BY TAMMY SCILEPPI
He looks like a mobster and acts like a mobster, but he’s really just a nice, friendly boy from Queens.
You probably wouldn’t want to meet tough-looking Pete Gaudio in a dark alley. But once you get to know this talented, kind-hearted actor, you’d soon realize he wasn’t menacing at all, unlike the mafioso-type characters he’s been playing over the years, working alongside Hollywood’s top celebs, like John Travolta and Alec Baldwin.
During a recent phone interview from his Bayside home, Gaudio told QNS about his newest acting venture.
In his mobster-like voice he said, “Now my big break has finally come; I’m very excited about landing this supporting role,” playing Big Rocco alongside James Russo – another Queens native – in “Gravesend.”
The hit mob series, streaming now on Amazon Prime Video, was created by Gaudio’s longtime friend, director and lead actor William DeMeo. Set in 1980s Brooklyn, DeMeo’s hometown, the show is currently in pre-production for season two coming this fall.
“Gravesend” tells the story of Benny Zerletta (DeMeo), an Italian-American Mafia soldier who wants to escape the underworld and live in peace with his faith. Benny faces difficulties as a “made man” of a powerful crime family, while coming of age in the footsteps of his cousin, who, behind closed doors, was the leader of a criminal organization in Gravesend (a section of Brooklyn where DeMeo was born).
The cast includes Louis Lombardi, Paul Ben-Victor, Leo Rossi, A.J. Benza, Nick Turturro, Ken Lerner, Chris Tardio, Christina DeRosa, Bo Dietl and “Mob Wives” star Natalie Guercio, as well as Brooklynites Joe D’Onofrio and Patrick Borriello, and local boxing legend Paulie Malignaggi. In addition, Chuck Zito (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Kathy Moriarty (“Raging Bull”), will be featured in season two, along with others.
“‘Gravesend’ is getting great reviews on a worldwide platform and audiences want more,” Gaudio noted.
Recalling how his friendship with DeMeo came about, he told QNS, “We started together in this business 27 years ago, on the set of Robert De Niro’s classic film ‘A Bronx Tale.’ We were actually in the same scene together.”
“Following the path of my childhood idol Arnold Schwarzenegger, I went on to film and TV and worked with A-list actors but haven’t filmed in Hollywood yet.”
In “Cruise” (by award-winning director Robert Siegel), which was filmed in Queens on Francis Lewis Boulevard, Gaudio worked alongside comedy sensation Sebastian Maniscalco.
“It was nice to finally have that part of Queens put on the map,” he said.
While honing his craft, the hard-working actor with his chiseled physique, was also featured in numerous TV shows, films and off-Broadway stage performances, like “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,” and “Murdered by The Mob.”
But his most recognizable role is in “Gravesend.”
DeMeo shot his show in Gravesend and other spots that he was familiar with, like Joe’s Bar on Avenue U and Our Lady of Grace church. According to the Brooklyn Reporter, other filming locations included everyday Brooklyn streets, like DeMeo’s mother’s block on West Street (which he named his production company after), the F and D train subway platforms, as well as Bensonhurst’s storied, now-shuttered Vegas Diner.
“We’re really showing Brooklyn in the ’80s in a very big way — how tough it was, the big poofy hair, the pinkie rings, the music, the cars. It’s all Brooklyn,” DeMeo told the Reporter last year.
It was a time when drugs and mobsters ruled New York City’s gritty streets.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s Brooklyn was home to many new immigrants from Russia, China and Puerto Rico, who intermingled with traditional populations of African-Americans, Italians and Jews.
But several crime families called it their home as well.
It was a big year in gangland Gotham. In 1986, the Mets won the World Series. The Giants won their first Super Bowl. And those five notorious mob familias were the biggest they’ve ever been, as they made headlines for alleged executions, informants and their unapologetic flamboyance.
In “Gravesend,” Gaudio plays Rocco Giordano, a rising soldier in the Colezzo crime family, opposite Russo, who plays Crazy Chris.
“DeMeo actually wrote this with me in mind. I love him. He’s my brother” Gaudio shared.
He added: “I am very proud of William and all his success. And now, to have a television series on a worldwide network is a huge accomplishment, a dream come true. His ‘[never] take no for an answer’ approach has much to do with his success. He will definitely win an Emmy one day.”
“Mr. New York City” bodybuilding champion
Gaudio, who said he always had a love for health and fitness, went on to win that title of Mr. New York City in 2001. In fact, during the pandemic he was spending his time under quarantine “building his championship physique.” These days, he continues to be quite busy as owner and operator of a successful fitness and nutrition business (for 20 years) on the Gold Coast of Long Island, while raising his daughter who’s studying to be a veterinarian.
“All these roles don’t mean anything to me if I’m not playing the most important role of my life, which is being the father to my daughter Petrina,” he said.
Gaudio said he has a lot of great memories growing up in Queens. But he also remembered living through a dark time, like when he went clubbing at the infamous Elephas Disco on July 26, 1977, the night of the Son of Sam shooting.
“Growing up in Corona and Bayside is the foundation for who I am; it’s ‘the neighborhood’ as we call it, where real friends turn into family cause all of yours have passed or have moved elsewhere,” Gaudio recalled. “It builds character and you take that with you for the rest of your life.”
“In the ‘80s, people respected the neighborhood and one another, and if you didn’t you got straightened out. Today, there’s no structure; hardly any eye-to-eye family contact, except for Snapchat,” he added.
Gaudio said he still meets friends for dinner at Il Bacco Italian Restaurant in Little Neck, where he’s hoping to host his “Made Men of Comedy” show (which he produces) on Columbus Day. Top comedians from “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Tonight Show” and nationally known headliners will be performing. His first show took place at The Overlook in Manhattan last November, then the pandemic hit.
“If you reach for the stars and you wind up in the middle, you still did good,” he points out. “I’m just a kid from Queens. But who knows? I could be the next action star!”