A Conversation with Actor Clem Caserta

Clem Caserta and I were sitting in his kitchen in Amagansett sipping espresso coffee laced with Anisette—a delicious but nerve-jolting concoction. A curiosity struck me.

“Clem, what was it like that first time you had to act in front of an intimidating 35mm movie camera?”

He pointed two fingers at me as if they represented a semi-automatic.

“I’m gonna tell yah, Daniel. It was the scariest moment of my life!”

Evidently, Caserta overcame those gripping seconds during his 1984 debut in the film Falling in Love and went on to add stripes to his career with a dozen more life-like roles as a gangster. And several of those films succeeded as Blockbusters.

“Clem, how do you manage to get into character to the point that your co-stars, as you once told me, took you seriously, and forgot you were just acting?”

Caserta didn’t have to ponder the answer. “Method Acting. You know what that is?”

“I’ve heard the term, though I don’t know its fundamentals,” I admitted candidly.

“It’s a technique that, when acting, you’re in the moment by drawing from your own experiences—emotionally and physically—and impressions that have remained in your memory. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. I learned it from my good friend and mentor, Robert DeNiro.”

In fact, a cadre of iconic actors has mastered Method Acting, as did Caserta.

“Not to mention,” he added as an afterthought, “having grown up in the Bowery neighborhoods helped me define the Mafiosi mannerisms.”

I nodded in amusement. “So tell me about some of your notable films.”

Caserta gazed up at the ceiling fan and held his chin. “One that comes to mind is, Once Upon a Time in America. I tackled the part of Al Capone opposite Robert DeNiro, who played the character of a Jewish mobster. James Woods, Joe Pesci, and John Forsythe also are in that movie.”

I recalled, “You did quite a few projects with Robert DeNiro.”

“A half dozen, and among them is The Untouchables.”

Working in that film, Caserta found himself in the best company Hollywood can offer: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Andy Garcia, and the venerated director, Brian DePalma. Speaking of illustrious directors, Martin Scorsesi, Sergio Leone, Ridley Scott and Harold Ramis have also directed Caserta. He collaborated with Scorsesi in Goodfellas and Casino. In A Bronx Tale, under DeNiro’s meticulous direction, he acted side-by-side with the Oscar-winning actor. Moreover, Caserta was consultant to the production.

The top reward Caserta culled from his career is the many relationships he cemented with talented professionals. “On the set of Analyze This, Billy Crystal amazed me. He’d make everyone around him feel at home. And as an example of the type of person DeNiro is, while filming Night and the City, I was scripted to murder his character. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I mean, I’ve known him all my life. So he intentionally gave me the cold shoulder for three weeks, until I got mad enough to get into the killer’s part. But I express my sorrow for the untimely death of my friend, James Gandolfini, a magnificent actor, an intuitive artist, and a giant of a person.
May he rest in peace.”

Indeed.

“So what’s on the horizon, Clem?”

“I just wrote and produced The Maffiettes, a short clip that scooped up four awards at the 2011 New York Film Festival. A feature film is currently in pre-production. I’ll also be featured in a food critic show produced by Ken Parks and John Kozma. Then, as you know, I’ll be consulting on the screenplay adaptation of your upcoming book, The Lufthansa Heist. I love the story, and I’m wired up about it. If all goes well, I’ll be
playing an interesting role in the film.”

It certainly is satisfying to see my manuscript progress to a screenplay, and I’m grateful that an accomplished actor like Clem Caserta, whose craft has been influenced by many of the most proficient actors—will partake in the development of my own
project.

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