Michael Attardi’s new film toes the line between humor and violence.
Award-winning director Michael Attardi is a stickler for timing in comedy. In a genre whose success relies on perfect delivery, it’s vital that the jokes are delivered with that in mind - even when that film is about the mafia and murder. It’s maintaining this balance between comedic gags and mob violence that Attardi brings to the table in his new movie, Numba One, currently in production.
Attardi claims his emphasis on timing comes from his background in animation. An animator must anticipate actions and reactions of his characters, and if he spends too much time on either, then the viewer may lose their attention in the film. Attardi understands this concept well, and has proven himself as a leader in the field. He has won more than 60 awards for his 2007 animated film Once Upon a Christmas Village including 11 Telly awards and 1st runner-up for “Best Animation” at the Cannes Film Festival. But now, Attardi is trying something new and jumping into the world of live action with Numba One, a mafia-driven comedy.
“[With this film,] we don’t want to be like everyone else. We want to do something that is fresh and something that no one else has done,” Attardi, who wrote the film’s screenplay, says.
Numba One’s concept originated with his father’s stories. Attardi’s father, a decorated Korean war veteran, provided the inspiration for the film with two seemingly unrelated tales from his life. One involved twin brothers his father met while in the service. Hoping to make some money, the twins concocted an elaborate insurance fraud scheme: one of the brothers claimed to be dead while the other could go and collect his insurance money. He also told Michael a story about a bocce ball league, where a bunch of old, Italian guys would get together and play. One player, ranked fourth in the league, had recently lost his girlfriend to the first-ranked player. In his mind, the only way to get his girl back was to beat the number one. You wouldn’t think of these two stories mixing themselves up with the mafia, but Attardi blended all three in what he calls a “throwback to 1980s comedy.”
Although it harkens back to the magic of an ‘80s flick, Numba One is still fresh. The film follows Stanley Smock, a meek and hapless insurance salesman who’s constantly getting beaten down by his boss, Harry. When Harry sends him to hand-deliver a $5 million check to mob hit man Joey Vino, Stanley, while wandering around Joey’s empty house, comes to realize that he looks exactly like the gangster. After a suspicious phone message convinces Stanley that Joey, Number 4 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, has been killed, Stanley decides to impersonate the mobster. Little does he know, however, that Joey, hoping to get to the top of the FBI’s list, is coming after him.
Federico Castelluccio, known for his work as Furio in The Sopranos, takes on the role of Stanley. Castelluccio, who also serves as a producer for the film, first met Attardi at a Manhattan film festival in 2007; from that moment on began a friendship that has blossomed into a professional relationship. Castelluccio recalls listening to Attardi as he described the script. “I just remember laughing so hard. ... I said, we really have to do something with this.” The two then collaborated together from the beginning, bouncing ideas off one another to improve the script and gather together a team. The pair, each praising the hard work and creativity of the other, already plan on continuing their energetic partnership in a sequel to the film.
The rest of Numba One’s cast injects big personality into the film as well. Thanks to Castelluccio’s work in The Sopranos, other high-profile actors like Jordan Ladd, Paul Sorvino, and Peter Greene have also signed onto be a part of Numba One’s ambitious production. Currently, Attardi is working on getting more big names for the film, but is facing roadblocks when it comes to financing. “It’s got to be financially ready,” Attardi states. “If it’s not financed, then we really don’t want to put ourselves out on a limb. We would rather have the money secure, and then work with a little power and say, ‘Hey, we love you, you like the script, here’s the money, let’s make the film.’”
But you won’t catch Attardi going to a studio to fund the film. Not wanting to lose creative control, Attardi prefers going the longer, harder way to maintain the integrity of his production. He further cites his commitment to his friends, cast and crew as the reason he’s tried different approaches to funding, such as setting up a Kickstarter page and seeking private investors. “I love this project; I’m passionate about it. It’s a film that means a lot to me,” Attardi explains. “What we’re looking for is the right partnership.”
Castelluccio agrees, going further to say that “I can’t see anyone else directing this. [Attardi] knows this script inside and out, and we’ve already proven ourselves with the trailer, and people can see his work in that. … I think the timing is perfect right now for everything that’s going on in the world, we need to laugh, and Numba One is a very funny film.”
For a film that blends the darker mafia genre (think Get Shorty or Goodfellas) with slapstick humor - in one scene, Stanley is being dragged by a taxi by his tie - there needs to be a mix of seriousness and absurdity in Numba One. Castelluccio explains, “I think that, when you take situations that are very serious, and you play it very seriously, but the content is hilarious, I think the contrast and the dichotomy between the funny and the serious becomes even funnier.”
Attardi praises Castelluccio’s ability to embody that humor, adding that throughout shooting, crewmembers kept coming up to him and commenting how Castelluccio’s style of comedy reminded them of Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther. “There’s a sense of humor that Federico gets,” Attardi says, “and he understands the timing of a comedy. ... You just know. You see an actor, you know what their personality is going to be on set, even off set, and you just have to translate it right. And that’s what gets me excited about this film, because we have the makings of an incredible cast and characters.”
To check out more information on the film, head over to http://www.numbaonemovie.com/.