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John D'Leo - The Kid's Got Skills
08/30/2011 - By Teja Anderson

John D'Leo - The Kid's Got Skills

Photo: McKay Imaging (

Marlboro's John D'Leo Heading Towards a Bright Future

When meeting John DLeo for the first time people are often surprised to hear his real age, since his boyish good looks  and youthful voice allow him to pass for years younger than sixteen, the age he will be on the day after our interview.

However, once he starts talking about his extremely varied and successful career as a child actor it becomes clear that  this young man is every bit as mature, intelligent, witty and self-assured as many adults.

In the unpredictable world of Hollywood and the entertainment business in general, appearing younger has served John well over the past six years. He has appeared in commercials, print,  television and films and he has worked with stars like Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis, Tracey Morgan and Jennifer Aniston, to name but a few. His breakout role in The Wrestler  (2008) was as a video game playing youngster conversing and sparring with Mickey Rourke, portraying the aging wrestler Randy The Ram Robinson. John as Adam practically stole the  scene from Mickey Rourke, who received an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for Best  Actor in his role!

With a huge Verizon commercial campaign and two new movies coming out this fall - Wanderlust starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston and his first starring role as Billy in Murt Ramirez Wants to Kick My Ass - Living In Marlboro was lucky enough to catch John  on a rare day off from auditions and filming. We sat down with John and his mother Ginna  DLeo in the back office of her trendy new hair salon, SOHO Studios in Old Bridge, for a chat.  John, perched on a stool, spoke animatedly, often using hilarious character voices and wild arm  gestures to tell his stories of life on the set as a child actor.

LIM: So you are turning 16 tomorrow. Any big birthday plans?

JD: I had friends over yesterday and we went to Six Flags Great Adventure. I didnt get a  chance to go on Kingda Ka yet because there was a thunderstorm but El Toro was awesome.  My brother went too. I have a brother who is 20 and one who is 23.

LIM: Ah, so you are the baby?

JD: You have to remind me?

LIM: You may be the baby but you already have a career going on. What do they do?

JD: My brother Pat (Patrick), the younger one, is really into sports (hes a golfer) and my oldest  brother Vincent is an adrenaline junkie so hes really into the military and is in the service right  now.

LIM: So how is it that you picked acting instead of following one of your brothers?

JD: Well, about six years ago I was watching a movie, The Kid with Bruce Willis, and it had a  child actor in it and I was like, I can do that! I can definitely do that. After I bugged my Dad  (Chuck DLeo) for about two months he found an acting school in Red Bank, Actors Training Institute (ATI) and after less than a year of training Eileen Noble, my manager, came in to scout  for kids and she liked me and started sending me out on auditions. Now I upgraded to Actors  Playground in Freehold; they have several great teachers there.

LIM: What was the first job you booked?

JD: [Aside to his mother] Should I say? [She nods] Are you sure? I guess its not that embarrassing now. It was a Chuck E. Cheese commercial. I actually did three Chuck E. Cheese commercials. But the first real thing I did was an episode of Law & Order: Special  Victims Unit. That is what got me into SAG (ScreenActors Guild). I got a letter - Congratulations! - and I was like, what is this SAG thing? I didnt realize at the time that it  was a pretty big deal. I was just having fun doing commercials and eating lots of free pizza. I  didnt know anything about joining a union, paying dues and taxes and getting insurance and  stuff. But once I did Law & Order I had to join SAG.

LIM: Its not an easy thing to get into SAG. Many actors try for years and years and never get  in. I am sure you now realize that there is a big difference between union and non-union sets.

JD: Yeah, a big difference. [Laughs] Its like first class and coach, way in the back of the plane!  First class is way more fun.

LIM: What was your role on Law & Order?

JD: It was pretty cool and pretty graphic. It was about a Dad who went crazy. He had so much  debt he was afraid he wouldnt be able to take care of his family and he went psycho and just  killed us all. But first they showed us as just this normal, happy family.

LIM: So you got killed off in your very first serious role?

JD: Yeah, Christopher Meloni pulls the sheet back off my head and Im lying in bed on a pillow with a .44 bullet hole in my head [makes dying retching sounds] lying in a pool of blood. I had to hold my breath.

LIM: Was it hard to keep still?

JD: When you are in the moment, you just get in the zone. You have all these people around  you, the whole productionits a job and so you focus. Its an adult business with kids in it, not  the other way around.

LIM: How do people treat you on the set, like a kid or like an adult?

JD: Like an adult, I guess. I love being on the set, everyone is always extremely nice unless its  some Photo by McKay Imagingreally low budget thing and then they can get all stressed out. [Mimics director yelling]  People get to work; we are on a time frame here! I like to talk to the camera guys, the  directors and the crew because I am interested in both sides of the camera, in front and behind. I like to talk with the cinematographers and see how they set up shots and stuff. When I did The Wrestler it was an independent film but it was still pretty up there. Mickey Rourke was a  really nice guy and I got to work with Darren Aronofsky, who is a nice guy too and I think just the most awesome director.

LIM: Yes, they are certainly some heavyweights in the business, no pun intended. So, how did  you land the role of Adam, Randy The Ram Robinsons video game playing little buddy?

JD: I actually got to the call back late because I had five other auditions that day. I was trying to  be like a big Italian bully kid so I had on this cutoff sleeve shirt and I show up late and all these  people are waiting for me like [snort] who is this kid? [Laughs] Then I end up getting it.

LIM: You have that great scene with Mickey Rourke playing the old style, original Nintendo  Entertainment System (NES) videogame version of his life as a wrestler. Was that scene  scripted? Because it almost seems like improv

JD: [Demurs]Well I dont good do you think I did?

LIM: I thought you were incredible; you looked like a kid playing a video game and just talking, not like you were trying to say your lines.

JD: Its an inside joke between the crew and the cast about whether that was scripted or not so I am just going to leave it at that. [Johns mother Ginna interjects.]

GD: They did two versions; one was scripted and one ad-libbed and they went with the one that  was... [John cuts her off]

JD: Mom, you almost contradicted everything I just said in the last two minutes; you almost  wasted everything I just said...thanks! Im not getting any younger here, every minute counts.  [We all laugh]

LIM: Okay, so how did you prepare; had you ever played that video game before?

JD: Are you kidding? Nintendo 64? Im born in the 21st century; I dont even know what  Atari is. Are you serious? I live in a world of touch screen computers and voice activated  GPS. Im used to an 18 button controller and Mickey Rourke picks up a two button controller  and asks me how to work it. I was laughing.

LIM: I see your point. So there was indeed a fair amount of acting going on.

JD: We werent even really playing; it was a pre-recorded trailer that winds up letting him win.

LIM: The film was a huge hit. What was the premiere like?

JD: That was cool; my first time down the red carpet. It was at Lincoln Center and I could not  see for probably five minutes from all the flashing cameras. [Makes sound effects] I just kept  blinking and telling myself to smile. I wore like a nice suit and I was like.Yeaaaahhhh!  Wearing a nice suit was totally cool.

LIM: What was it like seeing yourself up there on the big screen?

JD: Usually when you see a movie you are watching the movie but when you see yourself in  a movie all you do is watch you. I just focused on me Oh, I could have said that line differentlythat line was good.well, maybe. You are just staring at yourself like a moving  mirror.

LIM: Who was your date?

JD: For the premiere? I was twelve; I took my momjust like my favorite actor Leonardo DiCaprio. He is just an amazing actor; he did that movie with Johnny Depp when he was my age, Whats Eating Gilbert Grape? and he was so good. It is ridiculous what a good actor he  was as a kid. I saw that and I was like, I need to step up my game. He is a major inspiration to  me and Johnny Depp is, too because he is one of the most diverse actors ever; from Sweeny  Todd to Pirates of the Caribbean? That is crazy; the guy has got some skills.

LIM: What was it like working with more comedic actors like Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan  in Cop Out (2010)?

JD: [Laughs] Tracy Morgan is one of the funniest darn people you will ever meet. He is hilarious. You think with some actors that they are just funny for the cameras and they dont really act like that in person; but no, they act like that in real life too. Paul Rudd is another one. I met him on the set of Wanderlust (due out later this year and also starring Jennifer Aniston) and he just improvs the whole time on the set. I asked one of the set guys, does he even act?  They were like no, dude, he doesnt act; he just speaks. He is hilarious!

LIM: How about you? Did they let you do any improv on set?

JD: On Wanderlust? Actually, yes; the set was awesome! It was the most relaxed, the most  fun, the most creative, the most supportive. The director (David Wain) told you to use your instincts. My favorite set so far.

LIM: Tell us about the movie and your character, Tanner.

JD: Its about this uptight urban couple (Paul Rudd and Jenifer Aniston) who go on vacation and  they stop at this commune and before you know it they want to give up everything and move there. I play Paul Rudds nephew and I live in this legit huge mansion and I am a spoiled little bratty rich kid. I am just like my dad, who is a big jerk played by Ken Marino, but then me and my mom get rid of my dad and go to the commune, too. Its going to be really funny.

LIM: This was yet another movie where you are surrounded with and mostly working with adults. Have you ever gotten to work with other kids?

JD: Well in Brooklyns Finest I played Ethan Hawkes son, Vinny and there was another kid on that set that I got to be pretty good friends with. I enjoy having other kids on the set as long  as they are professional.

Behind the scenes in the makeup trailer, above: John gets made up for his role in  "Wanderlust," Nov., 2010.LIM: Now that youve gotten time on both coasts, which are you liking better, New York or  L.A.?

JD: L.A. is a nice place to visit but not to live. New York all the way. [Counts off on his fingers]  One: New York is better for casting. Two: The best L.A. movie was The Godfather filmedwhere? Three: There is no Italian food in L.A. so I could never live there ever! Four: They may have crazy good Mexican food - I mean the breakfast burritos are amazing - but if you ask for pasta marinara you get noodles with ketchup! Besides, Atlantic over Pacific all the way! And, five: Weve got the Jersey Shore - not the show but the actual physical Jersey  Shore.

LIM: Yes, lets not confuse the reality show with the true Jersey Shore.

JD: It may be hypocritical because I have watched that show and some of the episodes are the  funniest things ever; just to laugh at them and make fun of them is hilarious. You are laughing at  them, not with them and they know that.

LIM: But they are such negative stereotypes. You are obviously proud to be Italian

JD: Yes, proud to be both Italian and Irish. But there are people in New Jersey that are really  like the people on the show and are okay with it, actually even proud of it. There are kids in my  school who are like that.

LIM: Speaking of school, have you missed a lot because of filming?

JD: Yeah, but the administration has been really cool about it. I have good grades and I have to  have an on-set tutor which is annoying and kind of defeats the whole purpose of me being there  to have fun and practice my career and the process.

LIM: What are your favorite subjects in school?

JD: In school? Lunch? Gym? Last period; time to pack up and go home period?

LIM: I see. But what if the acting doesnt pan out? Do you have a career Plan B?

JD: This whole industry is what I want to do. So, it either going to be acting or directing or  writing orCamera -- Action! On the set of "Murt Ramirez Wants to Kick My Ass in Brooklyn, Summer 2010. John takes the opportunity to explore all aspects of the film industry. producing or cinematography; I would even work on set as a gaffer (on set  electrician). To be honest, I just love being on a set; working at any job would make me happy.  But if you are asking what I would do if I wasnt in the entertainment business? [Throws his  arms in the air and looks to his mother for help, shaking his head] That is a tough question and I  dont have an answer for that.

LIM: What about college?

JD: NYU all the way. Tisch Film School. I was on a set this summer and all the guys were from  NYU and we had a blast. Its an independent film called Murt Ramirez Wants to Kick My Ass. It about bullying but its really funny.

LIM: Youve done drama and comedy; is there a genre you like best?

JD: I would love to do a horror movie. That would be awesome and I could be like the ultimate  zombie fighter (makes shooting and gurgling sound effects). That would be crazy; I would write  that script.

LIM: What is it about teenage boys and zombies?

JD: They are just the most fun things to shoot - not that I am like a serial killer or anything. But  like with video games nowadays, its just fun, its entertaining. Just ask any 15 year-old kid in  America; do you like playing video games and shooting things? Yes! Right now I am playing a  mix of Call of Duty and Halo. But its summer so I can play more. During the school year I am not allowed to play Xbox on school days, only on the weekends. I cant really argue with my parents with that rule because I know that if I have a really good game and so do all of my  friends.we would be playing the game and we would not be doing our schoolwork. So  parental restrictions are sometimes good [deadpans] and I eat my vegetables and drink a big  glass of orange juice every morning too. [Chuckles] Not really.

LIM: So you have rules; you dont have star status at home. Is your mom ever a Stage Mom  at all?

JD: [Emphatically]Absolutely not! I will say it to her face. She is the complete opposite. [John  imitates his mom in a high pitched voice] Anytime you want us to stop driving you into  NewYork and paying tolls and stuff please let us know! If anything my Dad is the one who tells  me stuff on the set, like be sure you stay focused, you know, get in character and I am like  Dad, get out of here. My Mom, she is perfect, she doesnt bother me at all unless I want a drink or something. Because, this is what I want to do, this is my thing, and no, my parents didnt tell me to say that. But she does help me with all my paperwork and social security and  stuff like that.

LIM: What acting projects do you have going on right now?

JD: I just finished shooting a big Verizon commercial but sadly nothing else is in the mix right  now. I did just send tapes out to California.

LIM: Is there a job that got away?

JD: Well, for television I guess. I got pretty close to playing the kid (Luke Dunphy) on Modern  Family. But you know the red headed kid (Nolan Gould) got it.

LIM: So what else are you doing for fun this summer? You mentioned loving the Jersey you have a favorite beach?

JD: Avon, Belmar is probably the best; the people who go there know why. Point Pleasant  sometimes.

John's first fan club and support crew is his family; from top left to bottom are Ginna,  Robert, Vincent, 23 and Patrick, 21.LIM: Happy birthday tomorrow by the way, will you be getting your drivers permit right away?  [Both John and his mother groan for apparently different reasons.]

JD: Well, at my school you can only take the class when you are a sophomore so I couldnt sign up to do that until this coming fall. Then after you pass that class and take the written exam you  still have to go to the DMV and do all that so I guess I wont be driving right away. But I cant wait to start.

LIM: [To Ginna]Will you let John drive himself to auditions in the city?

GD: I dont know, maybe when he is 18.We see kids on auditions all the time, even when John  was a lot younger ,whose parents let them go up to the auditions by themselves. But his father  or I always go with him. You never know what might happen to them in the elevator or in the building. Besides, he looks younger than he really is

JD: [In a deep throaty voice] Little boy, how did you get here? Where are your Mommy and Daddy? [In his own voice] Oh, Im 17, I drove here in my own car. [We all laugh]

LIM: What kind of car do you want?

JD: A fast one! No, actually this is going to sound really corny but something with really, really  good gas mileage. But not a Prius.

LIM: Why? Are you concerned about the environment?

JD: No, I am concerned about how much money is coming out of my pocket for gas! Gas is  like $ 4 a gallon. I mean come on if you do a decent amount of driving thats like $400 bucks a  week!

LIM: You must have made some decent money by now

JD: Yeah, but after taxes and manager's and agents fees, I get like 25% of what I make and  that goes in the bank. My parents joke that I owe them millions right now.

LIM: One good movie is all you need and I have a feeling by the time people are reading this  you will have booked something big!

JD: Yeah, that would be awesome!

Favorite Restaurant:
Valentinos in Freehold


Favorite Movie:
Saving Private Ryan

Pet Peeve:

Three People Youd Dine With:
Steven Spielberg, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and one more; Chris Angel from  Mind Freak

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