Laura Terruso On Directing New Sebastian Maniscalco Comedy ‘About My Father’

In a contemporary film industry driven by the summer blockbuster, visuals can often overshadow the idea of great storytelling.

But the new Lionsgate comedy About My Father, now in theaters, is a story-driven motion picture defined by ideas like authenticity and strong character development.

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Directed by Laura Terruso from a screenplay co-written by comedian Sebastian Maniscalco and Austen Earl, About My Father longs for acceptance as cultures clash, the importance of family functioning as the film’s dramatic heart.

Maniscalco is the son of Italian immigrants, an idea central to the film, and legendary Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro portrays his father Salvo, a hair stylist instilling work ethic as he raises a family in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

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“Laura has been amazing. She comes from an Italian-American background,” explained Maniscalco 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 visuals: what the characters would wear, where this would be shot, how some of the set pieces would look. I was like, ‘Jeez, if she’s doing all of this just to get the job, what’s she going to do when she has the job?’ So she’s been absolutely amazing. It was really a pleasure to work with her,” said the comedian 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 fiancée in the film. “So she would yell things out – sometimes in Italian to Bob and he would repeat them. So sometimes I didn’t know what the heck was going on. But it was fun!” she said, highlighting the director’s rapport with De Niro. “I felt everyone was relaxed enough and not scared to have a suggestion or add something to the scene whether it was physically or with dialogue. So it felt like a very cooperative experience – which I think is what improv is. I think it really kept it very much alive.”

I spoke with Laura Terruso on the red carpet at Chicago’s AMC River East prior to a special screening of About My Father on her reaction to Maniscalco’s screenplay, keeping a rom-com on the tracks 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 screenplay?

Laura Terruso: I absolutely loved it. I read it and I immediately leapt out of my seat and said, “I have to direct this!” It was the first time in my career that’s happened. And it’s because I felt so close to the material. It’s about Sebastian’s relationship with his father, who’s a Sicilian immigrant. My mother is a Sicilian immigrant. And so immediately I just felt such a closeness to the characters and the world and the story. And I knew that I could be the perfect director for it.

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Ryan: Sometimes a rom-com can veer off in a raunchy or hokey direction. How do you keep it on the rails?

Terruso: I think that there’s such a dedication with this project to authenticity. Because it is based on Sebastian’s actual life and experiences. And when you work with Robert De Niro, that’s number one. So, in doing that, I think that’s what kept it from getting too raunchy or too hokey.

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Ryan: In this age where everything seems to revolve around the summer tent poles and the Marvel franchise, all of these reboots, sometimes it seems like storytelling takes a backseat to how a film looks. How important was the idea of storytelling to you in directing About My Father?

Terruso: It’s everything. I wanted to make a film that sort of hearkened back to the films that made me want to be a director. Those films of the 90s: directors like Mike Nichols and Penny Marshall – those kind of just great, character-driven stories. And I’m so grateful that we’re able to premiere this film in theaters and I hope people come out to see something where the whole family can watch it together.

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