by Betty Dravis
Betty Dravis: Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Tony. It’s a pleasure to have such a talented man from the film industry with us today. Actress Katherin Kovin Pacino recommended you to me for this interview. Of course, everyone has heard of you—you’re a household name–but I visited your websites to learn more about you. Among many other things, you’re an actor, a screenwriter, director and also have your own production company. Very impressive, indeed…
As you know, my interviews (and those of my co-author Chase Von) are all about high achievers who aren’t afraid to dream big and to act upon those dreams to see them to fulfillment. Since you’re so successful in all you do, you are a perfect fit for our book, and that’s why I’m delighted you agreed to be in Dream Reachers: Vol. 2 when it goes to press. Thanks so much.
Tony, I have so many questions for you… I had no idea where to begin, but then I read something on your MySpace website that made it easy. You wrote: “The film industry has been our way of life for generations.” You also spoke about your father Dominic being successful in silent films, speaking of him as “an original cowboy actor.” That certainly takes us back in time and I’d like to hear more about him. How and when did he get started and did that lead to your acting and, subsequently, to your son Quentin’s interest in the movie industry?
Tony Tarantino: You’re right, Betty, acting has been in our family since my father Dominic appeared in several Westerns with stars such as Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson and Fred Thompson. That was in the thirties…
I grew up listening to my dad tell his stories about Hollywood, the people he worked with and many of the ones he met. This started as far back as I can remember. Just from listening to his stories I knew I wanted to be an actor. I can’t speak for Quentin, but I caught the acting bug from my father. It must be in the genes. (laughs)
Betty Dravis: It sounds like you had an interesting, adventurous childhood, Tony, and your fans are happy you followed in your father’s footsteps. I hope you write a book one day, recounting some of those stories about old-time actor friends of your father. Thanks for sharing the photo of him riding the horse of famous cowboy actor Tom Mix. That must be a family treasure. I bet you laughed out loud when you learned the name of the horse was “Tony.” (laughs)
Your father sounds like quite a guy! I remember watching cowboy movies when I was a kid; it was mostly Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in my day, but I recall seeing Tom Mix, Tex Ritter and some of the others too.
But moving on, if I recall correctly, your first acting role was in Where the Boys Are when you were eighteen. You’ve been in many movies since then—including Blood Money, Holy Hollywood, All the Rage, and Family Tree. Do you know the exact count…or roughly? I know you have much experience and have honed your craft to perfection. Can you describe your emotions when you landed that first role? We’ll get into the details of your production company later.
Tony Tarantino: I believe the count to date is about sixty films… I was happy to land that first role, but I may have been even happier when I auditioned for and was accepted into the Pasadena Playhouse after graduating from LA’s Washington High School. That’s a long way from my hometown; I was born in Queens, New York and raised in Brooklyn. If my parents had not moved me and my sister Diane to Los Angeles in 1952, my life might have taken a different course.
Betty Dravis: Tony, I can’t believe all the skills you learned at Pasadena Playhouse: acting, modern dance, guitar, singing, etc. You even played guitar and sang folk songs in local coffeehouses…for the joy of it and for tips. I bet those tips came in handy for a young student.
But all that wasn’t enough for a fun-loving, ambitious young man like you! You wanted to be as well-rounded as possible to land as many roles as you could, so you also earned a pilot’s license; became proficient in Western quick-draw; won awards for marksmanship with handguns and rifles; earned a black belt in Karate and Kung-Fu; became skilled with bow and arrow, even touring with the Malibu Roving Archers. Do I dare mention: boxing, tennis, swimming and playing accordion?
I confess it blew my mind when I learned about all your early achievements. That’s awesome and I bet that list isn’t complete, is it? (laughs)
Tony Tarantino: Well, Betty, I did do a few more things… (laughs) I love music and that led me to form several bands where I played lead, rhythm and bass guitar in supper clubs and night-clubs in Los Angeles and the South Bay area. Those were heady years. We had a lot of fun back in the day.
More recently, I produced a television interview show, co-hosted a radio talk show and in 1998 worked on four films, starring in one. There is more, but I don’t want to bore you…
Betty Dravis: The path to success isn’t easy, is it, Tony, and you are anything but boring. (laughs) I enjoy all your show biz stories. In fact, you’re being modest not to mention some colossal awards you have earned: in 2001 you took home the coveted Los Angeles Music Awards “50 Years Tribute to the Sunset Strip” for your contribution to music spanning your career. The award was given out at the Whiskey A Go-Go. It must have been fun to go back to where you also played on many occasions. Also winning awards that evening were Gary Busey (for his Buddy Holly portrayal), Peter Tork of The Monkees, Jackie Shannon and Ollie Woodson of The Temptations, David Gates of Bread, Chuck Negron and Lenny Williams of Tower of Power, Devo, and Larry Flynt for the Freedom of Speech Award.
You certainly were in good company, to say the least… What a night that must have been! And to go down in musical history that way is incredible!
Tony, you have proved that the road to success can be fun and rewarding. I’m glad you enjoyed the journey to where you are today. All of those skills blend together to form the accomplished actor, director, screenwriter, songwriter and producer that you are today…so that’s a good thing…
You also won Best Comedy Drama at The San Fernando Valley International Film Festival (VIFFI) Awards in 2004. And in January, 2010 you hosted Elvis – Happy 75th at the Grove Theatre in Upland. On the bill was Elvis tribute artist Sage Matthew Vincent and actor/belly dancer Tanya Lemani who performed the role of Little Egypt in Presley’s 1968 NBC comeback special. (For you Elvis fans, a clip of that dance can be found on YouTube.)
Another well-received project you did in 2000 was an exercise video, Silver Foxes, with the lovely actress Stefanie Powers. I hear that the real Silver Foxes is actually a group of celebrity parents: you, father of Quentin; the late Sal Pacino, father of Al; Patsy Swayze, mother of the late Patrick; Jenny Crawford, Cindy’s mom; Christine Johnson, Magic’s mom; and Nikki Robbins, Tony Robbins’ mother. I understand that Silver Foxes is the brainchild of producer David Krieff. That video must have been a change of pace for you. Do any of you ever get together now?
Tony Tarantino: Thanks for mentioning some of my awards, Betty. And as for seeing my co-actors in Silver Foxes, no, I haven’t… We are so far apart in distance, it’s not easy to do, but we have spoken on the phone on many occasions. I think I have spoken to Patsy the most because she is here in Southern California. Sal Pacino and I were real close, almost like father and son, until his passing in 2005.
Betty Dravis: Katherin Kovin Pacino also told me that you and Sal were very close; belated condolences on his passing.
And it’s understandable that you don’t see the others so much, Tony. It’s a crazy world nowadays with everyone carrying such heavy loads… That video sounds like a clever idea. We all admire strong, caring parents and their successful offspring. And the entire world fell in love with Stefanie Powers when she starred in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and the TV show Hart to Hart with the esteemed actor Robert Wagner. I read that her latest is a Hallmark TV movie Meet My Mom. It’s heartening to know she is still active.
Do you still exercise using the Power Pilates techniques of stretch and relaxation as featured in the video, or how do you stay in such fine shape?
Tony Tarantino: Stefanie Powers is a great actress and a wonderful woman. I’ve had the pleasure to interface with her on several occasions.
But as for an exercise regimen, no, unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to work out as I should. To keep in shape, I used to exercise with personal trainer P.J. Bowen, and I trained for boxing with Hervi Estrada. I keep telling myself I have to get back to it. Once you stop, it’s real hard to start back.
Betty Dravis: Well, you certainly appear to be in great shape. At six feet, one, with your natural lankiness, many men must envy you…
But on with the interview, I know you wish to keep much about your family private and I honor that. I saw a video of a reporter questioning you about Quentin, and you said, “I have great respect for my son. He’s probably the finest filmmaker of our time… Definitely the most copied artist of all time.” Is there anything else you’d like to share about your family?
Tony Tarantino: I have four children: Edward James, Tanya Marie, Ronnajean and Quentin. I’m very proud of them all. You have my permission to use photos of them, Betty, and any photos from my various websites, but I would rather not comment about my family at present.
Betty Dravis: I understand, Tony, and it’s generous of you to offer use of your photos. I saw one of your mother Elizabeth that I will definitely use. Was she an actress, too? She was certainly beautiful enough for leading roles.
Tony Tarantino: Thank you for the kind words, Betty. No…my mom was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. She never was an actress. She devoted all her time, her love and her energy to my sister Diane and me.
Betty Dravis: Thanks for sharing about your mom, Tony. From the way you and Diane developed into good, caring adults, your mother was undoubtedly a fine role model.
But speaking of beautiful women, I saw a YouTube video in which a TV personality is questioning you and that gorgeous actress Susan Kennington at a Charity Masquerade Party (supporting the leukemia, cancer cause). In the video you two spoke about the projects you were working on at the time. You mentioned that you were producing Prism, based on the book Color of the Prism by Thomas J. Nichols. I know it often takes years to finish a film, but can you tell us a little about the progression of the filming? (For our readers, the video link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yx6wI6WBoNs)
I also read in a Las Vegas newspaper about you having three films in pre-production, including Prism. We’ll get into the other two below, but for now tell us about Prism and when we can expect to see the premiere. Also, for an outsider like me, explain the difference between “in production” and “in pre-production.”
Tony Tarantino: Like everyone in the industry, I enjoy talking about my films, Betty. Prism is a large budget film and that makes it a bit harder to finance. On this film I’m the screenwriter, director and also play a supporting role. Prism is a blending of fact and fiction into a journey of intrigue, love, betrayal, greed and tragedy; a present-day police thriller set on the Arizona-Mexican border. Prism is in pre-production.
The difference between in production and pre-production is: Pre-production is where you put all the pieces together–the cast, the crew and all that’s involved in the actual production. Production is when you have started principal photography.
Thanks for explaining about production and pre-production… Now I get it! And your description of Prism stirs my writer’s imagination; I can’t help anticipating in what direction the plot will go. I look forward to seeing all your movies, but that one really intrigues me.
Since Susan Kennington acts and writes for some of your movies, is it too fresh of me to ask if you and she are an “item,” as they say in Hollywood? She certainly is a gorgeous woman and I hear she’s a fine actress too. I haven’t had the good fortune to see her on film yet, but I hope to remedy that in the near future. I’ve chatted with her on Facebook and she seems to be such a fascinating, down-to-earth, caring woman. Since she’s so gorgeous and glamorous, I have to chuckle at her calling herself a “girly tomboy sporting stiletto boots.” What a woman! In fact, I relate to her so much I actually landed her interview for this book. (laughs)
Tony Tarantino: I’m glad you chose Susan for this book, too, Betty. She deserves all the accolades she can get! I enjoy sharing about her… Susan and I are very close friends. She’s a very talented actress, a wonderful person and we work well together. We attend many networking functions and red-carpet events together to promote the work we are doing as a team and the work we do as individuals.
Betty Dravis: Thanks for clearing that up. We can’t have too many good friends…
Next, I’m dying to know about your other projects, but before you enlighten us I’d like to know what motivated you to switch from acting to directing and producing. When did you start your own production company?
Tony Tarantino: My dad and I started Tarantino Productions in 1958 as a general partnership. I didn’t incorporate it till after his passing. I consider myself a storyteller, and acting and directing are big parts of telling a story. As a younger man I concentrated on acting. As I got older, strong parts became harder to come by. If you are a major star, an A-list actor, then it’s not a problem. I haven’t made it to that point, but have always been happy just to be part of the process in any way I could.
I have come to love the directing and producing end of the business, but must admit that directing and producing is no gravy train. You’ve got to be quick witted in this business and never underestimate anything.
Betty Dravis: I love the way you express your “feel” for your industry, Tony. I feel the same way about writing… When you dream, you dream BIG! You know what you want and you go for it! Our motto with our Dream Reachers books is: Only those who stretch to reach their dreams find themselves living them. That describes you: you set your goals and certainly stretch to reach them. No wonder you are such an outstanding Dream Reacher.
Would you please give us the inside scoop about your movies?
Tarantino Signs On For Three Films
… The second film, The Keeper, is also in pre-production and is scheduled to start shooting as soon as Prism is completed filming. In this production, Tony has been contracted to direct this true story of Richard Etheridge, born into slavery in 1842, who rises to national heroism during a time of racial prejudice and discrimination in America.
Third is Death Keeps Coming, with Tony as producer. This 1880s Western with a supernatural twist stars Martin Kove. (Best known for his role in all four Karate Kid films.)
Betty Dravis: Those movies all sound like winners to me. I can’t wait to see them. It will be years of hard work, but I wish you all success with each of them.
Now to take a short break from the film industry, I have a lighter question this time: If it were possible to spend the day with anyone throughout history, who would you choose…and why?
Tony Tarantino: Well, this is an easy one for me, Betty. I’d like to spend time with Christopher Columbus because I enjoy adventure and travel. I love America and would have enjoyed being part of the discovery of this great country. My ancestry is Italian, but I’m a second generation American. I’m very proud of my father Dominic who was a WWII Marine and served on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.
Betty Dravis: That’s a great answer, Tony. It was men like your father who gave so much to assure our freedom. Thanks for sharing that.
Your choice of whom to spend the day with is fitting. You and Christopher Columbus would have had a lot to talk about; with your entrepreneurial spirit and inquisitive natures, you have much in common.
And now, Tony, for a little “fun” question. Most people have had embarrassing moments at some time in their lives. Have you? If so, please share one of them with us. As we all like movies, we also like a good laugh from time to time.
Tony Tarantino: I was at a party and a well-known actor whom I have since come to know came up to me and said: “Hi, Tony,” and I called him by the wrong name. Not only was it the wrong name, but it was the name of another well-known actor. I can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t funny then.
Betty Dravis: OMG, that’s what they call a grand faux pas. That would be embarrassing, but since you became friends later, that actor must have had a good sense of humor and a bit of humility. (laughs)
But moving on, I hear that you have a beautiful home in the hills of Southern California. I bet you hated to leave all that when you recently traveled to Italy on business and to visit friends. Do you travel abroad extensively?
I know in younger days you raised and trained horses and enjoyed a bit of roping and cutting, but how do you relax at home now? Also tell us a little about your work with Screen Actors Guild.
Tony Tarantino: I wouldn’t say I travel extensively, but I do manage to get away occasionally. Yes, I do miss my home when traveling, but Italy is beautiful and I enjoy my times there.
I also write screenplays, so I do a lot of writing and business from my home. That’s relaxing, in its own way. You, as a writer, must know that… As for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), at one time I volunteered three hours a week reading to K-3 classes as part of their BookPALS program. I haven’t read to them for a while because I can only do it between films, but it’s fun to help the children learn to read and to appreciate books. I miss it when I can’t do it; kids have a way of keeping us grounded.
Betty Dravis: I’m sincerely impressed by the caliber of the talented professionals you work with. Incredible!
And I admire you for helping the future generations, Tony. Paying it forward is a wonderful thing to do…a great way to show your appreciation for your blessings. But now we’re nearing the end of this interview, so before I tell our readers where they can contact you, is there anything I missed that you’d like to share today?
And what advice do you have for young people just getting started in acting and/or filmmaking?
Tony Tarantino: I don’t think you missed much, Betty. (laughs) And the advice I give to all young people is: “You don’t lose until you quit.”
Betty Dravis: Well, that may be short, but it’s good, solid advice, Tony. It’s been a real treat to chat with you. You’re inspiring! I certainly learned more about you and the movie business; I’m sure our readers will enjoy you as much as I do. We will be watching for your new movies. (Might I add that you have a charming Italian accent with a hint of French for good measure?)
I like this line from your website: TonyTarantino.com is your online source for everything Tarantino. Watch his latest trailers, see his production calendar, order merchandise, get the inside Hollywood dish and famous celebrity news articles right here.
That said, this is the perfect place to share more links where fans and friends can reach you:
Thanks again, Tony, for this open, honest interview. I find you to be an intelligent, well-spoken man of the world and I’m sure our readers will agree.
Ciao, as you always say, and God bless you and your impressive volume of works. We have thousands of words in this interview and I never even touched on your screenplay New Horizons that you wrote with Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta Jones in mind for the lead roles. Perhaps we can do this again sometime.
Now, as they say in your industry, “That’s a wrap”” or in mine, “Let’s put this baby to bed!” (laughs)
Stay in touch…
Tony Tarantino: That’s a deal…and thanks, Betty. It’s been real fun and I’d love to do it again… perhaps when one of my movies is a wrap. I’m juggling a lot of plates at the moment, but this was an enjoyable interlude. Ciao…