Pleased to bring you my latest interview, with veteran actor Peter Onorati. Peter has appeared in many films including Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Rocketman, Shelter, The Last Ride, Postcards From The Edge, Blood Deep, The Last Ride and more. He’s also acted in Television shows including Sex And The City, Tales From The Crypt, CSI, NCIS, Monk, Crossing Jordan, ER, Batman Beyond, The Wild Thornberries, The Outer Limits, 24, Blue Bloods, Sons Of Anarchy, Castle and many more. Enjoy!
Nate: You have done quite a bit in life, before and besides acting, including playing football. When did you know you wanted to be an actor, and knew it would be something you would enjoy doing indefinitely?
Peter: I really never thought about acting until I was challenged to take a 1-night stand class in comedy in NYC, which turned out to be a class in Improvisation. At the time, I had my MBA and I was the Director of Marketing and Research for 3 of McCall’s magazines and dating a childhood crush who was the Art Director of one of the magazines. After the 1-night class I was asked to join an Improv group in NYC that ended up being called Port Authority Theatre Ensemble or Pate (pronounced Pattay like the French word). The Group was named so because NONE of us were in the acting business and we came together from as far as Boonton N.J. (me) and Queens and the boroughs. We were indeed very much like a Pate. We played all he shit-holes in NYC for a few years and competed in the Improvisation Olympics in Chicago at Second City. I met a starving actress in the group named Jeanette Collins who was classically trained in Improv and who had moved to NYC from California. When my childhood crush broke up with me Jeanette took pity on me and dated me. Soon after I had some of my research published in Advertising Age and was being sought after by some big package good firms like P&G. I let my boss at McCall’s know and she decided that I wasn’t worth keeping so she made my life miserable for a few months. During that time Jeanette said “I think you could be an actor” to which I replied “Yeah, so I can have 4 jobs and starve like you?” When I subsequently removed the ice-pack from my eye, I decided to try acting. I walked into McCall’s and quit and within 2 weeks was on hold for a national beer commercial. Within about 2 years I had made more money as a commercial actor than I did as a Marketing Exec and I got my first break in TV on the last season of Kate and Allie. From there you can check my resume cause there’s too much to type.
Nate: Who are some actors/filmmakers whose work you enjoy and maybe have inspired you in your own work?
Peter: Actors who inspire me: DeNiro (whom I worked with in my first big movie Goodfellas) Robert Duvall, John Casales, Christian Bale, John Garfield, James Gagney, Spencer Tracey (too many to type) – Filmakers/Actors – Redford, Stallone, Clooney. Barry Levinson, Scorsese (again too numerous to type)
Nate: You have a very rambunctious, energetic nature to your work; many of your characters have a vitality that lights up the screen and commands attention. Is this something you consciously have done with practice and training, or do you think it comes out of your own personality?
Peter: Most of what I do comes from me. I have no real formal training as an actor so I have nothing to draw upon except my own life experience. For better or worse, there is always a huge piece of me or somebody I loved or hated in what I do. Let’s face it, I have no other resources.
Nate: 24: how was you experience working on this show?
Peter: My experience on 24 was GREAT and would have lasted longer except for the way this stupid business works. I am an acquaintance of Jon Cassar the Exec Prod (he has subsequently climbed on board with a script I co-wrote to be the Exec Prod.) They offered me that role and that doesn’t happen too much to actors at my level. However they did not make it a “Regular Role” and lock me in. (probably because they didn’t want to pay me). So in the middle I was offered a 4 episode arc on Desperate Housewives and took the guarantee over the possibility of more episodes of ‘24’. So as most of the stories of this business go, ‘24’ called me for more eps but I committed to Desperate Housewives so I did no more.
Nate: You have done a fair amount of voice work in your career. How did that come about, do you enjoy it, and how does it compare to acting in front of a camera in live action?
Peter: As one who got kicked out of Catholic School in 5th grade for mimicking the Nuns and Priests, I never thought I’d make money doing exactly what I did wrong so long ago.
Nate: I remember a little film you did called Shelter, with Kurtwood Smith and Costas Mandylor, who played your brother. You stole the show as the hyperactive Greek mafia boss. Any memories from that one, and how was the experience?
Peter: One of the best experiences of my career. Not only did I get to sit across from the great Charles Durning but I got to do something actors at my level NEVER get to do. Unless you’re Dustin Hoffman or Christian Bale, you never get to do maladies or accents. The writer/producer and the director let me speak in Greek and do the Greek/American accent at my suggestion for the character. This is unheard of for us guys at the lower levels.
Nate: Any upcoming projects you are excited for and would like to mention?
Peter: Nothing in acting right now. I have had some success writing and have put together some strong and interesting packages for my work. Actually I am writing something right now with my wife ( in 30 years together we haven’t done this) She is part of a writing team Collins an Friedman and has been everything from Exec to Co-Exec producer on shows since we moved to California.
Nate: Some of your favorite roles you have played over the course of your career so far?
Peter: I love ALL of my own series. They gave me a sense of security and a long term approach to finding my characters. I specifically loved doing a show that my agents and managers kept me from doing for a while as it was not “the thing to do”. The show was Walker Texas Ranger and I had a BLAST and Chuck was incredibly congenial and respectful of my ideas for my character. I can’t mention all the special jobs that stretched my chops like “Harry’s Law” and the joy and fatigue that accompanied the work. I guess that when I’m not working like most actors I feel unaccomplished. When you come to this town it’s all about the trophies and the P.R. but when you’ve been here as long as I have, you realized it’s a major accomplishment just to raise a family, put your sons through college and stay in your house. So I guess I made out ok.