Brooklyn native Danny A. Abeckaser seems to have taken the film industry by storm. A writer, director, producer, and actor, Abeckaser’s diverse work consistently shares a deeper side of both New York and the star himself. From Holy Rollers to The Irishman–which premiered last night at the New York Film Festival–Abeckaser opens up about his background in nightlife, his two upcoming films Mob Town and Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story, and what it feels like to improvise for Martin Scorsese.
The Knockturnal: Congratulations on The Irishman and its premiere! Can you tell us a little bit about your role and how you got connected to the project, and your role?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I was in [Scorsese’s] Wolf of Wall Street, but I was in it for like four seconds. I’ve always wanted to be a pivotal role in a Scorsese movie of course so I auditioned. I came in, I auditioned four or five times and they casted me. When I read the role, it was small: two scenes, really quick dialogue, like a page and a half, nothing crazy. But when we got in there we just improvised and improvised and improvised, and it became bigger and bigger. I play a guy named Louie, who is a deadbeat. He owes money to everyone in the neighborhood, especially Skinny who is Bobby Cannavale’s character. [Robert] De Niro’s character, Frank, works for Cannavale and basically was sent to go get me. They find me on the street, De Niro pulls a gun on me and they beat the hell out of me.
The Knockturnal: Were there any stunts involved?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I got punched by De Niro without even knowing he was going to do it. It’s in the trailer.
The Knockturnal: The cast for The Irishman is monumental in that it reunites some of the biggest stars from Scorsese’s past work. What was it like working with these legends?
Danny A. Abeckaser: As a kid, you dream about making a movie with Scorsese, De Niro, [Al] Pacino. Those were my idols growing up. For me it was basically a dream come true. There’s no way to describe it. The funny thing is, I was so nervous thinking “how am I going to do this with De Niro?” but when the time comes, you’re just on set and you’re just an actor, you’re just doing the work. I knew exactly who they were and I was very nervous but I went for it. I did everything I could to just enjoy the moment. It was incredible.
The Knockturnal: I know you previously worked with The Irishman costar Harvey Keitel for your directorial debut, First We Take Brooklyn, which you also starred in, wrote, and produced. How was it reconnecting on The Irishman?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I first met Harvey through my movie [produced and starred in] Holy Rollers with Jesse Eisenberg, which came out in 2010. I casted Harvey’s daughter Stella in the movie and she brought him to the premiere. He came up to me after and was like “I think you did a great job, you’re a great actor, one day I would love to work with you.” I was like “oh my god, he’s so nice.” Eight years later, I remembered that. I called Stella and was like “can you connect me with your dad?” I connected with his wife, Daphna, and basically sent him the script [for First We Take Brooklyn]. They said “ok, it sounds interesting, but Harvey doesn’t want to do anything right now.” So I went and had lunch with him, and after he really felt my passion. I actually had to go into his office and I re-acted the whole movie for him– two and a half hours–in his office! And just loved the passion and he decided to do it.
The Knockturnal: That’s awesome! I know you’re working with David Arquette in two of your upcoming directorial films, Mob Town and Blackjack. How did that come about too?
Danny A. Abeckaser: He’s really the star of Mob Town. I got him because I’ve been friends with him for 20 years and I couldn’t think of anyone to be a better cop. I said “Davey, you’ve got to do this.” He came on board, and we got P.J. Byrne, Jennifer Esposito, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Davi, myself, Bo Dietl– we’ve got a great cast, it’s incredible. And then I brought him back for Blackjack to play the dad.
The Knockturnal: You’ve done a lot of mafia-related films, especially now with The Irishman too, but Blackjack tells an underdog sports story. I know you’re a big basketball fan, but can you tell me a little bit about how you discovered Jackie Ryan?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I love basketball more than anything, and I love movies. When I was 15 years old, I played at this park in Brooklyn and one day this guy showed up and he was like 30. He had this long blonde mullet and a mustache and I remember how tan he was and I was like, “who the hell is this guy?” He came on that court and he killed everyone. He was so good, and then he just left. I would see him play at Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn and be like “this guy is the best player I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” Cut to 18 years later and I’m in Chelsea Piers– this guy is older now, he’s like 50–and he’s shooting around and starts telling people they’re going to make a movie about him. So I start talking to him obviously because I hear ‘movie’ and I realize that that’s the same guy who came to my park many years ago. When he told me they were doing a movie about him, I wanted to get involved. I decided to develop it more, we got a writer who wrote the script. It was years in the making. Justin Timberlake was attached at some point to star in it and that didn’t happen. I jumped on as a director because I really wanted to tell the story, and I jumped on as a producer and got financing and went and made this for very little but we did it.
The Knockturnal: It sounds like an amazing cast too with Ashley Greene, David Arquette, and Greg Finley, and a unique sports story like Rudy or ragtag-type feel.
Danny A. Abeckaser: The funny thing about Jackie is he doesn’t go to the NBA. Rocky doesn’t win in Rocky, he loses. But Jackie, all he cares about is being a streetball legend. That’s really what he cared about. He made basketball his living. He’s not in the NBA but he’s a halftime show, he’s a Harlem Wizard and all that. I just love the story. It’s such a feel-good story.
The Knockturnal: When is that slated to be released?
Danny A. Abeckaser: Right now we’re sitting in the editing room but we’re hoping for it to come out next summer.
The Knocktural: I want to back up a little bit and talk about your path to directing. You were a very involved in the nightlife scene in both New York and Los Angeles. When was the transition to the film industry?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I was in it for many, many years. In 2009 I shot Holy Rollers and when it came out, I went to Sundance Film Festival. That was I was like “wow, my first movie went to Sundance.” And then I got this movie called The Iceman and it was a big role in it. I played Michael Shannon’s best friend, Dino. So the passion started 2005 when we really pushing to get Holy Rollers made and I made a short film. The transition to finally being like “this is it” is after I made Holy Rollers, around 2011. But this was the game plan from the beginning. I didn’t realize I would become so good at the nightlife stuff. I just thought I would make a little bit of money and make some connections and get my way into the movie business while I was doing that, but then I kind of became famous for doing nightlife [opening clubs like Marquee and Avenue]. I always looked at these other nightlife figures who were older than me and where they were in their lives, I said “I never want to be that guy. Ever.” My game plan was to make a little bit of money so I’m comfortable and keep working on trying to get this movie made while I’m still doing nightlife because I need to pay the bills. Once you get that big movie made, then you’ll feel comfortable. That’s what happened. I made Holy Rollers, it went to Sundance, I sold it, and then the ball started rolling and I made Club Life, A Stand Up Guy, The Iceman, Wolf of Wall Street…it just kept going and going. It got me to where I am right now.
The Knocktural: Between acting and directing, where do you find your passion lying the most?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I love directing. I love it, but I’m an actor. I love doing both. I think I’m going to make more movies as an actor than as a director because directing really takes a lot out of you, but I love them both.
The Knockturnal: Do you have something else on the horizon after Blackjack?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I got cast as an actor in another movie that shoots in December. I play a FBI agent. I think I’m going to take a break after that because The Irishman comes out in theaters November 1st, on Netflix November 27th, and then December 13th, Mob Town comes out. I’m going to enjoy that ride for a little bit. And by then, I’ll have my edited cut of Blackjack, and that will come out four or five months later, in the summer. I feel like I’m good for the next 6, 7, 8 months. But I know myself, I’ll probably shoot a movie next summer.
The Knockturnal: Any hints at what type of project for next summer?
Danny A. Abeckaser: I think I’m going to do a horror film where I’m going to produce it with David Arquette as the director but I don’t know exactly. I do have a couple of things I like. We’ll see what happens. I think after The Irishman comes out it’s going to open some doors for me because everybody and their mother is going to see it. It’s going to be fun.
“The Irishman” will be in theaters November 1st and on Netflix November 27th, and “Mob Town” is out December 13th.