Sebastian Maniscalco is soaring high these days. Sure, he’s the hottest comic in America right now, but after coming off another hit Netflix stand-up special (Is it Me?) this spring, he’s taking a bold leap to leading man status — and screenwriter — with About My Father. Think of the new film as a hilarious love letter to his Sicilian father, Salvo, a recurring subject in his popular stand-up act. That film legend and Oscar winner Robert De Niro plays Maniscalco’s father was both surreal and a dream come true for the comic.
“It’s unbelievable, man. I’m pinching myself every day,” beamed Mansicalco in an exclusive interview with MovieWeb. “I’m here in my hometown of Chicago, going to a hometown screening with De Niro, and my family and friends. I mean, come on! I left here in 1998. And if you had told me I’d be doing this in 2023. I would have told you that you’re nuts.”
The guy may have to keep pinching himself. Thus far, About My Father has generated mostly positive reviews. Of the film, MovieWeb’s Julian Roman said De Niro and Maniscalco have “good comedic timing that’s endearing to the audience.” Here’s to that. These days, maybe we all need a good laugh in a packed theater. De Niro and Maniscalco shared more about joining forces and the unique things they did to make the movie soar.
It’s All About Making Great Comedy
About My Father, which is directed by Laura Terruso, finds Maniscalco playing “himself.” In this case, Sebastian is a successful manager of a boutique hotel in Chicago. As his relationship with Ellie Collins (Leslie Bibb), an upbeat painter, becomes serious, it’s time to “meet the parents,” as it were, and maybe bring along his widowed Sicilian immigrant hairdresser pop, Salvo (De Niro in perfect form). Sebastian frets because his outspoken pop will surely embarrass Ellie and her parents (David Rasche and Kim Cattrall). Bring on the comedy. Anders Holm and Brett Dier round out the cast as Ellie’s brothers. Maniscalco co-wrote the script with Austen Earl.
Interestingly, Maniscalco, who recently told Gayle King on CBS Mornings that he used have a poster of De Niro in his room when he was a kid, was surprised at the great lengths De Niro went to fully embody Salvo. De Niro wanted to know everything about the man, especially his work as a hairstylist. To that end, the real-life Salvo was recorded working in his salon. Then the great actor actually wanted to meet Salvo in person.
“My dad went to go see him in Oklahoma [on the film set of Killers of the Flower Moon] and spent a couple of days with De Niro, and it was, like, serious,” shared Maniscalco. “He spent some time with my dad for hours just picking his brain. You know, ‘How do say this in Italian the right way,’ and very particular of how to research somebody it was pretty fascinating to hear secondhand.”
De Niro is known for his painstaking method research process, and it was no different here. “Salvo was great. He was a big help, obviously, and it was just so good to have a real person. I always like to work with the actual person or person who knows that ‘world,’ whatever world that is,” said De Niro. “So, Salvo was great. And Sebastian and Laura Terruso are both Italian American. They all know [that world]. They’re not going to do something that is a cliché. It’s all based in a solid reality. So, it’s all coming from a real place. That made it fun.”
No kidding. An interesting footnote: De Niro did more than just spend a day with Salvo. The duo met for dinner, too. In fact, De Niro called him after the set visit and invited him out to dinner. De Niro would go on to stay in touch with Salvo during production of About My Father. At one point, Salvo visited the set and taught De Niro the best way to do — wait for it — hair highlights for a scene set in Salvo’s salon.
De Niro and Maniscalco on Working Together
For Sebastian Maniscalco, About My Father was a bold undertaking. It was his foray into screenwriting and working alongside De Niro presented an opportunity to learn from a master. While the duo previously worked together on the great Netflix film The Irishman, Maniscalco learned a lot from De Niro on the set of this film.
“I learned a lot about acting and a lot about ‘doing.’ I was in a TV show recently, and I had a drive the car and say the lines. And it was extremely hard for me to pull over to a curb while acting,” shared Maniscalco. “I can’t do two things at once in life, let alone in acting. So, watching De Niro… you know, he was doing a lot of ‘business’ in the film… he was packing or even putting on socks or what have you, and previously, I would just hit the mark, say the lines, and not really do anything. But I found that once you start doing an activity, it’s a lot more interesting for the viewer to watch somebody. It’s like real life.”
De Niro, who comes across as compassionate, grounded, and kind in real life, said he enjoyed getting to know Salvo and working alongside Maniscalco. “This is a real story. Anything that’s in it is based on something he [Sebastian] either thought of or is connected to reality. The foundation is so strong. So, that to me is always going to be interesting.
“And meeting Salvo himself […] that was all solid, so I knew that we’d be okay,” added De Niro. “Sebastian understood if I did something or ad-libbed something that he’d get it.”
The One Thing Maniscalco’s Wife Wants Audiences to Know
Sure enough, About My Father boasts some hilarious scenes, and the film should appeal to all audiences. But there’s one scene, in fact, which is featured in the trailer and has an interesting backstory. It’s a scene where Maniscalco, clad in powered jet boots, is seen hovering above a lake while Salvo, Ellie, and her parents watch on from a yacht. At one point, Sebastian’s trunks fall off and well, audiences only see the man’s backside. Maniscalco wanted to clarify something about that particular scene.
“That wasn’t me,” he admitted during the recent red-carpet premiere of the film in Chicago. “I wanted to do that scene when we initially wrote it, but I have sciatic pain running down my right leg, so I couldn’t do that, but my wife [Lana Gomez] wants to let everybody know that that’s not my ass in the movie. She’s like, ‘You got a better ass than that. I don’t like this guy’s ass. I don’t know why they picked him.’
Maniscalco laughed. “So, if you get anything out of this movie — that’s not my ass! That’s the best ass Alabama had to offer.”
About My Father, from Lionsgate, hits theaters May 26. You can watch a trailer below: