Sebastian Maniscalco On ‘About My Father,’ Working With De Niro And Telling Stories

When last he graced a Chicago stage, comedian Sebastian Maniscalco set United Center records, with a pair of sold out homecoming performances in the round during his “Nobody Does This” tour rendering him the top selling and grossing comedian of the arena’s 30 years.

Maniscalco’s parents, Italian immigrants, left Sicily for America, settling in the northwest Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Illinois, where the comedian was born and raised.

Working in the suburbs as a hair stylist, Salvatore Maniscalco’s relationship with his humorous son, and the importance of family, lie at the dramatic core of the new Laura Terruso-directed comedy About My Father, now in theaters.

From a screenplay penned by Maniscalco and Austen Earl, Terruso crafts a motion picture that, while funny, occasionally tugs at the heartstrings, drilling down on family dysfunction in an entertaining and relatable way.

“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,” said Terruso of Maniscalco’s screenplay earlier this month during a red carpet premiere event in Chicago. “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.”


While he left Chicago in 1998, the Windy City continues to inform not just Maniscalco’s act but his overall persona and premiering the new Lionsgate film in his hometown was an easy choice.

“I really have an affinity for this city. I grew up in Arlington Heights, Illinois. I went to Northern Illinois University. I lived and breathed Chicago for 24 years of my life,” explained the writer and comedian. “I live in Los Angeles now and people go, ‘Oh, are you a Lakers fan, Dodgers fan?’ No! I’m still a Bulls fan. I was here for the heyday of Jordan’s six titles!” he said with a shocked laugh, referencing the NBA legend. “I still have an allegiance to this city. It’s in me. The accent! I’ve been living in L.A. for 25 years and I still talk with this deep Chicago accent. So, it’s in me.”

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I spoke with Sebastian Maniscalco on the red carpet at Chicago’s AMC River East prior to a special screening of About My Father on Robert De Niro’s portrayal of his dad in the new comedy, adapting to the world of film, Terruso’s direction and the importance of storytelling. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.

Jim Ryan: When we last spoke about this film, I believe it had just wrapped shooting. I remember it getting announced in 2018. And here we are five years later. How exciting is it to see About My Father finally reaching an audience?

Sebastian Maniscalco: For me to be doing this in my hometown… I’ve got my wife here. My father is doing interviews, which is crazy. I never thought I would turn to my left and see my father on Extra, you know? That’s crazy. So, for me, this is a real surreal moment.

Having Robert De Niro play my father? My father watched the film. I can’t even imagine what was going through his head watching De Niro play him on screen. So there’s just a lot of things going on right now that I really can’t wrap my head around.

Ryan: Sitting in a theater and watching people react to a film on screen that’s been years in the making is obviously a far different way of seeing people react to your work on stage in the moment. What’s that experience been like?

Maniscalco: Yeah, with stand-up comedy, you can change gears really fast. You do a joke and it don’t land, it’s like, “Alright. Let’s try something else.” With this, you’re sitting there like, “Oh god. It’s there. You can’t change anything now!”

So that’s been my biggest hurdle. With stand-up, it’s really immediate. But, with the movie, you don’t know whether or not it’s going to play funny until people actually see it.

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Ryan: Robert De Niro is really funny in the film. Obviously, he’s had those humorous moments in his career. But I think sometimes people forget he’s got that gear. What was it like watching him sink his teeth into this role?

Maniscalco: De Niro was funny even when he was doing reaction shots. Just his face alone will make you laugh. So, it was really good. I picked up a lot. Just watching him act and move, I absorbed a lot of that to use on later projects.

So it was like an intensive acting school for me to be working with this guy.

Ryan: What was it like watching Laura bring your screenplay to life?

Maniscalco: Laura has been amazing. She comes from an Italian-American background. 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’s really a pleasure to work with her.

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Ryan: I asked Laura this same question. But obviously your film, based on your screenplay, is very story-driven. This isn’t a movie where the effects take over the viewing experience. Your act is also very story-driven. How important is the idea of storytelling to you?

Maniscalco: I like stories. I like movies that got a story. We all love the big splash movies, the John Wicks of the world or Guardians of the Galaxy. But when you’ve got a movie like this that has some heart? It’s about family! Everybody’s got a family out here and they can relate to this in some way, shape or form.

So, I like that this movie is in the theaters. People can go see it with their family – and laugh as a unit. Everything is so segmented nowadays. The son is going to see an action movie. The daughter is going to see a rom-com. No one really has a movie that they can all see together. Hopefully, this will be one of those movies.

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