So – meeting Antonio, who left Hurtwood in 2005, is always lively, always time well-spent. Off to RADA after his time here, he has returned to his old stomping ground many times over the years, in between a wonderfully eclectic variety of jobs in theatre, television, film and radio. Antonio stands out in a crowd: not just because he is taller than average, and built accordingly, but because he looks like he knows what he is doing, and seems determined to get it. On another level, he looks like he belongs in real life AND on the screen, representing real life.
Arriving at Hurtwood with great talent he acknowledges that he has had much to learn since, not least patience and commitment to a path that can be as frustrating as it is also rewarding. He is at pains to acknowledge that a great deal of luck has helped him on his way, but he also understands the expert advice and support that he has received, the need for muscular hard work, metaphorical and ‘real’ staying power, and of course the need to earn whilst waiting for the next big career break. Like Andy and H, both of whom he cites for their invaluable cajoling and advice, he has enjoyed sharing his skills with the students here.
Most recently seen on ‘Call the Midwife’ (surely the quintessence of Sunday night telly?) he has an impressive roll call of performances over the years. By one of those weird flukes in life, I witnessed his role(s) in ‘Enron’: working with Headlong in a play that took on both the extraordinary world of high finance and banking with the aplomb of creative experiential theatre. The production blended dance, song and really serious subject matter. Antonio filled the space and the role and, unsurprisingly, he has gone on to further impressive stage roles in the West End: ‘A View From a Bridge’ at the Duke of York’s , ‘Matilda’ at the Cambridge ( covering Trunchbull – no typecasting?) and ‘Groundhog Day’ at the Old Vic. Film work has included ‘Kingsman 2’ and ‘Blood Orange’, and most recently he has appeared as a real-life mobster in the 2018 Netflix series, ‘The Alienist’. Here, he recounts, he encountered one of the ‘children’ from the Matilda cast, in something of a less innocent role, and felt well, uneasy… life, eh?
Has he been typecast? Well his Italian heritage (both his parents are Italian) certainly has befitted some specific roles. I remember listening to him in a BBC radio adaptation of a James Baldwin narrative, ‘Giovanni’s Room’, where he jokingly told me he found himself in bed with Damien Lewis – well, at least the sound effects created this.
So back to the professional path. How difficult is it to make one’s way as an actor? Clearly it is indeed tough. He has a great deal of wisdom on the subject and a very clear sense that he feels privileged to be part of artistic endeavour, being part of the pursuit of new ways of looking at the world. The problem is how to hold the faith when 60% of the time is spent NOT being an actor, but pursuing the roles. ‘I haven’t fallen off the track yet,’ he tells me. ‘Being an actor has been the goal since I was 16. I still feel the ultimate goal is possible.’ The breakthrough role? There have been lots of unexpected directions, he observes. ‘But in this game the goal is always in sight.’ He also acknowledges the ‘discomfort of not knowing of what comes next. But 10 years in the industry had taught me that as long as I’m ready, as long as I’m here… it’s only a matter of time.’
What is it like to be an actor – being and not being – employed. It’s a strange life: ‘too busy on one level and not conducive to an easy one.’ Does he wish he had taken another route? Certainly, he could have taken the academic, university degree route, having proved himself insightful and able in his A level studies, achieving top grades. Not for him. He has come too far and is convinced that, in spite of the ‘discomfort of not knowing of what comes next’, he has made the right call: ‘as long as I keep knocking on the door it will happen. I know that there’s work that I’ve done that will get me onto the ladder.’
We catch up on Facetime while he is in New York, and he seems extremely well embedded in Brooklyn, in pursuit of the elusive Green Card, and at work on a wide range of projects. Most dear to his heart – and most immediate – is an ongoing plan to create a new film version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, setting it within the gang culture of inner-city London, between two tower blocks, and drawing on the obvious problems of drug culture and knife crime. This was born when he directed the play back at Hurtwood a few years back and he has clearly been brewing ideas intensively. ‘You need to make this film this year,’ one potential produced told him and, indeed, he has had a lot of support and input on this fascinating project. Many of the building blocks are already in place: professionals in all fields, equipment, music soundtrack and a number of key roles already seem to have been allocated, but it is clear that the driving force here centres on his passionate desire to bring the real rhythms and power of Shakespeare’s poetry to life for a younger, unenlightened generation. Did I know that one strand of contemporary gang culture involves writing and performing poetic but violent challenges that are then exchanged on YouTube, concealed by facemasks and amidst a display of weapons and threats? No - of course I didn’t - but it makes a weird kind of sense, and frankly the whole project sounds right on the money.
Another project, still only in the writing stage and in partnership with a writer in New York, is to develop a film called ‘Hopeless/Romantic’ which pivots on both the issues of homelessness as well as our frustrated and disillusioned outlook.
With all this in the mix, Antonio decided to turn down a role at The Old Vic in a Lucy Prebble play in order to concentrate on these really challenging projects. He has however accepted a role with a new Netflix production called ‘Cursed’, which he describes as a ‘medieval romp’, with lots of strange haircuts and violence. This means he will be back in the old country for a bit at least, and be able also, I assume, to consolidate elements of his own project with R and J.
Anyone who encounters Antonio knows that he is very much on his way. He is full of life and full of Hurtwood talent and drive. His approach is rational and rigorous; all the roles so far are part of his journey. In terms of what the school has given him, he is eloquent. How to be an actor? ‘Andy and H allowed me to see my goal as a reality. Not a random achievement, not pretentious; a physical endeavour that I could do. It’s a life and its real; less about talent and more about grit and determination. A fight. They gave me the skills to do it.’ He certainly seems to be doing so, and interestingly possibly extending his skills towards both writing and directing. There is also another rather long-term project going on in the background involving bringing delicious Italian wine stateside, but that’s maybe reflecting his gene pool! Time for Antonio to get back to writing, and for me to get some chronology into his exciting journey. Creative enthusiasm is infectious, I think as I leave him to it. Bring it on, Antonio! But do make sure you keep coming back to see us. Please.