A new film set in Bensonhurst packs quite a punch.
Bensonurst, Brooklyn was a tough neighborhood of Italians and Latinos Back in the Day. This is the Bensonhurst that director Paul Borghese takes us to in his latest film, written by and starring William DeMeo. The film recently premiered at the AMC Empire 25 movie theater in New York and opened in select theaters on May 20.
The film is about Anthony ‘Lefty’ Rodriguez (DeMeo), a half-Italian and half-Puerto Rican raised in Bensonhurst during the 80s. He loses his mother at a young age and is left to fend for himself with his alcoholic and abusive father (Manny Perez). The mob has a strong presence in the neighborhood, as would be expected from any true Brooklyn film, and Rodriguez goes through hell and back on his path to becoming a boxer. His enemy and rival takes the form of Dominick (Ronnie Marmo) a childhood bully and adult gangster who has always taken issue with him.
Taking place in both the 80s and the present day, perhaps the most interesting character in the film is Brooklyn herself as the audience watches the neighborhood change and sees the authenticity of the real Brooklyn streets and the scenes shot on location.
We had a chance to interview Manny Perez and Ronnie Marmo about their roles, their takes on the film, and their relationship to Brooklyn.
Talk to me about how you feel being here tonight to premiere the film in New York, where it’s set.
Manny Perez: Exactly, it’s a New York, totally Brooklyn film. I loved the script, I play the dad of William DeMeo, half Puerto Rican, half Italian, and I play this alcoholic dad who beats him up to be a great boxer.
Wow. That’s a really positive spin on it!
Perez: No, no it’s actually a beautiful, lovely story about relationships and about a man who becomes a champion.
Was it difficult to get into the role of the bad guy?
Perez: What’s interesting you know, he’s very – I don’t want to say he’s the bad guy. He really loves his son in some bizarre way, he just has an alcoholic problem, an anger management problem. But at the end of the day, he’s just a father trying to get by. And at the end of the film he comes to the realization that he really misses his son it’s that relationship that he’s broken that he’s trying to fix, so it’s interesting.
Do you relate to your character?
Perez: Oh yeah! It’s very Latino. I come from a family that’s very Latino, father that’s very strict, so I related to the character. Actually, when I read the script I cried like three times because I’m like, ‘Ah, man I relate to this guy so much…’ So, in a way that’s why I called William and said, ‘I gotta be part of this film.’
And can you talk about how you pulled on the setting for the film and what it was like to film on location in Bensonhurst?
Perez: The most amazing thing is the sort of production value in this because it shows the actual 80’s when it went down and then the present day. My character actually they do show him when he was younger and then when he’s older as well. So they do show the two different eras which is interesting. And then it shows in the background what was happening in Brooklyn at the time.
And can you tell me what your dynamic was like with William DeMeo on set?
Perez: Oh it was great. We got along from the first day we met. We just got along. There was good chemistry there.
What kind of a director is Paul Borghese?
Perez: Paul is awesome. Paul is the type of guy, he’s an actor-director, him being an actor himself, so it’s great because he really helped me through some amazing, hard scenes so it’s awesome. It worked out.
Is there a particular scene that sticks out as the most difficult?
Perez: There’s a scene where my character breaks down in tears, emotions… That was hard to get into. I haven’t seen that yet, but I can’t wait to see how it turned out.
Can you tell me about your role? What’s your story?
Ronnie Marmo: Well basically, I’m not a boxer like Willy, but we grew up neck and neck and over a thirty year span we shared the same woman, played by Shannen Doherty, and there was a little triangle between us. And there’s always been a lot of animosity. My character’s not all that likeable. He’s pretty racist and pretty much hates everybody who’s not interested in what he’s in. So he’s a low-level mob guy trying to make it to the top in all the wrong ways and him and Willy DeMeo’s character, ‘Lefty’ Rodriquez, have had a problem with each other the whole way through our lives and let’s just say it comes to a head.
Was it tough to play a character who’s not very likeable?
Marmo: You know I really tried to make him a bit more likeable, he does everything with a smile. I didn’t wanna play a gorilla so I though let me play him with a smile. But was it tough? Honestly no, it was so fun because these don’t come up that often, you know to play such a jerk. It’s like all the things I carry around in my life I get to blame it on the character. It was fantastic.
And what did Paul think of your take on the character?
Marmo: Paul was great. He was there to shape everything but he certainly let me run with what I wanted to do, ‘little more of this, little less of that’. But he loved it. I hope he loved it! He said he did. I have to imagine. He invited me tonight so…
True, he must’ve liked it to invite you! I’ve heard you say it’s a ‘neighborhood piece’. Can you speak about that and how the setting was used while filming?
Marmo: When you’re from Brooklyn, and I originally am, when you’re from this part of the world, there’s just an energy about it. And Brooklyn, the city, ends up taking on its own character in the film. So the streets of Brooklyn are a character in this piece. You know, this country’s fascinated with Italian people and they glorify it, Sopranos, Bronx Tale, Godfather, all that stuff, right? And so this film feels like very much in that genre, but it has a lot to offer. So I think Brooklyn’s a character in the piece. Most films you see are just nondescript, you don’t know where they take place, whatever. But this film, Brooklyn is a big part of it.
And to what extent is Brooklyn developed like a character throughout the film?
Marmo: Well it’s amazing because we start in the 80s and then it’s current, and then we keep flashing back, so there’s a young me and a young all of us – I can’t wait to meet the kid who played me! He did a good job! So there’s a young version to all of us and I think they do a really authentic job of going back from the 80s to now and I think people will be pretty surprised how authentic that is. And I’m a filmmaker so I look at details and all that.
Photo credits: courtesy of the film.