BOSTON

Vin Fraioli

My Cousin Vinny’s Cousin Angela


So, Anthony Paolucci, an actor friend of mine, calls me to interview Angela Peri, Director of Boston Casting. He pushes me with an enthusiasm which borders on urgency. “You’re gonna love her,” he says. “Call her.” So I pick up the phone and call her.

Boston Casting’s Angela Peri in her bustling office at 119 Braintree in Allston.
Author and Subject, they’re old friends the first time they meet. Photos by Vin Fraioli.

“Hello, Angela? This is Vin Fraioli, I’d like to…”

“Vinny Fraioli? With a name like that you must be Italian? Hey, I need Italians for this movie I’m casting!…”

I explain that it is not as an actor that I’m calling, but as a writer, to do an interview.

“Yes, I am Italian,” I say.

“You know, I lived in Rome for five years.

“Your kidding. Allora, parliamo italiano…”

Suddenly, there is a cultural kickoff of memory and we are off, like two trains onto our common track of Italian American food, language, things we hate and love, our family quirks, real estate, kids, parents. Eveything else but casting and film.

Twenty sentences later, I stop her.

 “Excuse me, are we related?” I ask.

We have to be. She talks like one of my cousins. She’s obsessed with the same things. She, like me, would invite someone to dinner within three minutes of liking them.

“We have to get together, hon,” she says. “But I don’t want to drive all the way down there. Can you come to Boston?”

How do I already know she wouldn’t like driving “all the way” down here? How would I know so many things about her in the first four minutes of our conversation? Like signs between Freemasons, we Italians have this thing between us.

“I’ll be there,” I say. “When?...”  

As I drive to Boston, I listen for the fifty-ninth time to a CD of Sergio Laccone, a singer from Italy who is coming to the States to visit. I think about Angela and this Italian thing we share, but I also confess something to myself. My Southern Italian background (and there are distinct differences, from that of the North, believe me) was pretty much watered down by my parents who were uncharacteristically reserved. For me to tap into those strong, unmistakable stereotypes, I have to reach out to distant cousins, or run into aunts and uncles at weddings or funerals. It’s a part of me that comes out with someone like Angela. And, as for those deep rooted, dark and compelling cultural fears and propensities associated with the Southern Mediterranean, I have it bad.

But, on the other hand, my father? He doesn’t like garlic.

Hey, don’t get me goin’… 

In a warehouse, just over the bridge from Cambridge, I find Boston Casting. I peek into a large, brick wall room its original use long forgotten and used now for a curious industry: of finding the right face, voice, or “look” to match with a certain character. Among stacks of papers and photos, three young people are sitting and sorting with the quietness of auditors.

“Vincenzo! Hey, I’m over here!”

There she is, in the corner behind a small desk, Angela Peri, the director of Boston Casting. She stands and gives me a kiss. I check her out. She herself is a perfect cast for the Mediterranean with her striking face and high cheekbones, a theme and variation of black, black hair, dark eyes, black sweater. I would cast her as Medea in a minute.

“Just a minute. I have to make a couple of phone calls,” she says.

I’m left to take in the place, the posters on the wall, the stacks of head shots and resumes covering desks and tables, their faces looking at the ceiling, thousands of them, being filed or reviewed quietly by the three young people. A missing persons bureau, I think, until the right role comes along.

Angela’s on the phone.

“Hi, this is Angela from Boston Casting. We’re looking for a much younger teenager, a little on the heavy side…”

I notice the posters on the wall. MATCHMAKER, CELTIC PRIDE, MOONLIGHT MILE, SPARTAN, ALEX AND EMMA, THE BLACK BOOK…

“Those are some of the films we’ve cast,” she explains as she hangs up the phone. “Not all of them are on the wall. Oh, by the way, are you hungry? Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee?” 

“Are you going to have something?”

“Me? No, I have to lose some weight. I’m on a diet. Listen to this. The other day, the love of my life walks in. This guy was gorgeous and I immediately thought, ‘I wish I were thin.’ He wanted to take me out to lunch. You know how it is when you’re a Casting Director, people want to kiss your ass.”

“Did you go?”

“No. But it killed me. I love to eat.”

I have that feeling with her, of being invaded with champagne bubbles on the verge of popping. She makes me laugh. She embraces stereotypes, those junior, overused cousins of Archetypes, the way she talks. But what’s wrong with that?

“What about this time you spent in Rome?” I ask.

“Oh, God. I spent five years there. A friend of mine, Rose, who lived there told me to come over. She said, ‘Here, you’ll find out what you’re all about.’ She was right. When I arrived, the food was fabulous. I tasted food I hadn’t tasted since my grandmother died, all her old recipes. And I noticed the way Italians got hysterical, yelled and screamed and then it was over. I realized I was raised Italian. Hey, I got a funny story…”

She announces the story to everybody in the room and by the way they don’t look up, I know they are used to such interludes. From the pulpit of her desk, Angela tells us a story. We die laughing.

“Please don’t print that,” she says.

“Okay.”

“And then, the olive oil over there was fabulous,” she says. “I love olive oil, I can’t get enough of it. Over here, I polish my shoes with it, my hair, my skin, I go through buckets of it.”

“Did you say you knew Benigni?”

“Yes. I met him at a café. He was a friend of the owner. ‘Hemingway’s,’ it was called.

We hung out for a year, every Thursday night. One day, he asks me if I wanted to go with him to the States. ‘Where?’ I said. ‘To a place called North Carolina,’ he said. ‘North Carolina?! I don’t want to go all the way back home to go to North Carolina!’ That was when he was making JOHNNY STECCHINO. Stecchino means toothpick, you know. That was Sofia Loren’s nickname because she was so thin. I do my eye makeup just like hers…But, Anna Magnani. I love her. I wanted to be her ever since I saw the movie, THE ROSE TATOO? Do you want some more tea?”

She calls to Mike, one the guys.

“More hot water for him, please,” she says. “And not from the sink. I hate that water. From the bubbler. Hot!

In Rome, I worked with Tornatore, you know the director of CINEMA PARADISO. I love that film. I loved working with Nicola Di Pippo, my buddy. Every Sunday, we would go to mass at the Vatican, of course. That was my local parish. Then, in 1990, I opened this…”

“This” being the pile of headshots, the filing cabinets, the bustle, the phone, the agency. I notice a tinge of regret which I assumed was her leaving Rome.

But I was wrong.

“So why did you leave Italy?”

“Why did I leave Italy? Because I got sick of the Italian guys cheating on me. I had this Italian boyfriend and I caught him at it. I asked him, point blank, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I have a girlfriend. ‘Then, who am I?’ I said. ‘You’re my other girlfriend,’ he said.

But, also, I was sick of starving. There wasn’t enough work for us actresses. I did meet Lina Wertmuller, by the way. I helped her translate a film into swears…”

“You know, you should be an actress. You look…”

“Oh, I’ve acted. I loved it. But I couldn’t get very far with this accent of mine. And, maybe I was too ethnic. My mother, you know, told me not to get too ethnic. ‘Johnny Carson doesn’t like ethnic,’ she said. Look, here’s a picture of her. I just lost her last year.”

She turns a photo on her desk to face me. A small, attractive woman elegantly dressed looks at me from the frame.

“I was a stand-up comic, too,” Angela says.

Why am I not surprised? I think to myself.

“I did that for years and loved it,” she says. “But I could never get my mother to come to hear me, God rest her soul, because I talked about her in my act. She was agoraphobic, you know. She didn’t leave the house. The only way we could get her out was by buying a trailer and making it look exactly like her living room, with the same furniture…”

“You’re kidding! What is it about Italians, not liking to go outside? You know, I have this selective agoraphobia…”

“No. That story about my mother was part of my act. But, ‘selective agoraphobia,’ I like that. My mother was something else. I miss her. She had red hair, you know, but she dyed it black with these high cheekbones. She loved to cook. She loved making lasagna and when she served you a piece, it was the size of a brick. I had this friend, this ninety pound thing, who came to dinner once. My mother put a piece of lasagna in front of her but she just ate the corner of it. When she left, my mother said, ‘I don’t want her here anymore. She’s just a little bit of a thing.” I said, ‘Ma, she weighs ninety pounds. She doesn’t eat like us’”

“My mother was afraid of birds,” I say.

“Birds! Mine, too. Birds were bad luck. We couldn’t have any figurines of birds in the house.”

“Hunchbacks?” I ask.

“Now, Hunchbacks bring good luck. If you see a hunchback, you’re in good shape.”

“I always tell people that our religion was superstition with a spice of Catholicism thrown in,” I explain.

“Tell me about it!”

“I’m surprised I left home. If it weren’t for my wife…”

“Please. My parents wouldn’t let me ride a bike until I was seventeen. I used to think to myself, ‘how would they feel if I hurt myself?’”

Hmm…Why am I not surprised? I think.

“Getting back to casting,” I ask. “How many clients do you have?”

“Now? About twenty thousand. But thanks to technology, we can keep track. I’m tormented by technology…”

“Tell me. How do you cast someone?”

“I read the script. And the first person who pops into my head is usually right for the part. We don’t do celebrity casting. Just the local pool for New England.”

We sit. I feel that silence after a long meal, although we haven’t eaten anything. That we will do later, another time over a full table with lots of wine. I will see her again, soon.

I give her a CD I of the singer, Sergio Laccone.

“I love this,” I say. “One of the best albums I’ve heard in years. I just got this in Italy.”

“Yeah? I used to go out with a drummer in Italy, you know. Hey, it’s too bad I can’t go to lunch with you. This damn diet…”

“Don’t worry. We’ll get together soon.”

“Over dinner.”

“Absolutely.”

“Ciao, hon.”

We exchange hugs and kisses and I go on my way. 

On the way home, I listen to Sergio Laccone’s album for the sixtieth time. When I get home, I have a message from him asking me to call. He tells me he’s coming to the States and will be landing in New York in two weeks.

“Why not Boston?” I say, “it’s closer.”

“Ah, Boston,” he says. “I was in love with a girl from Boston.”

“Really? I just interviewed a woman from Boston. She used to live in Rome. Her name was Anglea. Angela Peri.”

“Angela Peri! I know Angela!” (Pub Note:  A good friend of the girl Sergio was in love with.)

Why am I not surprised?... 


Vin Fraioli, born in Providence, is an author of numerous articles and the book, “Change of View.” He still lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two kids when not traveling around the world giving lectures and concerts as a classical guitarist. He is also a sometimes actor.