Posted: 09/03/04
© 2004
Enrico Goes To 'Mars'
by Del Harvey

Exclusive: Enrico Colantoni/Veronica Mars Interview

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Actor Enrico Colantoni is probably best known as Elliott DiMauro, fashion photographer and boyfriend of Laura San Giacomo on Just Shoot Me, a role he portrayed for seven years.  But he has also had a significant career in films like Galaxy Quest, Full Frontal, James Dean, A.I., and Stigmata, and has appeared in a number of well-renowned plays, including a starring role in Neil LaBute's latest play, "The Distance From Here" in London.  Mr. Colantoni's television credits include a co-starring role for two seasons on Hope & Gloria as "Utz," Gloria's lovable but unenlightened ex-husband, and memorable guest-starring roles on NYPD Blue, New York Undercover, and NBC's Law & Order. 

This Fall, he returns to series television in UPN's Veronica Mars, co-starring Kristen Bell in the title role as his teenage daughter.  Mr. Colantoni spoke to me from his Los Angeles home.

DH:  Mr. Colantoni, it's a pleasure to talk with you today.

EC:  Thank you.  It's a pleasure for me, as well.

DH:  So, I was reading the promotional blurb on this series and trying to get a fix on whether you are the star of the show, or...

EC: No.  She's the title character, and I'm her dad. And there are three of us that will be in every episode.

DH:  What do you think of this series, so far?

EC:  Well, according to the critics, it's their favorite.  According to people who are working on it, they love being there and working on it.  The writing is really good.  The UPN is in a position to go nowhere but up. So, to make the shift into good drama, Veronica Mars and Kevin Hill are two shows that they're banking on.  I have a feeling that, because it's such a good show and UPN is ready for something like this, we should be on for quite a while.  People could actually dig it.

DH:  Back to the show's description... I was trying to get a fix on it.  It says, "Veronica is one of the popular girls by day..."

EC:  [Laughs]  You know what, Del?  It's silly.  There's no way around it. Kind of a stupid premise.  You know what I mean?  It's like, "What?  A teenage detective, she works with her dad... it's absurd.  You know?  And, in fact, every time I've had to describe it I've felt a little embarrassed by it.  It sounds kind of cheesy.  But, fortunately, Rob Thomas has been writing teenage novels for years, so he's got such a wonderful knack for creating these great characters.  And it's dark, and it's got so much bite to it, that it makes it unique for network TV.  And the way it's filmed, you know they're really putting a lot of effort into it, so it looks great.  It feels great.  And it has a Twin Peaks element to it.  There's been a murder that sort of haunts us throughout the season.  And, to me, it's a story about falling from grace and sort of trying to restore order into the world.  So it has that undertone going on.  And then you deal with teenage stuff, but it's not 90210.  I don't know The O.C. that well, but I don't think it's that.  It's intense and fun to watch.  You want to know what happens.

DH:  What is your role?  Are you the father figure who's stern?  Are you a little quirky?

EC:  I'm sort of... she and I have to stick together because we got kicked out of that inner circle among the well-to-do's and her Mom and my wife left us because we lost our status.  So now we're living on the other side of the tracks, surviving together.  So the dynamic there is 'functional.'  There's a great amount of love for each other, but she helps me out in my private investigation office.  She happens to be a chip off the old block so she gets into trouble, and I put her into trouble, so he's not a great Dad by any means.  But he's doing the best he can, and she's surviving, so it's sort of an odd duo, to say the least.  But it's interesting. 

DH:  Is that how you see yourself or would you rather have the starring role in a big action picture?

EC:  Not really, unless it were a comedy or something.  I see myself more as a journeyman and sort of a supporting character actor.  That leaves me more time to enjoy my own life.  Certainly first and foremost, all the interesting stuff is the supporting guys.  Once in a while there are a couple of independent films that you've got character actors in leading the way.  But, if those happen, those are good.  I know Bill Macy's doing a lot of that, now, and Tony's having a great time on Monk.  If that happens, that'd be fine, but it has to be about character, it has to be something that excites me.

DH:  You're in theatre, you're in TV, you're in film, and you're pretty damned good all across the board.  Is it always finding a role that excites you?

EC:  Yeah.  If it's fun to do, if it's interesting, if I get to do stuff that I've never done before, then bring it on. It doesn't matter how big it is or how small it is.  I'll go back and do a play every year just to get that muscle working.  I think if Veronica Mars goes on a couple years I might want to go back to doing a sitcom because it's like doing a play.  And it's a lot like doing movies.  It's just different muscles I want to exercise at different times in my life.

DH:  Do you think you're fortunate in that regard?

EC: Yeah.  You know what?  I count my lucky stars every day.

DH: What would be an ideal film role for you?  You mentioned Mr. Macy with films like The Cooler.  What would that indie film be for you?

EC:  [Laughs.]  It would have to be dark.  I'm a big fan of August Strindberg and I have always wanted to see how he would translate to film.  There's something about when good meets evil and what that does to us.  I have no idea.  I'm writing something now that's taking me by surprise because it's how I see love.  [Laughs.]  It's not pretty!  It's not typical, that's for sure.  It's kind of taken me a little off center. It's not bright and cheery.  And I don't know if America's ready for that.

DH:  You grew up in Toronto, and you live in LA now and doing work with inner city youth in acting and getting involved in your community.  How do you feel about the difference between where you grew up and where you are now?

EC:  You know, I've got two kids now and I think about what growing up in Canada gave me, and how they're growing up here and what that gives them.  There is something wonderful about the Canadian mentality; it's less aggressive.  It's much more collaborative, it's much more community oriented, multicultural, stuff like that.  And I already see my seven year old being much more aggressive, wanting what he wants, and I'm sure that's typical of his age, but at the same time it's supported here.  You know, it's all about the have-nots here and the 'American Dream.' I left Canada so I could live and work in the United States because I've always been fascinated with it.  Watching TV growing up with shows like James At 15 and Mulligan Stew and Eight Is Enough and all those shows about teens growing up with the problems they had that were so far away from the immigrant household that I grew up in.  But, I'm grateful that he's got teachers.  At least he's got me and his Mom to remind him that it's not so much about getting ahead but about finding what you love to do and pursuing that.

DH:  You are from an immigrant upbringing, and obviously you're doing a little bit better for your family.  Do you ever take your kids back there and try to immerse them in that life?

EC:  All the time.  My parents retired and moved back to Italy about 15 years ago, so I'd say my kids have been to Italy more times in their short lives than I have in my entire 41 years. 

DH:  Well, you're a very unique person and I won't even try to call you 'Rico Suave'...

EC:  [Laughs.]  Whaddaya mean, 'try'? 

DH: If you had anything to say about your career and where you'd like it to go, what would that be?

EC:  I think we all want a little more freedom and a little more control in what we do.  I've been really fortunate because work's sort of found me.  I've never been the kind of guy who's said, "Hey, I want to do that!" and not stop until you find that.  You sort of leave it up to the forces at work that know better than me.  I mean, Veronica Mars is a perfect example because I knew I liked it, but nobody really understood it, nobody really thought it would go beyond the pilot but it is, and it's going.  And it's not because of anything we're doing but some shows are just meant to be on the air, meant to be watched, and meant to last seven years.  [Pause.]  If I could end it all by teaching at a college level and writing and producing an independent film and doing plays, that would be great.  I'd like to go out like that.

DH:  Well, Enrico, I think you've proven to us that you can do just about anything you want.

EC:  Thank you.

DH:  Thank you for the time, and I wish you great success with Veronica Mars and all your other endeavors.

EC:  Thank you.  You've been a joy.

A special preview of Veronica Mars will air on Wednesday, September 22 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) and the show will move to its regularly-scheduled time period on Tuesday, September 28 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT).

For more information on the show, click here.

For more on Mr. Colantoni, click here.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.

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