Max Casella, known for his roles on Doogie Howser M.D. and The Sopranos, chatted about his new film That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes.
Born in Washington DC, Max Casella is known for playing ‘Vinnie Delpino’ on Doogie Howser, M.D. and Benny Fazio on The Sopranos.
Read on below for Max’s full interview with Courageous Nerd! He discusses his career and new film That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes. Onur Tukel directed the project.
Welcome Max and thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Max Casella (MC): My pleasure, thank you very much.
We’ll be mainly chatting about That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes. Before we really get into the film, however, could you discuss how you started acting? Why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
MC: It goes back to when I was 12-years-old. At that time, I was not thinking in terms of a career. I was 12, just having fun. I started out drawing and painting, that was my thing. Then, I discovered acting in a school play and something clicked. It was all she wrote. I never looked back, just kept acting. This is all in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I was going to school, doing professional theatre and some professional local TV stuff. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school and moved to New York City that I started to pursue a career. Getting an agent, studying acting and all that sort of thing. I’ve been acting now for over 40 years.
Without giving too much away, how would you describe the premise of That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes?
MC: It’s a beautiful film, beautifully acted, beautifully shot. The music is great, it’s my friend Onur Tukel who wrote it and directed. I’ve done a number of movies with him. He’s got a very unique take on life. The movie deals with a lot of things. Primarily, the central character dealing with isolation, alienation in a technological world of high-speed Internet access, connectivity, 5G. It’s never stated what it is, but there’s something in the air. He’s going through a mental breakdown and starts to hallucinate all kinds of supernatural, very terrifying things.
Of course, seemingly all around him, people become zombies. It’s never implicitly stated whether this is his psychosis or if it’s a real thing. Onur’s too good of a filmmaker to spell it out that way. Take from that what you will, it’s never stated 5G. It’s for high-speed Internet access, but it’s implied it’s slowly driving everyone insane. At least our central character is hallucinating horribly.
Who do you play in the film and how similar/different is this role to your previous work?
MC: I’ve done a million different roles. It’s neither similar nor different. It’s just another role that I played. I play his boss, I’m running a French restaurant in Manhattan. Most of the movie’s in French or French-speaking characters. A lot of the movie takes place in the French restaurant. I’m not a French-speaker in the film. I’m his boss, he’s my chef.
He’s starting to spiral into psychosis and his cooking suddenly becomes disgusting. It’s making my customers sick. So, I call him into my office saying “What’s going on with you?” I tell him he can’t cook for me anymore, he’s begging “Please don’t fire me, I need the money.” I tell him he can wait tables for me. He starts to do that and starts to mess that up terribly, because he’s flipping out. I end up canning him.
Are you the kind of actor who thoroughly researches your character’s profession? If so, was it necessary for this film?
MC: No, I take it case-by-case. In a movie like this, I didn’t have to study… it just didn’t call for it. It was clear what I’m doing. The scenes that I had, it’s clear what I’m doing in the scenes. I’m running a business – I, Max, have never run a business. But, I can make a comparison to something else in my life – running my own business, the Max Casella Business. This guy’s my employee, I have customers. It’s just a matter of imagination and sympathising with the situation. Some actors go all out – Robert De Niro drove a cab when he was doing Taxi.
That’s terrific and great. Maybe it’s because I haven’t played roles big enough that I felt the need to do that. I’ve done plenty of research for different jobs, characters I’ve played. I’ve played an A&R man, Vinyl. I didn’t go and work in a record label to prepare, but I read a ton of books. I spoke to actual A&R guys.
There’s a lot more to it than just what the guy’s job is. Most of the cases feature inter-human relationships. What’s happening in the scene, right now? I just worked with Ben Affleck, who plays a bartender in this film The Tender Bar. He’s supposed to be one of the best bartenders in the world, pouring drinks. He’s like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, the God of the bar. In movies, you only have to look like you know what you’re doing for about 15 seconds at a time. So, you don’t have to go nuts.
A lot of younger actors read about De Niro becoming a boxer for Raging Bull. That stuff’s great, but sometimes young actors think they have to do a lot more than they necessarily have to do.
What do you think makes this film stand out compared to others in a similar genre?
MC: I don’t know what genre any Onur Tukel film is. Onur’s his own genre. He’s such a unique artist, he writes his stories about things that interest him. They go in all different directions yet the movies are so good and so tight. He tells such good stories. They are often unexpected, so I wouldn’t know what genre to put any Onur Tukel movie in. Watch his other movies, I’ve done 3 or 4 movies with him. The first one I did was called Applesauce, a crazy dark comedy. It’s hysterical. You can get it on Amazon. We did a film during the pandemic about isolation, these two priests in Scenes From An Empty Church. The great Kevin Corrigan, the great Thomas J. Ryan, myself, a lot of great of actors — Craig Bierko.
Then, some supernatural stuff all of a sudden happens out of the blue. It’s really about human experiences. All these movies you can watch on Amazon Prime. People should go and check them out. Otherwise, they fall through the cracks. There’s so much content in the streaming space.
You’re well known for television roles on The Sopranos and Doogie Howser, M.D. Do you have a preference between television and film as mediums?
MC: Television and film seems to be the exact same thing, in terms of the experience of making it. Working with a camera and it’s shot the same way. I love all forms of acting – film acting, theatre acting. I’ve done a lot of theatre, I always want to do theatre. Not all the time, because you can’t really make a living at theatre. I’ll always love to do a show maybe once a year. It’s so different than making films – it’s live, there’s something you get from that.
Being on stage, the comaraderie is a lot different. You’re all together in a war almost, we’re all hunkered down to put on a show. I love everything about doing a play.
Speaking of Doogie Howser and The Sopranos, how do you feel about such big parts of your career being brought back to life in 2021?
MC: I haven’t seen either one of those. I haven’t seen The Many Saints of Newark or the new Doogie. I don’t watch too many movies or television, to be honest. If I watch movies, it’s usually The Criterion Channel or something like that. I don’t watch a lot of TV, just not interested that much. Even with stuff I know is good, I don’t check in with it very much.
It’s hard to watch American movies and American TV as an actor. You can’t really watch it as a member of the audience. Inevitably, it’s “I auditioned for that role and didn’t get it” or, “I really wanted to be on that show and didn’t get it.” There’s the guy that got it… or, I can just see how they shot it. I can see how the actors are behaving, it’s not that appelaing to me.
It’s fairly well-known that acting is a competitive industry and not for the faint-hearted. What advice would you give to anyone who’s starting out or struggling to book roles?
MC: Only that you’re gonna get rejected. Rejection is the norm, you start from rejection. You start from failure and basically try to move the needle as far as you can towards success. It’s always going to reset back to rejection and some form of failure. The only thing that’s going to sustain you if you’re going to have a long career is that you’ve got to love the process of acting. You’ve got to love the job, no matter what.
It can’t be conditional, “Well, I only want to be an actor if I can have this kind of success.” Success is what you make of it. Not every actor’s going to be a movie star, obviously. So, what then? You better fall in love with it, or you should find somehting else to do. It’s not necessarily going to love you back. That goes for everybody, even the biggest stars. They make a movie and it bombs, you know? The audience rejects it, there’s all kinds of pitfalls. No matter how high up the ladder you get. You’ve got to love what you do, or do something else.
To wrap this up, what do you hope to accomplish in the coming months as we head into 2022?
MC: I’ve been working a lot this past month. I’m going to work some more, doing a miniseries called Jigsaw next month. Honestly, I don’t know what the new year brings. There’s a possibility of doing something else in the spring. I don’t know, I never know. That’s the problem with being an actor, not a lot of job security. You can’t really plan too far ahead in advance. That’s just part of it.
Thanks again for taking the time, Max – take care and stay safe!
MC: Thank you, you as well! A pleasure to talk to you.
That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes will be available On Demand from November 9.