “My father was not funny, but he thought he was. When I was 5, I remember my parents brought home  “The 2000 Year Old Man” album. I used to play that over and over again. They had all the Elaine May and Mike Nichols records and I used to listen to those all the time. They always took me to see Broadway shows and things like that. It wasn’t a funny family per se, but there was a sense of humor there.”

By high school, Essman focused her acting itch toward being more of a comedic sketch artist in the Carol Burnett mode, “but I never did anything about it,” she confessed.

Despite her desires, Essman wasn’t a theater major in college. She attended SUNY Purchase and in her own words was “intimidated by theater majors.” After graduation, she moved to Manhattan and finally followed her dream, taking acting classes.

It was several years before the comedian even set foot in a comedy club and that was through the urging of her workmates. The year was 1983 at a place called Mostly Magic on Carmine Street in the Village: “When I was 28 years old, everybody that I worked with at the restaurant talked me into getting up at an open mic…and I did. But it still never occurred to me to be a comic.”

Fortunately, the thought did occur to a couple of comedy club impresarios who were in attendance that fateful evening.

“There were these two guys there, Paul Herzik and Burt Levitz; they were opening up this comedy club in the Village called Comedy U on University and 13th Street,” Essman said. “They said, ‘We really like you; will you come work at our club?’ I never thought anything about it. Three months later, they called me. ‘The club is open; do you want to come down here and work; come down and do 10 minutes.’ Like an idiot, I said ‘Yeah, sure.’”

Those 10 minutes turned into many performances. The young owners loved Essman and she became a staple of the club: “They had this women’s night on Thursdays and I met all these other female comics; there was a lot of camaraderie. For the first six months, I only worked there, but it was only after three that I thought, ‘All right this is what I was born to do.’”

According to the comedian, her forthright approach was not discovered as much as being a part of her personality from a young age.

“I was always the kid in class that would say what everyone else was afraid to say. I was always a big mouth. And I was never taught, so much, to respect authority,” she confessed with a laugh. “My father was always kind of a rebellious guy. I picked that up from him. I was always the truth teller. Kids would always come over to me and be like, ‘see if we can get this done today from the teacher.’ I was not afraid to say anything. I think more than being funny as a kid, I was more of a big mouth.”

Ironically, the fearless persona Essman developed in her stand-up routine resulted from sheer unbridled terror. “When you start doing stand-up, you need to develop your persona. For me, it was probably defensiveness, because it’s really scary up there when you don’t know what you’re doing. And in the beginning, you don’t know what you’re doing. The only way to do stand-up is to do it in front of strangers.”

This take-no-prisoners attack mode served Essman well as Susie Green, the profanity-laced character she played for eight seasons on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO. But it has had a weird side effect off-screen, when Essman meets fans, who expect her to scream profanity at them.

“I see sometimes that they’re visibly disappointed when I’m gracious and nice,” she revealed. “It’s hilarious! That’s not me it’s an acting job that I do; I play that character on TV. I see them get visibly disappointed — their faces drop. ‘Sorry.’”

Essman has kept busy since the show went of the air in 2011. Lately, she’s guest-starred on an episode of “Law and Order: SVU,” “Broad City” on Comedy Central and “Weird Loners” on FOX. And throughout, she’s continued to perform stand-up. Her book, “What Would Susie Say?,” recently went into paperback.

When asked her favorite source material, she laughed: “My kids… and my mother. I would say she’s number one; she’s been there since day one. She never disappoints.”




Jackson Heights filmmaker turns to Kickstarter for new flick

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy of Alex Webb

Actor Alex Webb has gone behind the camera to write, direct and produce award-winning films. Now, he is turning to Kickstarter to get his new film rolling.

The Jackson Heights resident has worked with actors such Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck and has appeared in the Netflix series “House of Cards” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

Aside from acting, Webb began working on film production with his first picture “The Girl in 2C,” which received a silver medal at WorldFest, an international indie film festival in Houston. His most recent short film “Hove (The Wind)” received the Panavision New Filmmaker Award and was selected for several international film festivals.

“The interesting thing I didn’t realize is that all along I had writing and directing right in my pocket,” Webb said. “I was much happier when those times came to be creative and start creating your own work.”

Webb decided the next step in his production career would be to create a full-length feature and came up with his newest thriller and dark comedy flick called “To The Flame.”

“[I wanted to] try to make a story that is super intriguing, weird and surprising and — on the production end — simple,” Webb said. “Make [a film] that would really lend itself to a micro-budget.”

On May 7, Webb created a 30-day Kickstarter project to help raise $25,000 in funds to make his feature film a reality. The money raised would go toward production equipment and hiring the remaining cast and crew members, as well as helping to keep location and travel needs to a minimum.

“The great thing about Kickstarter is you are raising awareness about your project before even starting it,” Webb said. “You get these people already hooked on the project and you’re getting an audience before it even starts.”

The film, which already has Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis and actor Bob Balaban slotted for cameos, was inspired by the works of directors Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. It follows two college students, Kyle and Penny, and their interaction with two neighbors, played by Webb and his wife Shirleyann Kaladjian, for a school assignment. The project then takes the students into the couple’s “dark and twisted world,” Webb said.

Shooting for the film is expected to begin in early July, with some scenes possibly shot in Queens, and a release date is slated for late this year or early 2015.

To watch a teaser for “To The Flame” and donate to the Kickstarter, which ends June 6, click here.



‘Girls’ shoots on Bayside’s Bell Boulevard

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Rosa Kim

The hit HBO series “Girls” filmed on Bell Boulevard on Tuesday, July 2.

Cast members, including Lena Dunham, were on hand at Bayside’s CJ Sullivan’s.

“I took off work to see her and I’ve been waiting since 10 a.m. just to see her come out and take a picture with her [Dunham],” said “Girls” fan Kelly Goff. “She’s awesome. I feel like I totally relate to the show–post grad, everybody’s trying to get a job, going out partying the same way.”

“It’s really cool; we don’t really have a lot actual big shows being filmed here, it’s usually small ones that you never really hear of, so to have a show that I actually watch here is really awesome,” echoed Jessie Naftaly.

Photo courtesy of Gregg Sullivan



‘Sopranos’ actor curates new LIC art exhibit

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

To fans of the HBO series “The Sopranos,” he is Furio Giunta. Yet to the artistic world, Federico Castelluccio has come to be known as a prominent realist painter.

On Thursday, April 4 the art collector, connoisseur of old master Baroque paintings and Naples native presented the opening of “Diverse Visions of Reality.” Along with his own work, Castelluccio, as the curator for the exhibit, chose 10 other artists that will each display two pieces in the gallery that give a variety of subject matter, styles and sizes.

Included in the group are Nelson Shanks, Humberto Aquino, Christopher Pugliese, Steven Assael, Mario Robinson, David Brega, Scott Nickerson, Patricia Watwood, Katie O’Hagan and Will Wilson.

In his paintings Castelluccio largely focuses on the figure, in addition to still life and landscape, always dealing with life directly.

“As a realist painter I strive to paint my subject as I see it – pure, without embellishments,” said Castelluccio. “My ultimate goal is to achieve an honest interpretation of the natural and beautiful things that surround and inspire me.”

The exhibit will run in conjunction with the Diego Salazar Gallery’s one-year anniversary through May 4. The galley is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.




‘Argo,’ ‘Les Misérables,’ ‘Homeland’ win big at Golden Globes

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

“Lincoln” may have led the Oscar nominations, but “Argo” won two of the top awards at last night’s 70th annual Golden Globe awards.

“Argo” earned the award for best dramatic film and, even though he was shut out of the Oscar race, Ben Affleck, who also starred in the film, won for best director.

Other winners of the night included “Les Misérables” for best comedy or musical film, Jessica Chastain of “Zero Dark Thirty” for best actress in a drama and Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor for his portrayal of the 16th president in “Lincoln,” the movie’s only award of the night.

In the best comedy or musical category, Hugh Jackman of “Les Misérables” won for best actor and Jennifer Lawrence of “Silver Linings Playbook” was awarded a best actress Golden Globe.

Supporting film acting awards went to Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables” and Christopher Waltz for “Django Unchained.”

In the other remaining film categories, “Brave” won for best animated, “Amour” from Austria won for best foreign film and Quentin Tarantino won for his “Django Unchained” screenplay.

A surprised Adele, who said it was her first night out since having her baby, won for best original song for “Skyfall” from the latest James Bond movie of the same name.  Best original score went to “Life of Pi.”

In television, best drama went to Showtime’s “Homeland” and best comedy went to HBO’s “Girls.”

The stars of those shows, Claire Danes and Lena Dunham also took home best actress awards.

“Homeland” also earned best actor for Damian Lewis, and best actor in a comedy or musical television series went to Don Cheadle who stars in the show “House of Lies.”

Best made for TV movie or mini-series went to “Game Change,” and Julianne Moore, who played former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in the HBO film, won for best actress the category.

Kevin Costner won for best actor for his role in the post-Civil War ear mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys.”

Awards for best supporting actress and actor in a series, mini-series or made for television movie went to Maggie Smith for “Downtown Abbey: Season 2” and Ed Harris for “Game Change.”

Finally, Jodi Foster, who has been working in films since she was a child, was honored with the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille award for her “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.”

Vincent Piazza dishes on going from Queens to the ‘Boardwalk’

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of HBO

Gangster lore permeates the streets of Queens: the land on which Juniper Valley Park in Queens now stands was seized from alleged World Series-fixer Arnold Rothstein’s estate over back taxes; “Goodfellas” was based on characters and events from Ozone Park; and dozens of gangsters’ graves pepper the city’s cemeteries — including Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

Mere miles separate the final resting place of Luciano at St. John Cemetery and the house where the man who now portrays him on “Boardwalk Empire” — whose season three premieres Sunday — grew up.

Vincent Piazza — born in Middle Village before moving to neighboring Maspeth shortly thereafter, where his family still lives — grew up watching the films of Martin Scorsese, never imagining he would one day be directed by the film giant.

Only what he described as luck and a “series of coincidences” led him to acting and the famed director.

His childhood was a typical Maspeth upbringing: he attended Our Lady of Hope, played 104th Precinct roller hockey, loved Rosa’s Pizza and graduated from Archbishop Molloy High School.

At Molloy, Piazza did not partake in plays or acting, or even harbor thoughts of one day making it a career — he considered himself a hockey player.

Upon graduating, Piazza found himself at Villanova University to pursue the sport, but a recurring shoulder injury forced him to hang up the skates.

Returning to Maspeth, Piazza’s future was still uncertain.

“I was just picking up the pieces of what in my eyes was a broken dream,” he said.

He worked construction with his father and played men’s league hockey. It was there, through happenstance, he met someone who worked in finance and invited him to take a shot on Wall Street.

Wearing his Molloy clothes — khakis, a collared shirt and tie — Piazza headed to the financial district to try his hand.

He became a licensed broker and traveled through Europe and the Middle East.

“It was an eye opening experience,” the 35-year-old said of the globe-trotting. “I really learned a lot about the world outside of Maspeth.”

Still not knowing if this was where he wanted to end up — he loved traveling, but wasn’t happy wasting away in a cubicle — Piazza questioned his future.

One thing he did have a knack for was impersonations and being the office clown — even calling office mates as the boss to fire them.

“Man, you’re wasting your time, you have to be an actor,” he was told.

The death of his mentor and the man who helped him break into the field pushed him in that direction.

“Is it about money, or is it about being happy,” Piazza asked himself. “So I decided to look into acting.”

Standing in line ahead of Piazza as he awaited his head shot was Alice Spivak, a well-known acting coach. When Piazza returned home, a book he was reading surreptitiously mentioned the acting coach’s name, convincing him to call the photographer for her number.

This led to a meeting.

“I sat down, she was like, ‘Look, if you’re interested in trying to be famous, don’t waste my time. If you want to learn a craft, then we’ll talk.’”

Twenty or 30 no- to low-paying jobs later, Piazza took $30 he had in his pocket to perform in front of casting director Nadia Lubbe.

This led to him reading for a role in the independent film “Rocket Science.”

Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky

Photo Courtesy of Macall B. Polay/HBO

He made a tape he called “brave” or possibly “naïve,” that generated a meeting with the film’s director, Jeff Blitz.

“He said, ‘I had to meet you because I wasn’t sure if you were insane or you just took a really big chance [on the tape].’”

The job was his.

Jobs begot jobs and the work ethic formed in Maspeth continued as he broke into Hollywood.

“Too often you see people abusing the privilege of acting or show business,” he said.

Working on indie films — “Stephanie Daley,” “Assassination of a High School President” — Piazza had an itch to create a new character, a classic gangster.

Walking around Chelsea, he happened upon someone selling old books.

Leafing through the collection, he found one titled “On Our Block,” an old, unpublished collection of Christian-infused children’s stories.

“They were very heavy handed. Children should be seen and not heard,” he said.

This inspired him to write one of the stories into a monologue of himself fathering a child and disciplining the child as a gangster.

He put it on film and sent it to his agent who was unsure what to do with it.

The video was filed away.

More than a year later, the breakdown for “Boardwalk Empire” came out.

“[My agent] calls me up and says, “You’re not going to believe this, remember that tape that you gave me? Martin Scorsese’s looking for a young Al Capone, a young Luciano. I’m sending his office your tape.’”

After growing up quoting his films with his friends, Piazza was about to meet Scorsese, who directed the pilot and is the executive director of the popular show.

“So what are we going to do Lucky,” Piazza remembers in a nearly spot-on Scorsese impression of their first encounter.

Stuttering and stammering, the two discussed Scorsese’s take on the role.

Coincidence led to this point; now Piazza was Lucky.

He watched films, read biographies and pored over court documents about the criminal.

“There’s been so many glamorizations of him as this omnipotent, very grand gangster,” Piazza said. “But underneath all the silk is a thug.”

Filming in the city allows Piazza to walk the streets and frequent places Luciano did 80 years prior.

Piazza remembered one scene at John’s Italian Restaurant in the East Village with himself, Joe Masseria, Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky.

“We’re filming a scene of these four historical characters and they once inhabited the exact same space.”

Viewers will be introduced to these characters more than a year after last season’s shocking conclusion (Piazza was only made aware of the ending days before it aired, he said. He too was floored).

“I have to credit the writers, because you would think after the climax of last season there would be a falling off, but this show manages to one up itself.”

Season three of the popular HBO period drama picks up as America is entering 1923, when the 20s began to roar, Piazza said.

“It’s the ‘Year of the Gangster’ on the show,” Piazza teased of the show that will film debut on Sunday, September 16 at 9 p.m. “It’s a bit less political and a lot more street.”

Vincent Piazza, ‘Lucky Luciano’ from ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ celebrates Basil’s grand opening

| brennison@queenscourier.com


Vincent Piazza, who portrays Lucky Luciano on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” joined family and friends to cut the ribbon at Basil’s grand opening in Astoria last night.

The actor, raised in Maspeth, sat down with The Courier to discuss his Queens upbringing and the upcoming season of Boardwalk Empire at the opening of his relative’s new pizzeria.

“It manages to one up last season,” said Piazza, who graduated from Archbishop Molloy. “It’s the ‘Year of the Gangster.’”