Fans of the famous American series “The Sopranos” will certainly remember Furio Giunta, the Italian mobster who worked for Tony Soprano in season 2, 3 and 4, magnificently portrayed by Federico Castelluccio. Born in Naples, so He’s very Italian, he moved from an early age to New Jersey where he still lives. Federico is also and above all, an extraordinary painter and art expert. Over the years, besides acting, he directed several short films, and recently debuted with his first directorial feature, “Lily of the Feast.” From New Jersey he tells us here his latest news, including the story behind the Guercino painting.
Federico first of all what is your movie “Lily of the Feast” about?
The film takes place in 1973 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and it takes place during the time of a traditional Italian feast called La Festa del Giglio which originated in Nola, Italy near Naples. In ’73, there were a group of people that were controlling this area, let’s say and one of them was a knock-around guy by the name of Benny, who’s the father-in-law of Santo Bastucci and He is not in that life. He’s a regular guy, he grew up on the streets but he did well for himself. He became a banker. He rose up quickly and became vice-president of his bank and the reason for that is because the guy is incredibly gifted with numbers. So, in other words, he didn’t have to write anything down, it’s all in his head. That being said, his father-in-law who’s this knock-around guy played by Paul Sorvino, Santo is played by Troy Garity, an incredibly talented actor. He brilliantly portrayed this character of an Italian American banker. He gets embroiled in this scheme with his father-in-law, who’s this big, lovable, goofy kind of a guy. He embroils him in a scheme to embezzle money from the main guy in that area, Manny the Hand, who is played by David Proval, who delivered an Oscar-worthy performance in this film. It’s a low-budget film, shot for under two million dollars and the performances are stellar.
When will the film be released in cinemas?
We do have two distributors who saw the film and loved it. But we’re taking it very slow. We want to see what happens with the film festival circuit first.
Do you consider yourself more of a painter or an actor?
I’m a painter. Before anything else. I’m a visual artist. It’s an asset to me as an actor and, more importantly, as a director. I look at frames in terms of composition and color. I like balance.
How I found it?….It was in Germany. I’ve been studying and collecting period paintings for many years and by collecting and being very close to them, you’re able to see….the quality of a master’s hand. So my girlfriend and I walked into what I thought was an antique shop but it was an auction house and on the landing leading up to the second floor there were paintings stacked against each other along the wall. On the way back down I pulled away a few paintings and saw what I believed to be a major work of art by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri also known as Il Guercino. So, right away, I put the paintings back and Yvonne looked at me strangely. I tried to be quiet because the manager was at the bottom of the stairs.
You didn’t want him to hear you.
No. I didn’t know what he knew about it. I wanted to find out. I call myself a connoisseur, and with this painting….Guercino….I was very intimate with his work. I studied him and I know very well the artists of 1600. The painting was covered with years of yellow varnish, overpaint from restoration. The master’s hand was hidden in a way but I could see through that…. And so I asked the manager….and he told me it was from the eighteenth century, which it wasn’t, it was seventeenth century and he said that it was probably cut down. But I knew by where the positioning of the landscape was that this was absolutely the entire composition. I realized that this person hadn’t done any research on it and did not know that this painting was by Guercino. So three weeks or a month later, the auction was happening and I researched as much as I could in the interim just to reassure myself….I flew back to Germany and I never said a word to the auction house or the person that was dealing with me. I just showed up that morning and when I won the painting, there were about seventy people bidding on it and it came down, very quickly, to myself.
How much did you pay?
I think we paid what came out to about forty nine thousand euros, maybe sixty-eight thousand dollars. But then we had the shipping costs. Crating and shipping. All kinds of extra costs.
How much is it worth today?
Well, it’s valued in the millions. I don’t know exactly how much but Artnet did some research of their own and they actually valued it at ten million….
Where can we see the Guercino exposed next?
Guercino will be on public view in a special installation at the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, in New Jersey until January 31, 2016.
What memories do you have of James Gandolfini?
I have some great memories of James Gandolfini. He was an incredibly generous person on and off the screen. As an actor he was incredibly giving. I was a fan of Gandolfini’s way before meeting him. I saw his work for the first time in a black box theatre in New York City. When I auditioned for “The Sopranos” and I read in the trade papers that James Gandolfini would be in it, I thought, “It’s gotta be a good project, I have to be in it”. So I was pestering my agent to get me an audition. This is something that very rarely happens but I found out later that when they auditioned me, I was one of the first audition for Furio they thought it was too good to be true. Two weeks went by. I had never done an audition that good. So finally after two weeks, I get a callback. they had me audition with Gandolfini. So we read together. They said, “Can you read this in Italian?” I said, “Can you give me five minutes?” So I translated the whole scene…..That was a Friday. They called me on Monday. Of all people, I get a call, not from my agent, but from the wardrobe department asking me my sizes. I said, “Does this mean I got the job?” They said, “Yeah, you mean nobody told you?” It was an incredible moment. He’s terribly missed. To this day, it doesn’t even feel like he’s gone. I feel like I could just pick up the phone and call him still.
I know. One last thing, would you say something in Italian to our readers?
Voglio dire che sono molto orgoglioso di essere italiano….italo-americano….sto da tanti anni qui in America però il mio cuore sta sempre in Italia.
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