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Interview: John D’Leo on THE FAMILY

I sat down recently with The Family‘s John D’Leo, who spoke about working with such a stellar cast in Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as the advantages and difficulties of being a young actor (he is only 18 and has not only worked with De Niro, but also Mickey Rourke in The WrestlerPaul Rudd in Wanderlust , and Bruce Willis in Cop Out). He is undoubtedly one of the most mature and informed 18 year old actors working today.

At only 18 years old, John is a seasoned veteran compared to other actors his age, but he’s still learning something new every day. In the film, D’Leo plays “”Warren” Blake, the youngest of “Fred” (De Niro) and “Maggie’s” (Pfeiffer) two children and is decidedly less violent than his family, however, he is still a “Blake.” Relying on his intelligence to keep up with his mafia family, the character of Warren is an excellent fit for D’Leo, who holds his own in this fast-paced dark comedy by director Luc Besson.

In the film, you have an older sister; do you have any siblings in real life?

Two brothers. One is—oh god—26, and the other is 22 now I think. They’re getting old. And I’m the baby.

Were you able to work with that in film, because you were younger than Diana’s character? And what was it like having a fake sister?

Yeah, it did relate, and it’s different than having a brother. There’s a different connection you have. I liked having a sister, honestly, I played into it. She was really my sister on set and I liked it a lot.

You’re going to answer this question a million times—but I have to ask—what is it like to work with Robert De Niro?

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, that’s one thing and I’m really thankful I got it, but also to work with Michelle and Tommy Lee Jones and Luc Besson directing it, all at the same time, it’s like winning the mega Super Bowl six times in a row.

How did Luc Besson work with you directly? Did he give you a lot of freedom?

I felt that he trusted me as an actor but he still guided me in a mentor way. I completely respect him. He really knows what he’s doing because he’s behind the camera, and watches every shot after it’s taken—with crosshairs. He has this way of just making you connected with the scene. When I had a monologue in the cafeteria, and he told me to make a sandwich at the same time, which was cool, so I tried to stick with the lines and the sandwich because I felt if I try to improvise too much the food will go flying.

Since he’s only 18, John surprised me with just how well educated he was on the industry, and specifically that he was very familiar with Besson’s films that preceded his own work. Had you seen any of Luc Besson’s films before starting on this one? 

Almost all of them! I saw Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita, and I watched The Professional four times while I was over there. I love his work.

What do you do in your free time, if you have any?

I try writing once in a while. Just small films with my friends. I do a lot of film research. I watch a lot of movies on Netflix, I watched probably about every movie De Niro made before I got on set.

You must’ve been starstruck then!

A little bit…

You started as an actor very young—how old were you exactly?

I was 10 when I started.

What drew you in?

At first I had a naïve curiosity, which turned into ‘wow I can actually do this. I’m going to, I love it, it’s definitely happening.

Enough people let you in their doors that made you say, “wow, I can actually do this.”

Exactly!

You’ve obviously grown a lot since then, but how do you think you’ve grown as an actor even since The Wrestler?

It’s crazy, you think “Ok. There’s a camera, there’s a director. How much could you possibly figure out?” But every time I get onto a new set I learn something new—every single time. And it surprises me that I learn amazing new stuff with everybody.

How do you balance acting full-time with schoolwork?

I’m a senior in high school now, but I left school and had a tutor on set, because I wasn’t 18 at the time. So I had to do a certain amount of hours of schoolwork with a tutor. I had to email my teachers.

Sounds like a huge distraction!

It was, but it was ok.

I’ve just noticed, that the mole on your face that we see in the film isn’t there, it was fake! Did that have anything to do with Robert De Niro?

That was Luc’s decision. He wanted to show more relation, facially [to De Niro’s character], but didn’t want it in the exact same spot, that would’ve been a little cliché. So he moved it and I think it worked out well!

What’s next for you?

Studying in school, I’m planning on going to a college in the city to study acting. I’m looking at NYU, mostly, and some schools in California—I definitely want to continue pursuing this.

The Family is out this Friday, September 13th in theaters everywhere. Are you excited to see it? Tell us below, or on Facebook and Twitter, and please follow @MattBenincasa@ScreenInvasion, and also @JohnDLeo!

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The Author

Matt Benincasa

Matt Benincasa

Matt is an actor and writer from NYC, attending Fordham University with a Major in Communications and Minor in Theatre.