FROM THE PULPIT TO ACTING JAMES CICCONE LANDS KEY ROLE ON HBO SERIES THE DEUCETotal Views: 2211
by Nick Christophers
James Ciccone is not your typical actor who dreamed of Hollywood. His journey in arriving as a well-known character actor took many directions - - from run-ins with the law to a profound faith commitment followed by years of seminary and a decision whether to submit to ordination. But it was at that crucial time when he balked on a life in the church and revisited his childhood passion of performing.
James grew up in what many call one of the key breeding grounds for the mob, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He was the youngest of 10 children and raised by a single mother. He grew-up poor, and hard, in a hard time when street thugs and mobsters controlled the neighborhood. As a young boy he learned to escape from the hard-ships of growing up poor through playing the trumpet. When he attended PS 153 he was brought under the wing of music teacher Norman Spizz, who saw talent in James. Spizz guided him in perfecting the trumpet and James ended up performing a solo in 6th grade.
He kept playing in Junior High school under another mentor, Elliot Goldenthal who happened to be his Uncle’s brother. Goldenthal would win Academy Awards and Golden Globes for writing musical scores for screenplays like “Heat”, “Frida”, “Interview With A Vampire” and “Batman” to name a few. In spite of the difficult surroundings, James was in the company by an array of talent. In addition to Spizz and Goldenthal, his brother Anthony was an artist, and his sister Patricia a flautist.
“It was rough. I was the baby of the family, we struggled we did not have much. My father died when I was 2 years old so my mother had to raise 10 kids. I began playing trumpet which motivated me and gave me some direction.”
His expertise at the trumpet earned him multiple year scholarships to performing arts camp and later acceptance into the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan (which was known later as the Fame school). While he attended Performing Arts he learned about HB Studios and ended up studying acting under Uta Hagen.
“I find it ironic to be a character in The Deuce…a show about the 42nd street area in the 1970s. My high school [Performing Arts] was located there, and I attended in the 1970s. I walked through that swill everyday so I new the area intimately well.”
After graduating he strayed from the performing arts, and spent some time in the streets of Bensonhurst, and had his share of run-ins with the law before attending Marist College and graduating magna cum laude.
“It was a point in my life where I lacked direction or purpose and was receiving a different type of education. The sort that would prepare me for roles like the one I’m playing in The Deuce.”
After working in various human services jobs he decided to make a more serious commitment in the helping profession and enrolled in New York Theological Seminary where over the course of 7 years he would complete master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees. This led him to preach at different churches during a time when he was confronted with the decision to commit to ordination.
He did what is known as the pulpit supply; preachers who replace the main pastor when they are away or on vacation. James was never ordained hence the role of a preacher came into play. Yet while he was speaking the good word he realized he was in some ways performing. This is when the desire to perform again took a good bite of him. James decided to react on this sudden urge to act in front of an audience and joined a theatre group in Village.
“I was being invited to different churches for what is called a pulpit supply, while doing so I felt like I was performing. This caused me to feel attracted to acting and redirected my role from preacher to actor. In 2006 I joined a theatre group in the Village and did some plays and indie films and 2008 was cast in a small role in As the World Turns, which is when I earned my union affiliation.”
After joining the theatre group he enrolled again at HB Studios. He took what he was learning and applied it to his performances in a few short films at the NYU Tish School. While being coached by Harold Guskin his first professional break would come. James landed a role in the mega soap opera, “As The World Turns”. His work on the soap opera began to open numerous doors for James. He would end up playing roles on shows like; “Person of Interest”, “Law & Order SVU”, “Mysteries of Laura”, “Blue Bloods”, “White Collar” and HBO's “Boardwalk Empire”, to name a few.
Aside from network TV we can include shows like “Master of None” and “Daredevil”. James admits that coming from the rough and troubled streets of Brooklyn have aided him in his quest for roles. His “rough around the edges” look and voice are always welcomed by directors. But he would also love to tackle more diverse parts in the near future. Currently, his role as mob boss Carmine Patriccia in HBO’s new series “The Deuce” has been well received by many.
“I grew up around a lot of wise-guys and growing up there you see it all. The important part of the role of Patriccia was playing the mob boss without making it obvious or over the top. Typically someone of that stature during that time period was not flamboyant or bravado. He was low key. David Siman and George Pelecanos are great writers that accurately and organically develop their characters. They research the time period with a fine tuned comb. James Franco was my director on two of the episodes I worked on and was big on grabbing what is authentic and genuine. Two takes and it goes in the can. I was being natural and trying to do nothing which is always the most difficult task for an actor. Franco appeared confidant in my performance. Not much improve...it’s very script driven, but when the writing is that solid there’s no need for variation.“
Besides “The Deuce” James has worked on a variety of television, most recently he will appear October 12th on “Gotham” as “Giovanni” one of Don Falcone’s mob loyalists, and recently as recurring character, Officer Lewis on “Shades of Blue” alongside Jennifer Lopez. Other recent appearances include “Bull” and the Sundance Audience Award winner, “Crown Heights” (in theatres now), directed by Matt Ruskin. Other works yet to appear are “Night Comes On” and “The Neighborhood”, both in post-production.
It has been a busy 2017 for him and 2018 is not looking too shabby either. So far “The Deuce” has been given the “green light” for a second season which he anticipates he will be a part of. Also there is a possibility that he may be on the radar for a role in the well-anticipated feature film “The Irishman” starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. James is an exceptional actor, who so far with God’s help and a profound notion of gratitude has paved his way for more promising roles.
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