In a modern film industry driven by summer blockbusters, visuals can often overshadow the idea of good storytelling.
But the new Lionsgate comedy About my fathernow in theaters, a story-driven film is defined by ideas like authenticity and strong character development.
Directed by Laura Terruso from a script written by comedian Sebastian Maniscalco and Austen Earl, About my father yearning for acceptance when cultures collide, the importance of family serving as the film’s dramatic heart.
Maniscalco is the son of Italian immigrants, an idea central to the film, and legendary Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro portrays his father Salvo, a hairstylist who instills a work ethic while raising a family in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
“Laura has been fantastic. She comes from an Italian-American background,” Maniscalco explained of the director’s natural embrace of About my father during a red carpet premiere event in Chicago earlier this month. “The way she presented it when we interviewed her, she brought in visual elements: what the characters would wear, where this would be filmed, what some of the sets would look like. I thought, ‘Gee, if she does all this just to get the job, what will she do when she has the job?’ So she’s been absolutely amazing. It was really a pleasure working with her,” the comedian said of his experience shooting the film.
“Our director, Laura Terruso, she’s a writer as well as a director,” added co-star Kim Cattrall, who portrays Tigger, the mother of the comedian’s fiancee in the film. “So she’d shout things out — sometimes in Italian to Bob, and he’d repeat them back. So sometimes I didn’t know what the hell was going on. But it was fun!” she said, highlighting the director’s relationship with De Niro. “I felt like everyone was relaxed enough and not afraid to have a suggestion or add something to the scene, whether it was physically or with dialogue. So it felt like a very collaborative experience — which I think is what improv is. I think that really kept it very alive.”
I spoke with Laura Terruso on the red carpet at Chicago’s AMC River East before a special screening of About my father on her reaction to Maniscalco’s script, keeping a rom-com on track and the importance of storytelling. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.
Jim Ryan: What was your initial reaction to Sebastian and Austin’s script?
Laura Terruso: I absolutely loved it. I read it and I immediately jumped out of my seat and said, “I have to direct this!” It was the first time in my career that has happened. And that’s because I felt so close to the material. It is about Sebastian’s relationship with his father, who is a Sicilian immigrant. My mother is a Sicilian immigrant. And so immediately I felt such a closeness to the characters and the world and the story. And I knew I could be the perfect director for it.
Ryan: Sometimes a rom-com can veer off into a cheesy or hokey direction. How do you keep it on track?
Terruso: I think that there is such a dedication to authenticity with this project. Because it is based on Sebastian’s actual life and experiences. And when you work with Robert De Niro, that’s number one. So by doing that, I think that’s what kept it from being too cheesy or too cheesy.
Ryan: In this age where everything seems to revolve around summer tentpoles and Marvel franchises, all of these reboots, sometimes it seems like storytelling takes a back seat to how a movie looks. How important was the idea of storytelling to you in directing About my father?
Terruso: That’s it. I wanted to make a film that kind of harkened back to the films that made me want to be a director. Those ’90s movies: directors like Mike Nichols and Penny Marshall – those kind of just great, character-driven stories. And I’m so grateful that we can show this movie in theaters, and I hope people come out to see something where the whole family can watch it together.