Not many aspiring actors get to spend childhood performing alongside Russell Crowe and Roberto Benigni in international megahits like The Gladiator and Life is Beautiful, but New York Film Academy alum Giorgio Cantarini did.
You may recognize Cantarini as the spontaneous, cherubic child actor who not only held his own but represented the emotional heart of each of those acclaimed films, but Cantarini has grown quite a bit since then — including in his acting technique. Wrapping up his studies at the NYFA New York Acting Conservatory, Cantarini sat down to share some of his insights with the NYFA Blog. Check out his incredible story.*
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
NYFA: You’ve been acting since you were 5 years old in Life is Beautiful, can just tell us a little bit about how you came to that film?
GC: There was an article in the newspaper with casting description of the kids that they were looking for, and my uncle saw the description and was like, “Giorgio it’s the same as you, you have to go to the audition,” and so we went.
… At the auditions I never acted. Roberto Benigni just wanted to talk with me and see how I reacted. And then of course on the set they explained to me the scene, what was happening.
NYFA: From the time that you were working on Life is Beautiful through school, did you do any kind of school work involving acting?
GC: After Life is Beautiful, after The Gladiator, growing up I didn’t want to be an actor because my role in Life is Beautiful was really attached to me … but then after high school everyone told me how talented I was, so I said to myself, okay, let’s see if really I have this talent. I went to Rome to enter a very selective school. Every year like 700 people try to get in and they choose 12: six girls and six guys. So when I was admitted I was really happy.
I started acting because someone choose it for me, but now it was my choice, and this was a very big step for me to continue, and to discover that I’m good, and now I could study to be a professional, complete actor.
NYFA: How was your time studying with the New York Film Academy?
GC: I had a really great month at NYFA, one of the best experience in my life — for the city, for everything, for New York, for the people.
The standard is very different than the teaching approach in Italy. It is very different. It’s smart to direct small groups, and just do it, don’t think about it — do it, just do it!
I really like NYFA a lot because of the action, and the professors too. The energy! I think that they have a lot of students every month, every year, a lot of different students — but every day they come in the class with the with a great energy, to work with you and do the best for you every single day. Seeing teachers every time have good energy, positive energy, and smiling, was inspiring.
NYFA: When you’re looking back at your experience at NYFA, is there anything you learned that you feel you’re going to take with you in your future career?
GC: The technique from NYFA instructors Blanche Baker, Peter Allen Stone, and Victor Verhaeghe, and the scene analysis — truly, the class most important for me was Alison Hodge’s technique.
NYFA: What inspires your work? Is there a specific film or actor that you always go to?
GC: For me, Dustin Hoffman. Dustin Hoffman is ideal. When I watched The Graduate, I thought, “What a movie! What an actor.” I was impressed with Dustin Hoffman, he is my idol now and before. He’s a special actor…
NYFA: Can you tell me a little bit about your film Il Dottore del Pesci (The Fish Doctor)?
GC: The story is about a guy that has a fish shop, but he doesn’t sell the fish; he takes care of the fish. If someone goes out of town, the people can leave the fish with him and he’ll take care of them. His life is with the fishes. One day an American person from a TV network meets him and thinks he is perfect for a show about the the weirdest jobs in the world, like a freak show. My character’s English isn’t great, so he confuses the question and says yes without realizing what he’s signing up for.
Life changes for him. He used to talk to a lot of people in a really, really small city, with a lot of old people. He has no family. And suddenly he’s in the U.S. and he’s really emotional. And I can’t tell you the finale but it’s so lovely.
NYFA: Overall is there any advice that you would give to people that are interested in going into acting?
GC: If you want to be an actor, you have to study a lot. Especially now, because with Netflix and YouTube and the web, a lot of people want to be an actor. Anyone can put his work on on the web, but that’s not a real actor. You bring the art with you.
It takes a lot of study to understand and know who you are. To be a great actor, you have to know who you are. That’s the main reason that I am here in New York — I want to see when I leave home, and speak in another language with other people, who am I?
It really was different here. I was different. I don’t know why, but this city or this situation with the school and the feeling with the classmates really gave me a new energy. New perspective, you know? New experiences. To be open and always beautiful. I love it.
NYFA: What’s next for you?
GC: I’m returning to Italy to start the second part of my scholarship, a theatre production that works with the people that were in prison, to be an actor and assistant director.
Then, my next project will be to move to New York after the summer. I’m starting the process. I want to come here now because, while I have an agent in France and Switzerland, I’d like to start a new journey in New York.