Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/09/19 – From a young age, the passion for the Arts was present in Anthony Robert Grasso’s life. He was a prodigy art major in elementary school. Yet, it was his father’s love for old movies and music that inspired him to love cinema. Over 30-years, he has been in a vast range of roles from a grieving father, a conflicted priest, a conflicted artist, a belligerent chef, a desperate accountant, and an emotionally injured CEO turned predator to name a few. His impressive credentials span from acting, directing to teaching. Notably, he received 2 Best Actor awards, one regionally and internationally in the Indie Sci-Fi Thriller, Kill Al, directed by Walter Brandes and Renee Stork, where Grasso plays an alcoholic businessman who uses his power and becomes a predator. With over 55 festivals in the US, Europe, and Asia, Kill Al has garnered multiple Best short film awards, including Best Director, and best screenplay in the US and Japan. Grasso has also won Best Actor in the Indie controversial short film, the Blind Date, a story about the reversal of roe vs wade, directed by Peter Danish, where he plays the role of Adam who meets a much younger Eve who comes over for a “date.” We later find out what the date is actually. It has won multiple awards for Best Picture. In addition to acting and directing, Grasso has been teaching for over 20 years at ARG Studio LLC in NYC.
In Primetime TV, Grasso has a notable recurring guest- starring role on CBS in Dick Wolf’s, FBI. Co-starring roles in Blue Bloods, Person of Interest, Law & Order: SUV among others. His upcoming releases include The Long Commute in which he co-wrote and co-produced, which is another father- piece where time is unforgiving. The Blind Date, Wink directed by John Gallagher, and Extradition where Grasso acts and directs.
Share your Background.
Anthony Robert Grasso: Well, I’m a Brooklyn born and bred New Yorker. I moved to Manhattan after college and lived there for over 17 years. I now reside in NJ for the past 15 years with my wife and daughter. I was raised in a typical Bensonhurst Italian and Jewish neighborhood in a two-family house. My parents bought the house with their good friends who became our extended family. They were Jewish and we were Italian so we got the best of both. We celebrated ours and their Holidays together, with lots of eating with a variety of different foods. With 6 Kids and 4 adults, I learned early on, one hand to speak up because we were loud bunch…No joke..we were known as the loudest house on the block. Like a dysfunctional crazy and fun Brady Bunch household. So sometimes I like to refer to myself as a pizza – bagel. Best of both cultures.
Have you always been a creative?
Anthony Robert Grasso: Yes, I guess you can say that. Early on from Kindergarten, I knew I liked art and I was spotted from my teacher and only kindergartener to be included in the Art Show for the older grades and I received a special merit award. I remember feeling very proud. Fast forward I majored in Art in Middle School winning a few awards and then in High School I majored in Art. In my senior year, I was given the Alexander Art Award. One student from each district is given the award and it is held at The Metropolitan Museum in NYC. I remember my parents attending and being very proud. So off I went to the School Of Visual Arts for four years to study fine art. Only to be led to my true passion. Theatre Arts.
What inspired your love for cinema? What led you to act?
Anthony Robert Grasso: My first love for acting was about 6 years old and I would reenact and put together outside in front of my home little plays from beloved stories like Rumplestiltskin. (I like him even though he was a wretched character- I saw a lot of pain in him) and films like The Wizard of Oz- (I always had to play the scarecrow and sometimes the Wizard) but it was the classic THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE film when I became enamored with film moviemaking. I was around 10 years old and I watched four or five viewings in a row in the movie theatre. All my friends left and I would stay again and again ) and I would begin to reenact all the lines especially the underwater sequence when they had to get to the other side. I held my breath for a few minutes as they swam underwater. I loved the adventure in it and the sheer will to survive. I imagined I was playing the kid part naturally. I held my breath and mimed the lines and cried when Shelly Winters character died and when Gene Hackman’ character a priest yells at God “ How many more have to die! Then says take me but not these people” and closed the valve of the steam pipe to save them and drops to his death. It was so powerful. Incredible cast with Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Eddie Albert and Stella Stevens. I believed I was really in that film.
Also, another film that had a huge impact on me was The GODFATHER. It would come on the air every few years so my family would make an event out of it. I related to Michael Corlene being that I was the youngest of four and the youngest brother to 2 brothers and an older sister. I would act out scenes privately in the bathroom. Al Pacino’s lines of course. Hilarious to think back. If I was caught talking to myself my parents would have thought I was crazy. But My family loved films and we would watch the Academy Awards annually together and cheered for our favorites. I still watch them annually and root for all the Actors and Filmmakers. My dad and uncle were huge film buffs so we would watch all the old classics on the 4:30 movie or the Friday night movie with actors like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart Spencer Tracey, Liz Taylor, Henry Fonda, Kate Hepburn, Susan Hayward and many others. Then, of course, all of the 70s my dad would take us to movies to see films from Directors like John Cassavetes, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese, and Frances Coppola, So, I have always been an avid viewer of films from a pretty early age.
What led me to want to act besides AL PACINO’s Michael Corleone (people have said we resemble – similar T- zone with similarly shaped eyes- his are brown mine are blue) BUT it was a few teachers over the years that paved my way. One was a High School drama teacher Ms. Mckinley I was going through a dark teen period of mine where I stopped going to school and was in the Dean’s Office and she happened to be in the office and overheard us talking and she politely interrupted and said to me, “If you just come to my class I will pass you.” I asked what was the class? She said a drama class where we act out scenes from plays but its an English credit. I liked acting and needed English credit so I went. I remember when I brought in monologue and got up in front of the class, I was terrified but something happened when I finished. It was as if the room stopped and the lighting changed and it was very quiet, Ms, Mckinley took a long pause and took her glasses off and said “ Did you ever think of doing this professionally” I recalled my eyes welled up and I remember the joy I felt that someone saw me. Really saw me. Saw, my potential I guess. Needless to say, the class helped me and I got out of that dark period and graduated with my class. Another time was a few years later I was recommended and contacted by the Corner Loft Studio in NYC and started taking my first professional classes part-time. I was around 19 and still a Junior in College and the owner Elaine Gold after a few months ask if I wanted to continue acting and I said I wasn’t sure because I was in school majoring in Fine Art/Advertising and I was short money paying for classes. She said she had been observing me and said: “ You’re an Actor and offered me a work scholarship in exchange for a reduced price for my classes”. I was studying with the late Kevin O’Connor at the time. What a teacher and Actor he was. She said to me that she had been in the business for many years and said you must give it a chance because I believe you have what it takes. I was so moved and flattered by the offer. I stayed there for a few more years and went on to Lee Strasberg then became a working finalist at The Actors Studio and studied privately with teachers from the Neighborhood Playhouse. I went on to study Shakespeare with Judith Shakespeare founder Joann Zipay and then in Oxford England to study. I kept training and acting. I study with the renowned Larry Moss when he is in town. When I studied Karate my grandmaster would always say to us always keep a beginner’s mind.
When did you get your first break?
Anthony Robert Grasso: My first paying TV gig was on ABC NYPD Blue back in 1997. I was in rehearsals for a play that I was producing and acting in and had to leave while in rehearsals to run-up to the ABC offices on 58th street. I remember I walked in and I was wearing this beanie hat because it was cold out and my friend in the play said, “Wear the hat in the audition.” I was going in to play a drug addict being questioned. When I put it on my head when the cameras rolled and I booked it. They also said to me, “Please bring the hat” to set. Truth. Fun role. I got to work with Dennis Franz and the entire cast and I got to wear my hat in that scene. LOL. I still have the hat.
What do Directors notice about you? Why would they want to work with you?
Anthony Robert Grasso: What Directors notice, I hope is that I’m usually come prepared and like to try things and bring ideas to the table to work it out with them. I very rarely like my blocking etched out before rehearsing and before experimenting with the scene. I enjoy the process of crafting with a Director and then ultimately putting my trust in their vision.
You are an Actor, Director, and Teacher in Film and Television with a career that spans over 30-years. What lessons have you learned?
Anthony Robert Grasso: As I mentioned, I started as a fine art major in college (School Of Visual Arts) and then started acting in my junior year. Acting soon became my main focus and started my journey right upon graduation. Directing and teaching and portrait photography followed in the years later. What I’ve learned is that you start somewhere and follow your passion and what usually happens is that on the other end more possibilities will arise and the main thing is to acknowledge it and try it. I love artistic challenges. I didn’t start out thinking I would direct or teach when first started out as an Actor. I like to believe they are all tantamount as one of the same. I believe creating your own art is far better than the alternative. Waiting for someone to give you a job to do it.
What was the best advice given to you?
Anthony Robert Grasso: One of my art teachers at SVA asked what would I like to be doing in the next 20 years and I said, “I want to make people happy.” My teacher got rather angry and said, Why happy and not make people think? We do this to make people think. As I got older I understood what she was saying. I agree. When I work in any art capacity whether it be a painting, acting or directing is that I want the audience to participate in the work. To allow them to think and to hold onto the story even after it’s over. In a way that comment was the best advice given to me, Even though I’m not certain if the teacher meant that way.
Who would I like to work with and why?
Anthony Robert Grasso: Ah, there is so many. Obvious choice, I would love to work naturally would be with Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins ( top three) so many others. Far as Directors, I’d like to work with? It would have to be Alejandro González Iñárritu who directed BIRDMAN and The Revenant. Quintin Tarantino, always been a fan and his latest Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is off the charts) and Francis Ford Copolla and many others. Also, I would love to work with writer Aaron Sorkin. I relate to his rapid-fire heartbeat in his writing and his combination of mixing comedy and drama. His series WEST WING and NEWSROOM were ahead of their time. A true testament to his writing.
What do you look for in a role? What would challenge you most?
Anthony Robert Grasso: I look for characters that are layered and complex. I like messier characters. I like the “internal” conflict. Those roles speak to me. The roles I’m best known for on TV tend to be a businessman “a suit” or an affluent person who came from the middle-class and moved up. Usually arrogant with a strong point of view.
In Films or the Indie world, there is more room for displaying versatile roles. The grieving father, grieving son, a Russian hacker, British business CEO, desperate accountant, who turns into a killer and a thief, a funny but over the top sexy HandyMan, A CEO predator who gets what’s coming to him (before the “me too” movement) and a Doctor. A few times now I played doctors.
Share some of your favorite roles.
Anthony Robert Grasso: That’s a tough question. I have so many that I loved. I do have a few actually that I truly missed after it was over. But seriously loved playing all my parts. The best part of being an actor is to get to walk in other people’s shoes. In theatre, I have to say the character Leo in the play BIG AL by writer Bryan Goluboff was a favorite of mine. An obsessed and manic writer trying to write a film who slowly loses his mind and eventually takes his life. Funny and dramatic. I remember the rollercoaster of that character- his manic desperation. Another was Bobby in Edward Allan Baker’s North of Providence. It is a powerful drama of a brother- sister relationship about remorse and forgiveness. Another role was Raff in the play A Stone Carver by writer William Mastrosimone. Beautiful father and son play dealing with time and agism.
In film, I would have to say Richard in The Long Commute, another father-son piece where time is unforgiving. Two dark characters Brandon in KILL AL an alcoholic businessman who uses his power and becomes a predator and Richard from A Beautiful Distraction, where a husband & father dealing with demons from his past mistakes. A supernatural thriller. Both dark characters and both difficult to embrace, but so wonderful to explore.
As I mentioned, I’m drawn to heavy internal turmoil you’ll see in most of my characters. Ramifications of doing a dirty deed and then feeling bad afterward but would do it again if he had to. The moral compass is present even in darker roles.
On a lighter note and more of a simple turn without alcohol involved was playing a doctor named Adam in The Blind Date, a bleak look into the future when Roe Vs Wade is overturned and our rights are taken away. A powerful message for young people, to pay more attention to their choices.
Share some of your Indie Shorts. You have earned Best Lead Actor in the hilarious Indie RomCom, Swiped Right. The Drama, The Blind Date, and Sci-Fi Thriller Kill Al. Tell us about your characters and awards.
Anthony Robert Grasso: Ah…yes, Swiped Right is the best gift that kept on giving. It was written and directed by Dana Marisa Schoenfeld, story by lead actress Lydia Fiore. It won multiple awards for film, direction, screenplay, best actress , best supporting actress and I won Best Actor and was nominated twice. It went on to screen in over 40 film festivals. A RomCom for middle age online dating world with one of the funniest and but yet tasteful sex scene written for film ( like a tango that goes REALLY wrong) and the girl gets the guy! The Last Night was written and directed by Nick Job, I was nominated for Best Actor. It is a touching and painful journey following an Actor’s last night in NYC. We follow him saying goodbye to friends and NYC and coming to terms with letting go of a dream. Many times I almost walked away. I related to that film deeply.
Anthony Robert Grasso: In the psychological thriller Monarch Butterfly, I was nominated Best Actor. I was a husband named Jeff unhappy in his marriage and with his strange wife pays a price for wanting to leave. Then here is the Sci-Fi thriller, Kill All directed by Walter Brandes and Renee Stork, I won 2 Best Actor awards with multiple film and director awards. A CEO gets jolted personally and learned how to abuse his power, he becomes a predator.
Then there is the comedy WINK directed by John Gallagher, where I won Best Supporting Actor with multiple films and director awards. It is a fun-loving screwball comedy of love reminiscent of early John Patrick Shanely films with a mystery animal found in the living room named WINK.
In the emotional drama, The Long Commute directed by Miquel Garzon Martinez, co-written by Miguel and Anthony Robert Grasso has been submitted to multiple festivals and waiting on film festivals to announce selections. A son arrives from the UK on a business trip and gets a call and has to drop everything to take care of his estranged father who retired in the US and realizes that time is unforgiving. It has received a special award at the Brightside Film Festival Tom Parisi Award 2019 for Merit in The Art of Acting.
What was the first film that you directed?
Describe your style as a Director. What was your proudest moment?
Anthony Robert Grasso: My first real short film was Blood Allegiance written by Alex Witherow. Being primarily an Actor first, My style as a director is letting my actors play before we lock anything. My visual artist background comes in handy to capture what I want the overall feel and look and tone to be. I like to remain open and let it fall into place. It can be risky but I don’t like to lock anything too soon. I went on to direct 4 other films this year. Fresh Air, Resistance ( co-written by my wife Diane Harrington) and Pilots Extradition and My Life as A Doormat.
A proud moment is when my 1st AD yells “martini shot” meaning the last shot.
Getting it done is the best feeling. It takes a village is what I learned.
But my proudest moment was working with my daughter Jolie in The Long Commute and collaborating with my wife as a script consultant. My daughter and I have two scenes together. She and I will always have that. Like we are frozen in time.
Share a moment on the set that others can relate to…lesson learned.
Anthony Robert Grasso: During the filming of EXTRADITION, we wanted to shoot outdoors one scene in the pilot I was acting and directing. We had this beautiful suite in NYC to shoot in and it had a huge balcony overlooking the cityscape. When we went to shoot the scene it started to pour outside so I had to make fast adjustments. I decided to use a section of the room that had not been used which had a grand piano and it worked out even better. My character ended up playing the piano ( a few bars at the top of the scene) that wasn’t in the script. It added a nice intro and finesse to my Russian hacker and his magic hands. Again one of my favorite things is to see what we have and quickly adapt.
It is like problem-solving and a learning lesson to be more flexible and to trust.
What changes have you seen in the industry? What would you change?
Anthony Robert Grasso: Back when I was first starting everything was off-line and we used actual film. Now younger Actors can make content from their phones. So there aren’t any reasons why an Actor can not create work for themselves. I was doing that a lot back in the 90s producing theatre plays to be seen and to learn. I even played around with a camcorder and made some fun projects. But nothing like today.
What I like to see change is that I think conservatories should insist on film history classes. Many larger conservatories do have it, but smaller ones do not. Sadly, the streaming service has taken the waiting game for young ones to see a film. They could at any moment pull up a film and they don’t. Some of my fondest memories were going into a local video store and rent a film. I would go over to classics and select a Director’s work and or an older Actor’s work I didn’t know. Many young Actors under 24 do not know some of our great Filmmakers like Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman, Robert Benton, William Friedkinm, John Houston, Arthur Penn to name a few. I give out a worksheet to my students on the name of plays, playwrights, films, actors, and directors to know. Very important.
You have several Prime TV shows coming up. On CBS in Dick Wolf’s new show FBI and On USA THE SINNER. Share your roles, what did you enjoy most about each?
Anthony Robert Grasso: FBI was fun. It was a guest star role and my character is rather belligerent and has a real chip on his shoulder. He is cornered by the feds to reveal someone and he does. He has no morals and is a known-well Philly meth dealer. So different from my personal life. Not sure why I get cast in these roles…lol. What I enjoyed was the freedom they gave me and that I got to drive the scene.
The Sinner was a nice co-star role, I played a wealthy father very upset with his daughter’s counselor and teacher in her very expensive Private school. He forces them to do what he wants. I got to work with Mat Bomer and Chris Mesina. Great guys to work with. Again a character where I have a strong voice.
You are a teacher in Film, Television, and Theatre. How have you grown as a teacher?
Anthony Robert Grasso: I have been teaching for about 20 years. What I learned is that I bring different techniques Method, Meisner, and Adler and also studied British techniques in Oxford England with amazing teachers and directors. I worked with the late John Barton. Dame Jane Lapitoir and Fiona Shaw. One of my teachers in Oxford was Director – Katie Michell, and I adopted a saying she would tell the class. She would say “there are no right or wrongs in theatre only clear and unclear” my teaching style is to help my students to be clear. I like to use the philosophy that everyone is different and I find what is authentic about them and tap into their essence or frequency to be seen or become transparent. It’s a very vulnerable experience when an actor does that and can be quite scary, but essential to the art.
Do you have any other thoughts?
Anthony Robert Grasso: In the last year, I started getting asked to direct more as well as act in projects. I knew it was something I wanted to do and would be a good fit. Four years ago I directed and helped develop a one-man theatre show called Universal Dad. It was selected into the Fringe Festival EDINBURGH 2017. A poignant and moving story written and starring PJ Landers.
Some of the short films I directed was the Blood Allegiance written by Alex Wintherow Fresh Air written by Montana Rock. Both strong family dramas. The pilot RETREAT – a pilot my wife Diane Harrington acted and was one of three writers of the episode. Other writers Amie Sponza, Polly Kreisman and Ivy Tobin. The pilot EXTRADITION a political drama I directed and has gone on to win several best short pilot awards on the festival circuit and selected in over 10 in the last few months. This past weekend it screened in LA Anaheim Film Fest and just won Best Social issue award and Best Actress. Very proud of the momentum this pilot has received. Very timely piece especially with what’s happening in our US politics today.
Lastly. we just completed the comedy pilot My Life as a Doormat. It will be hitting the film festival circuit as well and hoping to be pitched to networks. The writer and star Ivy Tobin has over 87k followers on her FB and Instagram page Society of Recovering Doormats.
When people ask me. Do you prefer directing more than acting? I say. I like to think of myself as both. I’m an Actor who directs. I truly enjoy doing both. Teaching for over 20 years has helped my short-hand working with Actors and also working on TV and film scripts repeatedly has given me a stronger understanding of script analysis, tone, and pace. Directing allows more overall control and you get a final say on how the project comes out. Also, you spend a lot more time with the project. I’ve been working with the last two projects for over 6 months before our first screening. As an Actor you get to move to the next project straight away and you leave it in the hands of the director and editor. But if I had to choose I would say I’m an Actor first. But I plan on directing more. I like to direct a feature film or a TV episode in the near future.
The ultimate dream for me is to be able to continue to create. I would like the opportunity to go back and forth from acting and directing in theatre, film and tv. That would be the ultimate dream.
Someone once said – love what you do and you never work a day in your life. I love what I do! So I believe that is true. Thank you for the interview and for taking the time. Very grateful.
Anthony Robert Grasso
My links to my reels are
Indie reel- new material coming
Swipe Right , The Blind Date Kill Al
My TV reel
With FBI, Marvel Jessica Jones
My Electronic Press Kit
My website: AnthonyRobertGrasso.com