By Kevin Zimmerman
If you happen to run into Gino Cafarelli around town, do yourself a favor and don’t ask him if he’s still trying to break into acting.
“I am an actor,” Cafarelli said.
His resumé, which lists TV appearances on “The Sopranos” and “Dexter,” along with movie gigs in the “The Bronx Tale” and “The Good Shepherd,” certainly backs up his claim.
Cafarelli, 45, who grew up in Flushing and now lives in Long Island City, spent his high school years at Holy Cross, where he would poke around student productions. He also regularly picked up Backstage magazine to peruse the job listings.
After graduation, the acting roles started to trickle in, and Cafarelli continued to take acting classes, but he held onto his various jobs — first selling mobile phones and then cars,
“I was working for Saturn, but I didn’t want to be a car salesman,” Cafarelli said. “The acting bug was still there.”
Eventually, he figured the only way to cure it was to stop treating acting as a hobby and go all in.
So like a lot of starry-eyed New Yorkers, he packed his life into two suitcases and headed to Hollywood, where he hoped to be discovered. He shared a studio apartment with another guy, who was trying to break into the business behind the camera, and slept on the couch for three months.
“It’s like Denzel Washington said, ‘Do what you got to do so you can do what you want to do,’” Cafarelli said.
What Cafarelli wants to do now is make a movie about growing up in Queens and cruising Francis Lewis Boulevard.
Anybody who came of age in the 1980s remembers spending Friday nights on the local strip.
In those dark days before Facebook and Twitter, and when mobile phones were the size of a loaf of bread and too expensive for most kids, piling your friends into a Buick Regal and riding around were how teens caught up with each other.
“People have lost touch connecting with others,” Cafarelli said. “If you wanted to find somebody then, you would drive up to the boulevard. Basically, you would be interacting with people and by the end of the night you would have a pocketful of phone numbers.”
Francis Lewis Boulevard — or Franny Lew as the locals call it — was the cruising spot of choice in Queens.
Often the drivers morphed into drag racers, especially after the street was repaved in 1985. Although drag races still crop up from time to time, a 1987 incident pretty much slammed the brakes on this past time.
Jackson Heights resident Kevin Miret, 20, was racing another car on Franny Lew when his ’87 Mustang hit an oil slick, spun out of control and smashed into a tree, killing him.
Police later accused a resident of 25th Avenue of deliberating pouring oil on the roadway to stop the deafening and often dangerous races. Andrew Romano was charged with second-degree manslaughter, but was acquitted on all counts at trial.
Cafarelli’s “Franny Lew” it is not a retreading of the real incident nor does it make an accident the focus of the movie’s plot.
“It’s ‘Fast and Furious’ meets ‘American Graffiti’ meets ‘Entourage,’” Cafarelli said. “Every neighborhood has a story. Everyone remembers their first car and their first love.”
Cafarelli’s tale revolves around two close friends and a tragedy set against the backdrop of cruising along Franny Lew.
And without giving too much away, Cafarelli’s admits his characters are not the guys who realize in the third reel that in order to grow as people they have to ditch their old homes and move on.
“I want to tell stories of the guys who did not make it out of the neighborhood,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That doesn’t make them bad.”
Cafarelli was not one of those guys.
But his L.A. pit stop actually helped bring him back to Queens and to “Franny Lew.”
Cafarelli’s roommate convinced the actor to put a video reel of his acting on You Tube. Three months later, Cafarelli was driving home from a bartending job when he got a phone call from filmmaker Rob Siegel.
The writer of the Mickey Rourke film “The Wrestler” was working on a new project called “Big Fan,” about a die-hard fanatic of the New York Giants. Patton Oswalt, who played sad-sack Spence in CBS’s “The King of Queens,” had been cast in the lead role. Siegel needed somebody to play his brother.
“He said, ‘I saw your reel on You Tube. You look like Patton. Do you want the job?’” Cafarelli said.
Although “Big Fan” was not a huge hit, it gave Cafarelli access to some real Hollywood players and started a friendship the actor hoped could help his pet project.
Last year Cafarelli posted a “Franny Lew” preview video on You Tube hoping to drum up financial support for the film. The clip garnered a lot of likes on the website and plenty of positive comments, but no producer emerged.
Cafarelli showed the video to Siegel, who liked what he saw.
“Over the last nine months we have been getting together on this,” Cafarelli said. “He wrote the first draft of the script and it is fantastic. He has envisioned what I wanted it to be.”
And while the project seemed to stall for a bit, it now appears to be shifting into high gear.
With Siegel in the director’s seat, Cafarelli has moved into a producer role, which is fine with him.
“My talents lie in connecting the dots,” Cafarelli said. “I brought the project to Rob. I’m very good at connecting the dots.”
Hollywood mega-agency CAA, where Siegel’s agent works, is now assisting with the project. An A-list production company has signed on, Cafarelli said. The script is complete, but a filming date will not be set until actors are cast and their scheduling is worked out.
So it is quite possible that “Franny Lew” could be heading to a theater near you in 2015.
“It’s moving in the right direction,” Cafarelli said. “Little did I know that cruising on the boulevard, 27 years later, would be a passion project.”
For more information on Gino Cafarelli, visit his website GinoCafarelli.com or follow him on Twitter @ginocafarelli. For updates on “Franny Lew,” check out the film’s Facebook Page, Franny Lew Movie.
Reach news editor Kevin Zimmerman at 718-260-4541 or by e-mail at [email protected].