When the new Hollywood movie “Fame” opens in theaters in September, Secaucus residents will notice a familiar face among the cast. Young Secaucus native Paul Iacono is co-starring in the ensemble film about students at New York City’s Professional Performing Arts School.
Those old enough to remember leg warmers and massive shoulder pads – the last time they were in fashion – will likely also remember “Fame” in its earlier incarnation as a 1980 film directed by Alan Parker. Made in the same era as “Flashdance,” “Footloose,” and “Grease,” “Fame” was one of those movies that featured catchy, toe-tapping songs and had Regular Joes trying to move like John Travolta and Kevin Bacon. It spawned a TV series and a hit album.
But the new version, with Iacono, isn’t a remake of the original. Instead, “Fame” 2009, directed by Kevin Tancharoen, attempts to speak to the lives and aspirations of the “High School Musical” generation.
“I hope to be an actor who can convincingly ‘become’ the role that I’m playing.” – Paul Iacono
Iacono beat out hundreds of other young actors to snag a role in the film.
Always a performer
Iacono, the son of Secaucus resident Michele Iacono and former Town Administrator Anthony Iacono, grew up as a child actor and showed an interest in being on stage early on.
His new role may give him the most exposure yet.
“I just didn’t fit in with the other kids in Secaucus.” – Paul Iacono
This flair for the dramatic had a downside, though.
“I just didn’t fit in with the other kids in Secaucus,” Paul admitted. “I felt like a giant blue elephant in this world where I didn’t belong. Other kids were into things I guess regular kids are into. But I was into movies and I wanted to talk to other kids my age who knew Jack Nicholson’s entire filmography, who could list his entire filmography in chronological order. And I just felt there were no kids around me in Secaucus who were like me.”
After attending Clarendon School and Secaucus Middle School, Iacono wanted something different.
“I remember I was very depressed,” Iacono said. “And I think my parents could see that. They knew I wasn’t happy. I had to leave in order to be happy, to find someplace where I’d fit in.”
Fortunately for him, he has an aunt who is a New York City resident. Iacono lived with his aunt for several months to establish residency status. Then he was able to enroll in the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan. Iacono, who turns 21 in September, graduated in 2006.
Coming full circle
As a graduate of the very high school depicted in “Fame,” Iacono said it was odd returning to his alma mater, which was used as the backdrop of several scenes.
“It was a little surreal,” he admitted, “to be going back to my old performing arts school as a professional actor, but playing the role of a student, which I had just been a few years ago.”
Iacono’s insight helped the director add realistic details to various scenes.
“Neil was very open to my input,” Iacono said. “Like, when you’re at PPAS, you’ll see dance student doing pirouettes down the hallway, or you’ll see drama students practicing a scene from a play during lunch or between class. The creativity isn’t contained inside the classroom. It spills out all over the place. So I’d mention that to Neil and he added some of that to scenes in the movie.”
Overcame cancer, reaching for dreams
Since 1995, he has had parts in several movies and soap operas and he believes he has already made a successful transition from child actor to adult actor. Iacono doesn’t think he’ll succumb to the pitfalls that have plagued other former child actors, perhaps because a battle with childhood leukemia has already forced him to put his career in perspective.
While the young actor’s struggles with the cancer were chronicled in this newspaper during the 1990s, Iacono now wants to focus on the positive rather than dwelling on his earlier fight (and victory) against the disease.
With this battle behind him he said he is getting closer to his theatrical dreams.
“I certainly want to be a working actor, and I think that is part of the definition of a successful actor,” said Iacono, who lists Nicholson, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Giovanni Ribisi among his favorite performers. “I hope to be an actor who can convincingly ‘become’ the role that I’m playing. When you see Tom Cruise in something, you’re watching Tom Cruise as a pilot, or Tom Cruise as a sports agent. I prefer performances were you forget about the actor, and lose yourself in the character and plot.”
While “Fame” may be poised to be a high wattage, Hollywood rollout, Iacono is also expanding his acting chops in independent films too.
Recently he was in Wisconsin filming “No God, No Master.” Directed by Terry Green and due out next year, the film is a retelling of the Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti case. Italian immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted and sentenced to death for robbery and killing a security guard in 1927. Many still question whether the men were, in fact, guilty of the crimes and have long argued that they were scapegoated because they were immigrants.
“It’s very powerful film and I’m really proud to be a part of that project,” Iacono said. “It’s the kind of movie that I think could generate a lot of intense debate among people who see it.”
And much like his character in “Fame,” Iacono, who currently lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is also working on a script of his own. He hopes to have a public reading for the untitled project sometime this fall.
“It isn’t autobiographical,” he insisted, “but it is based on a young struggling actor.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.