Who knew an accidental acting career could lead to a big time role alongside Robert DeNiro? Actor Michael J. Panichelli Jr. sure didn’t.

The 60-year-old Millville resident landed the role of “Billy the Bug,” a mafia hit man, in DeNiro’s new film, “The Family.” According to IMDB, in “The Family,” “a mafia boss and his family are relocated to a sleepy town in France under the witness protection program after snitching on the mob.”

Born in Camden, Panichelli has been a Millville resident since 2000. He got into acting in 1998 when he took his then girlfriend, now wife’s daughter to a Pleasantville modeling agency. One of the gentlemen at the agency told him he had “a good look.” He retired from his main job at the New Jersey Department of Corrections in 2001 when he broke his neck in a fight with an inmate 21 months earlier.

Panichelli attended an audition in New York to land a role in “The Family.” After director Luc Besson called him back in and signed him, Panichelli was off to shoot in France for 13 days. Panichelli ended up in 37 scenes of the movie which released in theaters last Friday.

Panichelli says the experience was “incredible” and that he was “very blessed to get it.”

“If I never do anything else in my life, it was a fairy tale for me,” Panichelli said. “That’s what it was.”

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