Tag Archives: martin scorsese

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.”

Weekend events in Queens


| editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

Friday, August 17

6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Both children and adults are invited to a fundraising event at the Forest Park Carousel to raise money for programs and services for those who have Alzheimer’s.

7 p.m. – 10 p.m., “Taxi Driver” at the Museum of the Moving Image: Martin Scorsese’s dark, dyspeptic view of New York, made all the more menacing by a brassy Bernard Herrmann score, is also a great visual love letter to the Big Apple.

7: 30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., Irish Movie Night at the New York Irish Center: “Eat the Peach,” Two young out-of-work Irish men are watching an old Elvis Presley movie in which a carnival cyclist performs an act called the Wall of Death. Transfixed, they decide to put together their own “Wall of Death.” The film is based on the true story of two brothers-in-law, frustrated by life in a small border town.

8 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., Rufus King Park movie series presents “Knocked Up,” a Judd Apatow film about a one-night stand that results in an unexpected pregnancy for entertainment reporter Alison (Katherine Heigl), who vows to be a good mom and keep her career on track by trying to make things work with the slacker (Seth Rogen) who knocked her up.

8 p.m. – midnight, The Laughing Devil presents a showcase of the best comics that New York City has to offer, featuring a rotating cast with a healthy mix of celebrities and the next-big-thing.  Tonight’s show features Steve Hofstetter.

8:30 p.m., This outdoor movie series at Hudson River Park features family-oriented PG movies suitable for all ages. Tonight’s film will be “Back to the Future.” Free popcorn will be provided.

Saturday, August 18

7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., Saturday is the last day of the fifth annual Summer Streets. About seven miles of New York City’s streets will be opened up for running, biking, walking and playing from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, along Park Avenue and connecting streets. There will also be activities and giveaways, including rock climbing and free bike helmets.

11 a.m. – 3 p.m., FlyNYC 2012: Come fly a kite at FlyNYC 2012, a kite festival in Riverside Park. There will also be kite making, live entertainment and other activities.

11 a.m. – 5 p.m., South Queens Park Association presents its second annual collectible car show at Roy Wilkins Park.

5 p.m. – 10 p.m., First Annual Rockaway Beach Club Crawl: Get to know your boardwalk concessions at Rockaway Beach.

8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., At the Alley Pond Environmental Center astronomer Mark Freilich will teach you all about the stars and the features of the moon with an outside viewing using a professional telescope.

10:30 p.m. – midnight, Playing with Reality’s Late-Night Sandbox Series: Three unplanned stories. three audience volunteers. one unforgettable show each month. Here’s your chance to step on stage with highly skilled inter-actors and become the star and co-creator of an entirely unscripted journey. Or, just sit back and enjoy. This one-of-a-kind sandbox is waiting for you. Fill your pail with enthusiasm, jump in and play.

Sunday, August 19

9 a.m. – 4 p.m., The 3rd Summer Craze Car Show & Blood Drive will have trophies, dash plaques, goody bags  and raffles.  All Donations will go directly to St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside.

1 p.m. – 7 p.m.Astoria Park Shore Fest: A Car-free celebration on Shore Boulevard adjacent to Astoria Park. It will include educational activities, live music, fitness programs and food-tastings with various neighborhood restaurants.

6 p.m. – midnight, Long Island City: Art, Graffiti, Infrastructure, and Sunset, One subway stop away from midtown Manhattan, Long Island City is undergoing its second makeover as its industrial landscape gives way to artists’ venues, the reuse of its daylight factory buildings, new condos and shorefront parks.

Henry Hill, immortalized in ‘Goodfellas,’ dies at 69


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Former mob informant Henry Hill — immortalized on the big screen in “Goodfellas” — passed away last night at 69.

TMZ first reported the death.

Hill’s girlfriend, Lisa Caserta told the New York Post that Hill suffered a heart attack in May.

“He went into the hospital and it was really touch-and-go for a long time,” she told the paper.

Hill was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn in 1943 and became involved with the organized crime at an early age.

The former mobster’s life was chronicled in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film “Goodfellas, which Caserta said Hill called “99.9 percent accurate.”

Ray Liotta, who famously portrayed Hill “Goodfellas” tweeted, “RIP Henry Hill. I owe you so much.”