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John Palumbo

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John Palumbo

Role: John Manfredi, a mob enforcer

Project: 'Bottom Feeder,' a SAG short film, and 'Bronx Paradise,' a SAG ultra-low-budget feature film

For his latest role, SAG actor John Palumbo didn't really have to prepare to get into character; he just had to play a part that he says he felt like he already knew inside and out. Raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, another Italian-American kid from Mulberry Street, Palumbo has made a career playing New York characters: cops and criminals, gangsters and tough guys, in films and TV shows like Law & Order and Oz.

When he saw a casting notice in Back Stage East for a short film called Bottom Feeder, Palumbo knew he was the only actor who could play John Manfredi, described in the casting notice as a "muscular nut job and mob enforcer" in the Bronx. The character is based on the best friend of the film's writer-director Wayne Gurman, who stars as himself in this day-in-the-life story.

"He called me up," Gurman recalls, "and he goes, 'Wayne, this is my part. I'm the guy, and no one can play this part better than me. No one knows this type of character better than me.' So I liked him already. The fact that he believed in himself made me believe."

Gurman, who has been working as an actor for over a decade and also found his first work in student films and independent shorts from Back Stage casting notices, says Palumbo "looked the part, he talked the part, and he knew the type of people that were like this. He was perfect for the role."

Bottom Feeder is the first film Gurman has written or directed, and it led to the feature film Bronx Paradise, again written by Gurman and based on events in his own life. Gurman cast the short film and the feature through Back Stage.

After completing work on Bottom Feeder, Palumbo reprised his role as John Manfredi in Bronx Paradise. In fact, Palumbo convinced Gurman to expand the part from one scene to a co-starring performance. "Usually a writer-director wants to keep all the good stuff for themselves," Palumbo says, "but Wayne had a lot of confidence in me, and he knew I was gonna bring it." Actors such as Arthur Nascarella (The Sopranos), Karen Lynn Gorney (Saturday Night Fever), and Thomas Jefferson Byrd (prolific film actor and 2003 Tony Award nominee for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) appear opposite Palumbo in vignette-style scenes in the film about a guy trying to escape his rough life in the Bronx.

Palumbo says he doesn't mind being typecast as an Italian-American tough guy. In fact, he hopes for it: "I want them to typecast me. That means I'm working. I'd love to play other parts, but until then I'm very happy to be playing those New York characters. I can make them come to life."

Bottom Feeder won the award for best short screenplay at the 2006 New York Independent Film & Video Festival. Bronx Paradise is currently in the final stages of postproduction, and Gurman intends to travel the festival circuit this year while he seeks distribution for the film.

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