Robert Capelli Jr. has a million-dollar smile and the charm to go with it. The good-looking and charismatic actor is also a filmmaker who does not sit around and wait for Hollywood to call him. Instead, he makes movies on his own (with the help from several partners) and stars in them.
Capelli is a lifelong Hoboken resident whose recent film "The Russian Job," will be screened this month at the internationally prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France. In the movie, shot almost two years ago in Hoboken and Moscow, Capelli plays a lovable kid from New Jersey in search of the Russian mail-order bride who ripped off his Mafia family patriarch.
The romantic comedy won "Best Feature Comedy" at this year’s Back East Film Festival in Hoboken, and features such actors as Vincent Pastore, Danny Aiello, Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling (formerly of the Howard Stern Radio Show), and Hobokenite Artie Lange, presently of the Howard Stern Show.
"The movie was a great learning experience and a dream come true," Capelli said during an interview last week. "After shoots I could go home and visit my family and friends."
As a result of "The Russian Job’s" success, Capelli is currently working on two projects, which he has co-written and are under development. He likes doing comedies, but his talents allow him to go beyond his previous roles, he said. He can do drama, and would like to someday star in a period piece about the Roman Empire.
"I would like to be known as a very versatile actor," he said. "I don’t want to be typecast in this business."
Broke out of the pack
N owadays, Capelli finds himself busy all the time, but life as an actor wasn’t always so hectic. When he first arrived on the scene in the mid-’90s, it seemed that the industry was saturated with young Italian actors trying to break into the business, he said. Knowing that he needed to differentiate himself from the competition, Capelli took intensive acting lessons in New York City, and eventually got a role in 1997 in the independent movie "Jeffrey," based on a play. The film became a cult classic. On the set, Capelli met several established actors like Patrick Stewart, Stephen Webber and Nathan Lane, which propelled enough momentum for him to roll on to future projects.
"We had a great cast and crew. I learned so much from them," he said.
Hollywood leading man
Capelli looks like a Hollywood leading man, and flexes well-toned pecs in "The Russian Job" during romantic scenes with the very attractive young Russian actress Ivana Milicevic.
Yet growing up in the mile-square city, he was a bit uncertain about his future as an actor, he said. Throughout his adolescence and early 20s, he felt that the odds of breaking into show biz were against him.
"Nobody thinks of Hoboken as this center for movie actors, so already I had felt adversity," he said.
After he graduated from Hoboken High School, he enrolled at Montclair State University. There, he earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural design in 1993, but more importantly, he experienced life outside his hometown, which he claims was extremely beneficial both culturally and intellectually.
"I met many different people while in college that allowed me see things in a different direction. It added to my experience," he said.
After college he had several jobs, but acting was his real interest. Growing up, he had admired people like Elvis Presley and Harrison Ford, and hoped to be like them one day. In 1995, he hooked up with an agent who helped him land small movie roles.
After "Jeffrey," he co-wrote the independent film "Rules for Men," which was released in 1999 on video and DVD.
The movie received some acclaim, winning "Best Comedy," and "Best Actor in a Comedy" for Capelli at the Atlantic City Film Festival. A year later, Capelli starred in the movie "The Russian Job." Mark Septembre was the film’s executive producer. Septembre and Capelli are cousins and worked together in "Rules for Men," so when the opportunity came to shoot "The Russian Job," they collaborated again. Capelli wrote the script and, with Septembre, initiated the movie-making process, which involved casting and directing.
The movie brought the young actor almost full circle, since the scenes in Hoboken were shot at Pier A Park and at locations downtown.
Capelli knew he had found a worthy co-star when he first spotted Milicevic.
"When we were casting for the movie, we saw her in an episode of a sit-com, and we said, ‘She’s the one,’" he said.
"The Russian Job" was fun, Capelli said, but the filming in Moscow was difficult since the American crew did not speak the language and they were on a tight budget. During a month in Russia, they shot scenes in Moscow’s Red Square and at several nightlife hotspots.
"The clubs in Moscow are crazy," he said.
When he is not shooting a movie or writing a script, Capelli hangs around in Hoboken. His mother and sister work in the city. And when he doesn’t go to the Jersey Shore for the weekends, he frequents the bars uptown, like Martini Blue.
"Grace does the best Cosmopolitans," he said, smiling.
In regards to the ladies, Capelli modestly says he "does alright," but prefers to spend time with his friends. After several years breaking into showbiz, Capelli has concluded that the best way to succeed is by taking chances.
"Don’t be afraid to take a risk," he said. "Live life every minute. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow."
Capelli’s web site is www.robertcapellijr.com. Look for him in several projects next year. q
The cover photo was taken by Dean J. Pellicano from DJP Photography in Hoboken.