Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on your recent participation in the hit HBO docu-series, McMillions, as the fictionalized portrayal of “Jerry Colombo!” In portraying the role, what can you tell us about your experience in taking on the project?
Michael C. Pizzuto: Jerry Colombo was a man with many different sides to him. Sure, he was involved with numerous crimes throughout the years, but those who were closest to him remember his boisterous personality and humor more than anything. I wanted to make sure that I did justice to the real man, and listened to the descriptions from his real-life brother Frank Colombo. Jerry was known to be half Tony Soprano and half Rodney Dangerfield. Also a man who loved his family very much. In preparation for the shoot, I was allowed access to private home movies and got to see how he played and cared for his son. I was able to observe his walk, how he spoke to people, and how he stood up straight with his chest out to exude confidence. It may not be obvious unless you know my real face, but I had to wear a nose prosthetic each of the ten days I was on set. An extra hour of make up each morning was necessary to capture the small details that made Jerry who he was. And it really did help me become Jerry.
BD: In light of the high profile of the series’ focus, what can you tell us about your shared creative process in working with the crew and other actors and real-life interviewees in bringing the series to life?
MCP: Once I had a callback with the actress playing Robin Colombo, I knew we had creative chemistry. We improvised several scenes at the callback, and we both seemed to play very well off of each other. The directors had a vision of what each scene should look like and gave the cast an idea of what needed to happen. But since the recreations were unscripted, they really relied on the actors to have strong improv skills. We were extremely lucky to not only find actors who looked almost identical to the real-life interviewees, but also actors that could recreate a scene using improv each and every take, keeping it fresh and original.
BD: As an actor who has worked extensively on both screen and with voice-over work, do you find that you utilize different tools or skill sets when approaching an onscreen role versus one for voice-over?
MCP: To be honest, most voice-over roles don’t allow you to really do a lot of research. You are expected to bring a certain voice which was tried out during the audition, but, generally, you know very little about the character until the day of the recording. This is especially true for dubbing projects where you may play multiple roles in a single show. The director may decide on the day that you will play a certain role. And all you may get is a quick look of an image and a one or two-sentence description of the character. You would be expected to create a character on the spot and without much rehearsal (if any). Also, unless you are having your face videoed or body scanned for motion capture, voice acting requires a lot less physical acting. Many times, you need to create the full character without moving your feet from a very small set area which is directly in front of the microphone. So, learning how Jerry stood silently in front of strangers, or how he walked into a room was something that was very helpful to create a realistic live-action version of the man. But that likely wouldn’t be the case if I was just playing an animated version of him; however, several skill sets can exist in both live-action and voice work such as listening, reacting to what’s happening around you, and having the ability to adapt to every new scene that you’re in. Improv skills keep you on your toes and keep you from being thrown off of your game.
BD: What do you hope that viewers will take away from McMillions, and what makes TV and film such important mediums through which to connect with other characters and their stories?
MCP: If McMillions were only a podcast or radio broadcast, we would be robbed of seeing all of the amazing characters that this story brings to life on TV. Many of the interviewees are more fascinating in real life to watch and listen to than any character that most written shows give us on prime time television these days. I think McMillions does a good job of showing that it wasn’t all just fun and games with the people who were involved. Many lives were ruined, and greed kept the scam fueled for more than a decade. The show is not a documentary that will change society or make you re-think your life. But it is a fascinating tale of true crime and a scam that fooled millions of people for many many years. If you were somebody that used to play the game and always felt the heartache of being just “one piece away” from a million dollars, this series may make you feel better knowing that you never failed. It’s just that you never had a chance to begin with!
BD: Are there any other upcoming productions or projects that you are able to share with our readers?
MCP: I’m currently working on a few animation and video games, but those pesky NDAs get in the way every time and keep me from being able to tell people until its release. My most recent animation release, however, is Kengan Ashura on Netflix. I play the CEO Nogi, the evil mastermind behind an underground death match tournament. The show is based off of the popular manga, and fans have really been kind. I get a message on social media every day from people asking when the next episodes will drop.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about McMillions and your other work?
MCP: If you are a fan of McMillions, be sure to check out the podcast, as well. After each episode, the directors interview people involved in the show and also play deleted scenes.
For those who would like to follow me and my ongoing projects, you can follow me on Instagram (@michael_pizzuto), where I post updates all of the time.