“My Italian origins have never been a source of particular discomfort, except for the time when, as a child, my father asked me to buy The Progresso the Italian newspaper of the time. It was raining hard and I slipped into a hole clutching on to the newspaper. It must have seemed like a challenge or some sort of threat, because some boys who were passing by, began to beat me soundly”.
This is how John Aprea – the young Tessio of The Godfather II – amusingly talks about his childhood.
My parents – he remembers – are from the region of Campagna; my father was born in Sorrento and my mother in Castellammare di Stabia. I grew up with aunts and uncles who lived in Brooklyn and in New Jersey. I still remember the endless Sunday dinners of five or six courses. At that time “Napolitàn” was spoken and still today I feel that I never totally lost the dialectical inflection. On the set of Godfather II, everyone said that I recited in Sicilian with a Neapolitan accent.
When did you decide you wanted to become an actor?
I always wanted to act, even if I am believed to be a very shy person. At 23 years old I made my first audition after having read an ad in a local newspaper. I was met by a strange guy, with a mustache and an ostentatious German accent. He told me that with a couple thousand dollars I could have had a part in a movie. Soon afterwards, however, I realized that things were not that simple. With my sisters advice, I went to a teacher from the Actor Studios: I, who was an avid and clumsy soccer player, would become an actor after three years of intensive studies. After a theatrical performances, I was asked to play the role of Tessio in The Godfather II and since then I’ve had many more engagements.
What are the difficulties you have encountered throughout your artistic career?
That’s interesting, but I remember that when I started to act, the roles of the main actors were all held by blonde, blue-eyed men – Robert Redford, Ryan O’ Neil. It was difficult to force myself at first, but with the advent of De Niro and Al Pacino, things fortunately changed dramatically!
Mike and Tessio, mobsters in two different film productions. How would you define their characters?
In the first edition of The Godfather, the role of Tessio played by Abe Vigoda, was much more complex. Together with Castellano (Pete Clemenza) and Marlon Brando (Don Vito Corleone), they were the heart of the Italian-American underworld of the ’40s. In the second shoot, however, the characters were shown at a young age, and I (Tessio), accompanied Don Vito (Robert de Niro). The role of Mike – the protagonist of Sharkskin, coming soon on all digital platforms – is instead, completely different. He is an honest worker who gets mixed up in a small group of local gangsters with the sole purpose of supporting his family. I really loved this character, to be honest, it is the most fun role I’ve ever played. On the set, it was a very relaxed environment, thanks to the support of the director, Dan Perri, and to the Italian lasagna of his 90 year old mother – the entire cast got to enjoy them!
Sharkskin, like the Sopranos, exalts the topic of the family united with violence as social redemption. What do you think?
In daily life, many people are enslaved by injustices and abuse of all kinds. In the film, the mobster group takes care of everyone, often solving unorthodox issues of honor and respect. They are not victims, unfortunately they use violence, and in spite of this, they manage to have everything under control. The TV success of The Sopranos is a demonstration of what still today continues to attract more viewers: the chance to break free from a state of injustice taking advantage of the protection of the stronger individuals.
Have you recently seen an Italian movie?
I really enjoyed Claudio Caligari’s Non essere cattivo – even if it was a bit slow, in my opinion – and then Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth.
A look at the past and the present.
I am happy with all of the choices that I have made over the course of my career and I feel lucky to have been able to work with such great artists. The future at 75 years old? What a question! Get another job!