I always encourage my Acting students to generate their OWN projects. This is why…
On Saturday, September 7th, 2013, I was witness to the evolution of an Actor and his commitment to his profession. My friend, colleague, and personal C.O.R.E. A.C.T.I.N.G. student Tom Paolino, invited me on a trip to New York City for encouragement, and to help process his afternoon’s work with legendary Acting Coach Larry Moss. Larry Moss wrote the highly influential book The Intent to Live, a must-read for Actors and human beings of all professions who have, or wish to develop, a deep understanding and empathy for life. By the end of the day, I had witnessed greatness in action – both the greatness of the world’s greatest Acting Coach Larry Moss, and greatness by my friend and fellow Rhode Islander Tom Paolino.
I’ve known Tom since 2006, and we’ve been through a lot. While Tom took classes with the Sanford Meisner (in Meisner’s last class on Earth), I was lucky enough to be trained by Barry Primus (from Cagney and Lacey). I’d say we’re both somewhat unconventional in our thinking and approach to life. We both seek greater understanding of ourselves and humanity. What I like about Tom is that he bites in; he goes right into the heart of the dragon, and jumps into the fire. So when I asked Tom which acting book I should read for myself and my C.O.R.E. A.C.T.I.N.G. students, Tom didn’t hesitate. “The Intent to Live,” said Tom. “Larry Moss”.
So I read the book, and I didn’t even fully ‘get it’ myself the fist time I read it. It’s deep, and it comes from the heavy heart of an outsider, Moss, who BECAME the insider – the Inside of Humanity and the Inside of his profession – Acting.
I didn’t even fully grasp the full knowledge of the book before I began to recommend it to my students – some of which, like Lawrence O’Leary, Debra Gagnon and David Graziano, have read the book several times. They “get it”. To be an Actor, you must do the work. DO THE WORK. It’s not about being an elbow in the background, or getting face time. It’s not about bathing in Karo syrup in a backyard horror film. It’s about creating characters, BEING the character or just BEING, a conduit for God’s energy that will and does shed light on the nature of human existence. Truth.
What Tom understands is that Larry Moss teaches and works at the highest level of humanity and understanding of the Craft of Acting. Moss has worked with Hilary Swank, Michael Clark Duncan and so many others in Oscar winning roles. To put forth the time, commitment and investment towards scheduling an appointment with Moss, meant that Tom had to do the work, yes, actually, DO THE WORK, to justify such an experience – towards a shot at an audition for the scheduled upcoming Vinny Paz bio-pic currently titled Bleed for This, to be directed by Ben Younger (The Boiler Room, Prime), produced and championed by life long boxing fan Chad Verdi and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Tom put in a solid TWO YEARS of training: both as an Actor and as a boxer, training IN THE RING, with up and coming boxers. Tom actually moved to Catskills, NY to train with Vinny Paz’s real life boxing trainer Kevin Rooney, the heir to the throne of legendary trainer Cus D’Amato. Tom lost fat and gained muscle, transforming himself and his body into shape for a run at the lead role of Vinny Paz himself.
When it became clear later that Tom was no longer right for the role of Paz, it was with the encouragement of the actual Pazman himself, Vinny Pazienza , that Tom changed gears for an audition for the Kevin Rooney role in the movie. This wasn’t the first time in fact, that Paolino changed gears but kept on the the path for the Paz movie; Paolino himself outlasted a few behind the scenes players who came and went from the project. These things are part of the business, and Paolino knew that. The important thing was, and is, to stay focused on what he CAN control: His Acting. His performance. His role. His life. Two years for one audition. Putting it all on the line. (Can the rest of us say that we have or ever will do something like this, or do we blame others or look for an excuse to quit when it really gets hard?)
Overcoming any societal negativity that may exist with anyone following their dreams and turning goals into reality, Paolino continued with a high level of determination to earn a fair shot at the Rooney role. Working in 11 films over the last several years, several of them with Verdi’s Woodhaven films (Inkubus, Army of the Damned), Paolino’s roles and prowess as an Actor grew concurrently. I was able to witness this as Tom’s friend and his Paz project Acting coach, offering written exercises and visualization techniques to help educate and inspire. And yeah, we watched Rocky a few times.
It was one night while watching the bonus features of Scorsese’s Raging Bull that Tom raised the notion of working with Larry Moss. Certainly, it would be expensive.
But… you’d hire him if you got the role, right? Then you could afford it. Or maybe the production would pay for it. But… would you hire Larry… to help you audition for the role? With your own money? When there is no guarantees? No refunds? No safety net? No excuses?
I was honored when Tom invited me along for the ride, for his work and process with Larry Moss, a scene partner named Jack and a Director of Photography named Carlos. The mission: for Larry to help tweak Tom’s performance as Kevin Rooney into an audition tape worth sending over immediately. The date? September 7, 2013. The time? 4:30pm to 6:30pm.
Tom was up at 5:15am. I was up at 5.
Tom drove down from Cranston to Wickford to pick me up for 10:30am. In the car, he described himself as being “uncomfortable” yet “excited” and “ready.” I don’t know if it helped or hurt when I said “This is probably the biggest day of your life.” Tom said it felt like a “marriage of myself to my career.”
By 1:30pm, we were in a New York City coffee house, waiting to meet the rest of Tom’s team before his meeting with Larry. Minutes seemed like hours, and small talk was not really welcome or necessary. We had a job to do.
Some 12 hours later, we were walking around New York City looking for Tom’s car. Our feet blistered, our backs sweaty, our nerves frazzled. But the tape had been sent. Mission accomplished.
In New York City, the gauntlet was laid down. Tom’s audition reel for Kevin Rooney was created, Tom’s hat was put in the ring, and from my perspective the quality of Acting in Bleed for This is now challenged to rise to the occasion itself. If the full script is indicative of what I witnessed from Tom’s audition, this movie has World Champion potential.
I don’t know the process that is being used to cast Rooney, or any of the other roles for the movie. All I know is what I saw, when Larry Moss had Tom Paolino drop and do ten push ups followed immediately by filming. I saw Moss get in Tom’s face, not out of some need to intimidate but for an urgent need to resonate. The intent. The intent to live.
I saw something great. When an Actor meets a Character, when the Heavens meet the Earth, there is the CORE.
Moving forward, it doesn’t matter (to me) if Tom gets the role of Rooney or not, because he has proven he has what it takes. Paolino has given 15 rounds of blood, sweat and tears to this. To be a Prime Time player. A Working Actor. A Force of Creation. The take on Rooney Tom has created is a chipped-tooth pit bull of humanity. If chosen, Paolino will inhabit this monster and give the Rooney role the life it wants and deserves.
Bleed for This, The Paz movie, is an entity onto itself now, and I hope and trust the powers in charge will deliver the goods. As a friend of the Pazman himself, I personally want the best for the movie and Paz’s own personal legacy.
This is the story of Vinny Paz, who himself has his friends and his detractors. Paz became a 5X World Champion because people believed in him, like his Dad Angelo, and many friends and family from Rhode Island, who came to the Providence Civic Center to see him fight. Paz did these people proud by fighting his ass off. A few years later, Paz’s career was left for dead when a car accident left him with a broken neck. But he fought back. He didn’t give up. With Rooney in his corner, Paz won three more World Championships, beating the likes of Roberto Duran, en route to a 50 win career with 30 knockouts. It took a guy like Rooney, the “Mickey” to Paz’s “Rock” to provide the inspiration and focus to help Paz.
Larry Moss, in Action, was a great inspiration to me as an Acting Coach. I hope to bring some of Larry’s power to my future classes just as in-person learning from Primus and Howard Fine, a great coach from Rhode Island who now has his own studio in Hollywood, has taught me in previous years.
On the way back from NYC, Tom and I said it will take a Breakout Actor from the current New England scene to really inspire the rest of us to get over the hump and break through our own self imposed glass ceilings. This Actor will demonstrate that it’s not who you know or where you’re born… it’s who you are and what you’ll do.
This Artist, this Actor, this Warrior, will demonstrate to all of us, that true greatness comes from sharing one’s own heart, one’s own life blood, by generating one’s own Actor’s Project not waiting for a phone to ring or to be fed scraps from Hollywood’s dinner plate. This Actor will not feed into the weakness, the weakness that says “I am ‘only an Actor'” or “I can’t do it, I’m too old.” “I’m too fat.” “I’m only from New England.”
This Actor will tune out that noise and focus on The Project. This Actor’s Project will be personal and unique, something that may take six months, six years or sixty years to fully develop and demonstrate. Whatever length it takes to make This Actor’s Project, we will wait because it will be worth it.
The Project may be something like C.O.R.E. A.C.T.I.N.G., that I started in 2009 after learning myself from Barry Primus at Maine Media Workshops. This project may be something like The Intent to Live, the book that Larry Moss told me personally “It took me three years and it almost killed me.”
The Project may take the actor a lifetime, may leave him or her battered and bloodied, emotionally spent, first uncomfortable and ultimately unrecognizable , with a few or several battle scars along the way. This Actor, this self-chosen Actor, may take some inspiration from the early life of Vinny Paz, and see that a broken neck didn’t stop that lions heart from fighting for anything he truly wanted. It didn’t stop him from fighting for New England, for Rhode Island, for Cranston.
This Actor’s Project may be something like the three minute audition tape, two years in the making, that Tom Paolino captured on September 7, 2013 in New York City as Kevin Rooney for Ben Younger’s film Bleed for This. Tom Paolino may be ‘The Breakout Actor from New England’ to change the game for the rest of us.
Or, you know what? ‘That Breakout Actor’… may just be you.