RICH GRAFF, THE NEXT LEADING MAN
By George Wayne
Produced by Hillary Latos
Photography by Udo Spreitzenbarth
Photo editor Enri John Angeles
Stylist Tanya Tauthong-Kass
Assistant Stylist Kristine Lorraine Serrano
Hair Alexis Gould for Angelo David Salon | ELCHIM Milano
Makeup Brisha Hemby for Angelo David Salon | Laura Mercier Beauty
Manicurist Marjana Kryekurti for Angelo David Salon | OPI Products
Shot on location at The Printing House Townhouse Garden & MEWS
The New York born character actor Rich Graff is having a moment. Here he explains why…
GEORGE WAYNE – I can't believe you actually graduated from New York University with a degree in English Literature. Who would have thought. Talk about your life as a NYU student.
RICH GRAFF – I actually received my bachelors degree in Literature & Writing from a SUNY school in upstate New York. I received my law degree from NYU. For me, going to school in NYC was all about my education. I did my partying early in life; going to nightclubs by the time I was 16. So by the time I turned 19, I had been there and done that, and decided to really focus on getting an education. NYC nightlife was so much better back then than it is now. I don't even know if there are any true dance night clubs anymore.
GW – An acting career was clearly not your first choice or you would have gone to Tisch. So how did the acting career take off? Was it by lucky accident?
RG – I honestly feel going to college for any artistic discipline tends to stifle people's creativity. You often times have narrow minded teachers who believe in one or two theories and are unable to nurture and enable students to bring out the best of their own individual abilities. I credit my formal education in helping become a well read individual, however I was able to find several teachers in some of the best New York City acting studios who were able to help me find the true meaning of being vulnerable and make the story the most important part of my work. Wynn Handmann was very influential in my acting as was Peter Minor at T. Shrieber Studios. Penny Templeton was also a great teacher to work with.
GW – Which, of course, leads to your big break-out role as Lucky Luciano in the acclaimed AMC mini-series — Making The Mob. Talk about this and what it has done for your career.
RG – When an actor gets the lead role on a TV show for the first time one of two things usually happens. The actor can foolishly believe that the mere fact of having a leading role will automatically propel them to the leading roles in film. We've seen this time and time again. I knew this was my opportunity to kill it on site every single second. I work 40 hours, every day except weekends. Most days were 18 hour shoots. I gel with my colleagues and we became a family. The product to me was much more than just a leading role, it was the most important chapter in my acting career.
GW – How did you go about playing a legendary mobster?
RG – I wanted Lucky to have authenticity, charisma, and an understated elegance. To have played the role with any type of forced aggression would have been the weakest and easiest choice anyone could've made. When you are the King, you simply have to be!
GW – Coincidentally, you grew up in New York City mob enclave of Howard Beach. What was Rich Graff like as a fifteen year dude in that tough part of town?
RG – I grew up in Howard Beach Queens and my best friend's dad and older brothers ran the mafia in America. My best friend growing up was Peter Gotti, John Gotti's youngest son. I grew up around Riggio's three sons, and Jimmy Burke's son; Jimmy Burke is the real name of Robert De Niro's character in Goodfellas: Jimmy Conway. When your life is enveloped in that environment, you don't show off about it and you keep yourself close to the best at all times.
GW – Is it true you were a Gerber baby? Sounds like mere family myth. Talk about that.
RG – it's such an amazing story, I don't believe it sometimes. But as my parents were bringing me out of the hospital, several days after I was born, there was an agent who approached them and offered to put me on the Gerber label. There must've been a nurse or doctor or someone in that hospital who contacted this person and told him about this ugly, blonde haired, blue-eyed baby; wink-wink.
GW – Talk about your latest film role which debuts at the Palm Beach Film Festival. What is that about? Who is in it? The experience meant what for you?
RG – The name of the film is Black Wake and stars Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Nana Gouvea, and of course myself. It's an end of the world zombie film, which I never thought I would do, but Jeremiah Kipp had done such good work in the past, I jumped at the chance to work with him. And the film turned out to be amazing and the cast were absolutely professional.
GW – And word is that you are also a trained lawyer? ! Your IQ must be much more superior to that of Sharon Stone.
RG – I don't know, Sharon Stone has a heck of a pair of legs! But yes, my schooling definitely helped with my memory. When you study that long and that hard, you begin to have a photographic memory. And I'm glad I did, because now I don't have to sit and study a script very long.
GW – And you are also a producer. What have you produced and what are you currently working on in your capacity as a producer?
RG – I'm working on two films and two TV pilots. Amaranth is one of the films I am currently a producer on. It stars myself, Ryan Carnes, and several other young talented actors. It's a sci-fi post apocalyptic film, and the script is amazing. We are slated to begin filming in Mississippi within a year. The next film I'm working on is called Mr. Chicago based on a gentleman named Gary Goehl, who was the right-hand man to Mayor Daley of the 1960s era in Chicago. It's amazing how similar his life was to mine in the sense that he was a good guy trapped in a corrupt and murderous environment. Navigating his way through not only the Vietnam war as a young man, but murder and city corruption when he returned.
GW – You are the kind of character actor that the famous director Martin Scorsese would tend to nurture and cast in all his films. Why has that not happened?
RG- It will happen, I guarantee it. My goal is not only to work with Marty, but also with Ridley Scott whom I admire tremendously. There are some actors who get their beginnings through nepotism, but they never last. If there's one thing you cannot stop, it's pure natural talent!
GW – If you weren't an actor you would probably be an Olympic snowboarder. True or false.
RG- I did compete as a snowboarder, and I loved every minute of it. I've been on a mountain so high, I've snowboarded above the clouds! But as with any physical competition, your prime has a short shelf life. Storytelling, acting and entertaining have been something I've done from an early age. I was always the type of kid that would get up and perform a skit or just sing in front of a large strange crowd.
GW – Have you ever been to the slopes of gorgeous Whistler, Canada?
RG – I've been to Mount Trumbull and several other mountains in Canada but never Whistler, that's one I definitely want to go to. But the Alps in Europe are just as good. My favorite mountain is Tiegne in France.
GW – What would be your idea of apres ski?
RG – Sipping Evian with my sunglasses on, while laying on a lounge chair at 7000 feet above sea level, watching everyone else go up.
GW – One major acting talent you would love to work with and why?
RG – Robert DeNiro . People tend to forget he's done much more than just play a gangster. He gave an enormous performance as a mentally disabled patient in Awakenings alongside Robin Williams, who was also outstanding. He's another actor I wish I could've worked with.
GW – "People I grew up with are either in jail or protective custody,'' you once said. Do you feel blessed?
RG – I do feel blessed. Somehow, someway I was able to not be tempted by the lore of quick easy money. Most of my friends are dead or hidden away somewhere. I'm very glad my parents instilled an internal compass to do right and live my life toward a greater fulfillment
GW – I met Heather Graham once, on the set of the movie Boogie Nights, many, many years ago. What was it like working with her?
RG – Let me first say that I do not get starstruck by anyone, because we're all the same. But I was very excited when I was booked to play her boyfriend for My Dead Boyfriend. Keep in mind, John Corbett played the dead boyfriend. I played her boyfriend and her past. But Heather was great to work with and fun to hang out with. I remember practicing playing ourinstruments on set and Heather and I were making a mark of playing. Of course Anthony Edwards couldn't get mad at her, so he told me to keep it down and then Heather gave him a look, which I thought was so cool. In the end, Mr. Edwards used it in the film end and it made for a very funny scene.
GW – What movie were you shooting last year in Paris when you were on location there for weeks?
RG – I was lucky enough to work on a French film which loosely translated is titled My American Lover. I play a young graduate student who consistently attracts older married women who want to end their marriages to be with him. It's a great film and I can't wait to see it. Producers are intending to release it at Cannes next year.
GW – What would be the ideal career scenario for your next five years?
RG – I want to be in a position where I can pick and choose films with great scripts, real stories based on authentic human struggle and their successes. I also look forward to being part of the creative process. I've been lucky enough at this early stage of my career to have worked with directors that have given me freedom in rewriting scripts and assisting in directing scenes.
GW – What sort of charity and philanthropy are you involved in?
RG – I'm always involved in homeless shelters around New York City all year long. I also help in the parks department in creating an environmentally friendly environment. In the future, I hope to someday make enough money where I can assist underprivileged children get a great education at no cost.
GW – You also claim to be a fairly accomplished chef. What would you consider to be your most accomplished culinary skill?
RG – Absolutely! I was a latchkey kid, so both my parents didn't get home until 6 or 7 PM. I started cooking on my own when I was about seven. I also grew up in a very Italian home-I'm a first generation Sicilian-American, so my mother, aunts, and grandparents cooked every day and we had dinner at the same time together every night. Cooking for me is not just a mode to eating, but it's also therapeutic.
GW – What is your middle name?
RG – Carlogero. It's a very Sicilian name, my grandfather's name. But in English, it's simply Charles.
GW – Thank you Rich Graff for being such a good sport.
RG – Thank you very much GW. Great talking to you and your fans. Thank you for having me!