‘Green Book’ interview: NJ’s Frank Vallelonga talks racism, respect, family
"Green Book," starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen chronicles the journey of Tony Vallelonga and Don Shirley made in 1962 through the deep South. It's nominated for 5 Oscars including Best Picture.
Update: This post was originally published Jan. 24. Green Book won best picture at the Oscars Sunday night.
"Green Book," is the story Tony Vallelonga, an Italian from the Bronx who was a tough guy, bouncer at the Copa, a boxer, basically a guy you don't mess with him and Don Shirley, an accomplished concert pianist lived, speaks 8 languages, on top of Carnegie Hall, Shirley hires Tony to be his bodyguard, going through the south. They're two very different people who end up understanding so much about each other because of how close they became.
You may also remember Tony Vallelonga AKA Tony Lipp as Carmine Lupertazzi from the Sopranos. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 82. Tony's son Frankie, who plays his Uncle Rudy Vallelonga in the movie, came on my show to talk about his father.
How much of this story did your father tell you growing up?
"Well growing up, he told the story," Frank said. "We'd be sitting around the table and he would tell us about the trip, the story, Don Shirley...this is a story that we knew and my brother [Nick] put it on paper and the rest is history. We heard the stories for many years."
How close was the movie to that story?
"It was 100% accurate," Frank said. "Nick interviewed Dr. Don Shirley at Carnegie Hall a couple of different times, maybe more I'm not 100% sure... he got it word for word from Don Shirley."
How did this story shape your views on racism growing up?
"Growing up in the house as you see in the movie, you always heard those Italian racial remarks," Frank said. "From that point on, after that trip, you can never say a thing about a black person or any other race."
Sebastian Maniscalco is in the movie as well. Was he cracking you up on the set with his Italian material or getting more material from the experience of working with you guys?
"When he came to the set, [he] very, very serious." Frank said. "Very into his part. Pretty like, yanno to himself. When we were off set, he would unwind we were laughing. We're pretty funny too yanno, my brother me and the way we talk, so we were all cracking each other up. It was good."
What should we take away from the film?
"Like I said, it's a true story. It's something that I think everybody should go see, whether you're young or old. It's about relationships, it's about respect. What you should take away from the film is that, no matter what differences you have or what your outlook is on life. If you can sit down and talk and get to know somebody, you may have differences but, if you can talk about it, people are people. We all like the same things, family, kids and you have to respect one another. It's all about respect."
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