Interviews Movies

About My Father Red Carpet Premiere Was a Celebration of Life, Family and Immigrants

Lionsgate’s About My Father is the classic story of boy meets girl. Girl and boy fall in love and then shit hits the fan when it’s time to meet the parents. Meet Sebastian (Sebastian Maniscalco), who is encouraged by his fiancée (Leslie Bibb) to bring his immigrant, hairdresser father, Salvo (De Niro), to a weekend get-together with her super-rich and exceedingly eccentric family (Kim Cattrall, Anders Holm, Brett Dier, David Rasche).

The weekend develops into what can only be described as a culture clash, leaving Sebastian and Salvo to discover that the great thing about family is everything about family. When we meet Sebastian, he’s happy with his life with girlfriend Ellie. Though they come from different family values and lifestyles, the couple is a perfect match, and Sebastian is ready to pop the question. But there’s a complication: Ellie has invited Sebastian to her family’s lavish summer estate in Virginia for the 4th of July weekend. What’s Sebastian going to do with his dad, Salvo, who was counting on his son to spend the 4th with him? Just bring him along, says Ellie.

Salvo is initially reluctant because he’s worried that he and his father will pale in comparison to the sophisticated Collins clan. Soon, though, Salvo comes to insist on going, before he considers relinquishing a treasured family heirloom Sebastian envisions putting on Ellie’s ring finger. Salvo wants a close look at his son’s new life while he asks Ellie’s parents for her hand in marriage.

The culture and generational clashes commence immediately upon the Maniscalcos’s arrival at the Collins estate in Virginia. The Collinses are all about displaying affection for one another; Sebastian reminds Salvo that he would only shake his newborn’s hand … “We had just met!” Salvo retorts. The Collinses invest their considerable fortune in the stock market; Salvo puts his cash in a mayonnaise jar buried in his backyard. The Collins pets are a family of exotic peacocks; for Salvo, they’re what’s for dinner.

Sebastian Maniscalco as Sebastian and Robert De Niro as Salvo in About My Father. Photo Credit: Dan Anderson

New York City was the place to be when Lionsgate held their premiere for About My Father, which brought out all the stars for a movie that celebrated the importance of family and the tales of immigrants. In celebration of the movie’s release, The Koalition attended the red-carpet event and spoke to the star-studded cast to learn more about the creation of this heartwarming, hilarious and universal movie.

According to About My Father star and co-screenwriter, Sebastian Maniscalco, “the film is about two different families, from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, colliding during a holiday weekend, before they realize that those differences are what make them unique.” Maniscalco, a celebrated stand-up comedian, adds that his onscreen persona “is trying to walk a tightrope with his father in bringing him into an environment that is unfamiliar to him.”

Inspired by Maniscalco’s family co-written by him, it wasn’t that hard to tap into his family perspectives. It’s Maniscalco’s understanding of these characters that makes the movie well-layered and genuine. “I haven’t really changed my view of them coming into this film. I had a pretty good idea of who they were and what kind of people they were. I’ve been talking about my family in my stand-up now for 15-20 years. There’s nothing in the movie or in my stand-up that’s mean or malicious. It was great to celebrate in Chicago with my in-laws and my father. It’s been a really special experience.”

Maniscalco, a celebrated stand-up comedian, sees his onscreen persona as trying to walk a tightrope with his father by bringing him into an environment that is unfamiliar to him. Inspired by his own father, Maniscalco comes from “a really tight family growing up a family. A family that always spoke to one another at the dinner table. They really spent a lot of time together. Of course, this is back in the 70s and 80s when technology wasn’t what it is today. I see a lot of people going out and getting on the iPad in the restaurant and no one is really connecting in a meaningful way. I hope people watch the movie and maybe want to reconnect with their father,” Maniscalco finished.

Sebastian’s longtime manager and producer on the project, Judi Marmel, encouraged him to see there was a movie to be made based on his real-life story. It was Judi who insisted Maniscalco team Austen Earl on a script. “We have a longtime relationship with Austen Earl in developing television projects. His comedic POV on life and family mirrors much of what Sebastian’s life is about, which is why they make a great team.”

“I think a lot of what we were trying to talk about with families is that families are multigenerational. I think sometimes this generation forgets how much they can learn and love from their parents. This film really celebrates what you can learn and love from different generations. It also says an awful lot about the Immigrant story. It really could be Puerto Rican, it could be Greek, it could be Armenian, it could be anybody that’s immigrated into this country for a better life. It tells the story of a father who wants to provide that for his son.”

As a first-generation immigrant, Salvo Maniscalco chased the American Dream. Ellie’s family is the American Dream. Salvo runs a small hair salon; the Collins family patriarch, Bill, is a captain of the industry and the CEO of a luxurious hotel group. Salvo lost his beloved wife – Sebastian’s mom – some years earlier; Ellie’s mom, the aptly-named Tigger (kitty’s got claws), is a U.S. senator. Salvo lives in a small home loaded with older furniture and bric-a-brac he’s collected over the years; the Collinses have at least two palatial homes. They are both immigrant families – though the Collins clan had arrived on these shores – in a vessel called The Mayflower – hundreds of years before Salvo.

Younger brother Doug, played by Brett Dier, is a gentle soul, the opposite of his mother’s Type-A personality, and more than a little odd. “It’s like he’s never grown up,” says Dier. “He’s into sound bowls and meditation. Very offbeat.” In some ways it was preordained that Dier would embody Doug. “I was approached about the part when I was about to embark on a ten-day silent meditation retreat – a very Doug-like endeavor,” he remembers. “So, I took that as a sign.” After returning from the retreat, Dier did a chemistry read with, among others, De Niro, which turned out be less than meditative for the young actor. “It was pretty terrifying. My heart was pounding!”

When it came to developing Doug, it all went back to the script. “I think the whole script is awesome. The whole script is really tight, well-done and funny and heartful. It really came together perfectly. I really loved my character, really resonated with him. It was really one of those things where you’re like, ‘oh yeah.'”

“I’ve never gotten to play a character like that. I really like the healing aspect of the world with the sound bowls, the flute and the mediation. That’s a world I kind of understand because I meditate a lot. So, there’s a lot of things I took from, and I’ve seen. When I read Doug, I wanted him to be a childlike, loving strange guy who lives in his own world. Encouraging others to go deeper in. He’s a very quiet, gentle person. I got to explore my own inner child.”

It was pre-destined for Laura Terruso to direct. The award-winning director, screenwriter and producer had completed a feature film for Netflix, Work It, when the script for About My Father came her way. Her reaction was immediate and unsubtle: “This script made me jump and say, ‘I must direct this movie’ because it felt so personal and universal.”

Terruso’s personal connection to the project comes from her background, which parallels Maniscalco’s in significant ways. As she explains, “Sebastian’s father emigrated from Sicily in the 1960s, as did my mother, and we’ve both found our way into comedy.”

So much of the comedy “was embedded in the script. The screenplay was so smart and so funny. Everyone just elevated it to make it even better. The visuals [in a scene] guide the emotion for me. As a filmmaker, I’m always telling a story from the point-of-view of the main character. In that case, it was Robert De Niro as the father. So, I prepare every moment from the emotional perspective of Robert’s character.”

David Rasche portrays Tigger’s husband, Bill, who the actor describes as “old money with multiple homes. And his daughter has fallen in love with someone not of the Collins family class.” Bill is also none too pleased with the choices of his sons, Lucky and Doug. “They’re both rudderless,” Rasche explains, “because money sometimes begets … rudderlessness? Don’t get me wrong, the boys are delightful in their own way, but Bill wonders what will ever happen to them.”

When it came to developing the character, “you know you read the script over, and you think about if you’ve ever said that before and what was going on. Then you think of people you would know who would be like [this character]. I’ve been with some very rich people, and I thought ‘that’s what that guy does, so I’ll do that.’ So, you get ideas from people that you know.”

The core message being About My Father is about family, something Rasche related to. “You know my father used to beat me…at checkers. He didn’t actually beat me at checkers, I beat him. So, it really is a joke. You find out just don’t prejudge people. [This movie is] also about immigrants, think you think people are going to be like is not what they’re like. You can’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t prejudge people because you could be wrong. And the nice thing about the movie is that people find that out.

One of the many standout characters in the movie is Lucky (so named because he’s Bill Collins XIII – Lucky 13th!), who is, according to Anders Holm, who takes on the role, “a tennis/golf-playing schmo that you just want to punch in the face.” 

But what makes Lucky Collins so “Lucky,” according to Holm is that “he was born rich [and] born White in America. That’s just lucky he kind of just lives fancy free, has no self-awareness and doesn’t realize that he’s kind of a terror. For Holm’s, it was easy to connect to the character because “I wasn’t born rich, but I was born fine, and I was born White and I’m a little bit of a terror.”

Holm’s leaped at the chance to work on About My Father because of the “great cast. I had worked with De Niro before, so I knew him. It was cool to be back with him again. Kim is like a hero of find, she’s amazing and in so many of my favorite movies. I got to meet Sebastian who’s standup I like. Leslie, Brett. David Rasche, who everybody knows from Succession as Carl, he is the funniest dude ever.

While working on this movie, Holm learned “to just trust the director and that’s something I watched Bob [Robert De Niro] him do. He can be a diva. He is who he is. He’s an icon but he truly is just trying to serve the director and their vision that was working in concert with the script, the Sebastian story. But he truly was ‘I’m here to do whatever you tell me to do’ and I love that. That’s great.”

Due to the hilarious nature of the script, Holm was able to use his comedic talents as Lucky. Slightly full of himself and naturally funny, Holm’s portrayal of Lucky feels effortless on screen. “[I] “just play it real. Just lean into it, play it real. After you get that, I do believe you can do a take that’s a little over the top crazy and if that works better…. that works better. But switch it up. Don’t give the same delivery every time. Try to surprise yourself. Try to really get there, try to make an idiot of yourself. It could be fun.”

What can audiences expect when they see About My Father? A feast of comedy, wild culture clashes, and even some heartfelt family warmth. It’s a funny and warm-hearted story for audiences to experience in a theater. They’ll have some big laughs, but the magic is when everyone appreciates the differences between us all.

About My Father releases in theaters on May 27th. Check out the video below to hear more from the cast.

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