In the summer of 2006, I was invited to attend a production of All’s Well That Ends Well in Central Park.
It was Shakespeare in the Park, but not the way Joseph Papp had imagined it. Because in addition to an ear for iambic pentameter, comfortable shoes were the main requisite for enjoying this mobile theater experience, which required the audience to follow the actors from one location to the next.
Once I got past the awkward stares from passersby wondering what on earth was unfolding, the setup made for an engaging experience. What really struck me was the way in which some of the actors, and one in particular—Vince Nappo, playing the scoundrel Parolles—made it easy to forget about the noise around us and instead just lock in on the performance.
A year later, I saw Nappo perform again, when he turned in two powerful performances opposite Oscar-winning actor F. Murray Abraham in a double bill of The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice.
“Vince Nappo is an actor I connected with immediately because of his devotion to the craft,” says Abraham. “His preparation was impressive, but one of the things that we shared, which is unfortunately so rare among so-called serious actors, is a genuine sense of humor, no matter how heavy the play. This to me indicates a maturity beyond his years.”
Earlier this year, the Michigan native—who earned his MFA at the National Theatre Conservatory and studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama—made the jump to the big screen, with a small but memorable role in Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends With Kids, as a blind date from hell.
Though brief, the scene allowed Nappo more than enough time to showcase his unique ability to forge an immediate and lasting connection with the audience. It’s clearly Nappo’s first feature in a long career ahead.
Jennifer Wood (MM): What’s the biggest challenge in being a working actor?
Vince Nappo (VN): There’s never enough work. (laughs) Keeping a positive attitude can be a challenge, but I think there’s a balance. I think it’s okay to brood a little when you don’t get something, as long as it doesn’t become terminal. It’s hard to not take the rejection personally. I try to hold on to a fraction of it and use it for fuel.
MM: What’s the most pleasurable part of being an actor?
VN: For me it’s the connection with the audience, which is obviously different from project to project. Some plays are a laugh every other second, and that’s an incredible connection and bond to feel. There’s some sort of magic in that connection that I can’t really describe—whether it’s a laugh or a gasp.
MM: So the experience of being on the set of Friends With Kids must have been very different for you. What was the most surprising thing you learned?
VN: Friends With Kids was an incredible learning experience. I had a scene with Jennifer Westfeldt, but there was no dialogue in the script, just a description: We were on a date and I wouldn’t shut up. And I was talking and eating at the same time.
I knew we were probably going to improv dialogue, as we did at the audition. But I was supposed to be an investment banker and I did not know what the hell I was going to talk about. So I did some research and wrote a little story that I’d tell her on this date.
But when I got on the set, I was a little nervous. Jon Hamm and Adam Scott were walking past me and I’d spent most of the day sitting next to Megan Fox in hair and makeup. I sat down at the table where Jennifer and I were going to shoot and all I could think was that, ‘I’ve done my work. And if it fits, I should try to use the stuff I wrote.’ Extras started coming in and food was being brought out. Then Jennifer sat down across from me and, of course, was amazing. And so friendly.
We started chatting and I started to relax. But I kept thinking, ‘Tell her you wrote something.’ Literally seconds before we started shooting, I told her that I had written something and she said, “Go for it.” So I did.
So we shot the first take. The first time they yelled “Cut,” the whole crew busted out laughing. Then Jennifer started laughing, leaned across the table and told me, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” We shot for maybe 45 minutes. And each time we did a take, the crew laughed more and more. It was an amazing feeling.
I remember walking home that night and thinking, ‘This is huge.’ Not the film work necessarily, but that I trusted myself. I almost didn’t say anything about having written something, and that would have been such a mistake. This was a great opportunity for me. I knew that even if I didn’t make it into the film, I had succeeded. In a big way. I had climbed a mountain.
MM: Who is one other director with whom you’d like to work?
VN: I would love to work with Peter Hedges. I was able to help him out with auditions for his upcoming film The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, and it was an incredible experience. He is one of the most sincere and down-to-earth people I’ve met in this business.
Someone once told me that performing should be an event. And a celebration. I get the sense that Peter’s films are like that. He seems so grateful to be doing what he’s doing. It translates, because his work is gorgeous. MM
Visit http://www.VinceNappo.com for more information.