THIS IS OUR YOUTH by Kenneth Lonergan, directed by Woody Harrelson, with Fabrizio Filippo, Marya Delver and Marcello Cabezas. Presented by macIDeas and Banack Awerbuck Productions at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Previews from Thursday (September 18), opens Monday (September 22) and runs to October 18, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$65. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
fabrizio filippo has sharon stone to thank for his big break that never happened. You've seen the charismatic actor - even the guy's hair has star quality - and writer in lots of TV and film.
He was vampire slayer Buffy's post-Angel love interest. He captured a generation's anomie by flying through a mall in Gary Burns's indie hit waydowntown. And recently he played the classical violinist who plucked away at the heart of the blond kid from Queer As Folk.
But things could have taken a different turn a decade ago, when he nabbed a screen test for the big-budget western The Quick And The Dead, starring the blond with the Basic Instincts.
Then in his late teens, the fast-rising actor (he was Busy's brother in Ready Or Not) auditioned for the Sam Raimi film and got flown down to Tucson to test for Raimi and the film's producer. The big leagues.
"I knew something was wrong as soon as I entered the room," he says, lounging in the back yard of his house in lower Riverdale, bought last year with "my American TV series" money.
"But I did the test anyway, and Raimi told me I was a very good actor. I learned later that Sharon Stone had put up half her salary to get Leonardo Di Caprio for the role. Everyone there knew that."
The film shot blanks at the box office; Filippo's career might have ended up quick and dead, too.
"And I really wasn't ready for it," he says. "To have had that kind of thing thrust on me back then wouldn't have been good. I would have lost my trajectory."
Some trajectory. He's gone from the local indie theatre scene as a naive, straight North York teen nurtured by gay theatre types like Daniel MacIvor and the late Ken McDougall to playing opposite Sophia Loren in the upcoming TV adaptation of Nino Ricci's Lives Of The Saints.
In between he's filled out his resumé with lots of TV work - the Jay Mohr series Action is his fave, he admits - and features (watch for his committed work this fall in Peter O'Brian's Hollywood North).
So why is he stepping onto a Toronto stage for the first time in eight years? He plays the dangerous alpha male Dennis in Kenneth (You Can Count On Me) Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, a paean to being young and restless.
"I haven't had words like this in my mouth in so long," he says about his role in the play. He's sitting back, drinking his freshly ground Italian coffee and flashing his smile, which Youth co-star and producer Marcello Cabezas describes as "a smile that makes you want to sob and immediately want to listen to him."
"The writing shows you everything," continues Filippo, whose own scripts include The Gospels Accordingly and the Chalmers-nominated Waiting For Lewis. "Even where Lonergan puts the accent on a word. It's been ages since I've been excited to speak words, to relish them."
Besides the Lonergan play - directed by Woody Harrelson - Filippo's part of the Tarragon's Playwrights Unit, developing a script under artistic director Richard Rose, one of the first directors to cast him as something other than a Guatemalan refugee or Brazilian street kid.
Oh yeah, the ethnic thing. For years Filippo got pigeonholed here as the dark-haired ethnic guy.
"I couldn't be actor Matthew Ferguson (Nikita). I couldn't get those roles even though I wanted to. Yet after two weeks in L.A. I was at CBS auditioning for leading man parts."
His experience with Lives Of The Saints - Ricci's mytho-poetic look at Italian immigrants - indirectly helped him come to terms with his background.
"When I read the book I realized that Fab was Vito," says director Jerry Ciccoritti, who had worked with Filippo on the 1999 feature Life Before This.
"Our parents both came over from Italy in that immigration wave. We share this sense of dislocation. Are we Canadian or Italian? How much of that mythologized old country, sex and Mastroianni, is in us?"
"The older I get the more I embrace the Italian," explains Filippo. "The part of me that's Italian is the passion, the misery, the love of women. I spent so much of my life pushing it away because of all the stereotypes. But when we were in Italy shooting, Jerry and I looked around and laughed. The Italians were walking clichés."
Visiting his extended family in Calabria in southern Italy, he signed hundreds of autographs, famous as the kid who worked with Sophia Loren. Back home in Canada, his mom refused to meet Loren - she was too nervous - but admitted that her son's gig made her feel like a success.
He knows that his post-Hollywood success can help him kick-start projects.
"Stardom exists as an economic reality," he says. "I want to be able to green-light movies. I want to generate projects. Being visible in America is important for that."
"People say theatre is dead, but to me it's a truly alternative art form," he says. "There was a time when everyone went to the theatre for their entertainment. Now they go to movies. If you're going to a play now, you're seeking something else. So you're creating art for people who are seeking it, who need it and can't find it anywhere else."
He also wants to shake up the local scene with his international smarts.
"Here we've got an American director doing an American play, all Canadian actors and producers whose average age is between 25 and 30," he explains.
"We're taking theatre out of the government subsidy model. Don't get me wrong. A country like ours needs government subsidies. But I've always had problems writing grants, because you have to convince someone that what you're doing is good for society."
Fab Filippo’s career has taken him from experimental theatre to Hollywood and back. Here are some stories he’s collected along the way.
ON BEING A THEATRE VIRGIN
"Before my first professional show, 2-2-Tango , Daniel MacIvor gave me the script and in the play were two guys who loved each other. I was freaked out. I was 17, straight and from the burbs. Daniel asked me what I thought, and I told him I felt uncomfortable. Why? 'I don't know any gay people,' I told him, 'and I don't want anyone to rape me. '"
ON HOLLYWOOD AUDITIONS, TAKE ONE
"Fear runs L.A. Everyone's terrified there. If you walk into a room and show a bit of fearlessness, people get excited. For my audition for the show Action, I grabbed star Jay Mohr 's tie and yanked him close to me. He fought to get away. Before I left the room, he said, 'If you ever do that again, I'll beat the fucking shit out of you, you little Canadian!' I got the part."
ON HOLLYWOOD AUDITIONS, TAKE TWO
"I was auditioning for producer Jerry Weintraub for one of the Vacation movies, and everyone around him was on tiptoe. He picked up the phone - it didn't even ring - and said he wanted it 'cooler, not Alaska, just cooler.' I said, 'Do you mean outside or inside?' The room went silent. Then Weintraub laughed. And everyone else did, too."
ON BEING RECOGNIZED FROM TV's QUEER AS FOLK "It's turned into this coming out thing. One guy was riding his bike and said, 'Hey you're on that TV show, aren't you?' Then he added, 'Hey, I'm not gay. '" fabrizio filippo