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 Paul J. Alessi Interview 
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Whether or not his name sounds familiar, there's a pretty good chance you know actor/producer Paul J. Alessi. Without uttering a single word, Alessi's image haunted us when he was featured in 1995's MTV Video of the Year, TLC's "Waterfalls," as the young man who gets AIDS.
 
If he managed to escape your eye in "Waterfalls," Alessi was all over the screen as a contestant on television's "The Amazing Race" in 2001.
 
While Alessi wasn't discovered at a soda fountain, his piercing blue eyes and toned physique did get him pulled off the construction site and onto the runway as a model. From there, Alessi has maintained a steady career in Hollywood and on the independent film circuit working in everything from an award-winning music video to an Emmy-winning reality series to a number of critically acclaimed independent films, both shorts and feature length.
 
How has Alessi done it? The Independent Critic talked to Alessi about this and much more in this exclusive interview.
 
RICHARD
I'd like to start off by giving people a sense of where you come from. You're a New York native. It sounds like you grew up around sports...competitive ice hockey, amateur boxer, coach of youth sports. From what I've read, you were working in construction when you were discovered for modeling. Without getting too personal, what was it like growing up Paul Alessi? Did you ever have the arts bug growing up? I have to admit that the idea of being discovered while working construction sounds almost too good to be true. What made you trust it and really explore it? What'd your family think and how did this all lead to you leaving New York for the West Coast?

PAUL
I did not have the "arts bug" growing up, I was involved with sports from an early age, roller hockey, baseball, soccer, football...so I guess you could say I was kind of a jock. I come from a big family, they are all hockey nuts so I was drawn to it. At a young age I learned the game, loved it and played competitively throughout my youth and still play at the local ice rinks today.

As far as work goes I would say I am a "Jack of all trades". I have had every job under the sun from a paper route, landscaping, clerk at a video game store, construction, and security. The same time I started working out at the gym I became interested in fitness, which led me into personal training. For a while I was in the Teamster's union delivering for UPS, a bread route, a taxi driver, a limo driver.. you name it I drove it. I always had multiple jobs at once, sometimes working double shifts going from one job to the next. While I was working on a construction site in Manhattan for a clothing company, one of the models didn't show up for an event and they asked if I would take his place. At first I was not interested but after they mentioned the pay that was involved I didn't look back.
 
My moving to LA was on a whim. My sister went to LA for a vacation and I joined her at the last minute. I loved it in LA. She flew home, but I was ready for a changed and so I stayed. My family was excited for me and very supportive of my move.

RICHARD
How long did it take until the TLC video happened? You went from modeling right into an award-winning video, TLC's "Waterfalls," in which you played the AIDS victim...even as I read that, I remembered the image. It was a haunting image you presented.

PAUL
After I went into modeling it wasn't very long until I landed the TLC "Waterfalls" Video...about 4 months. It was luck, being in the right place at the right time. If it were only that easy all the time.

It was an eye opening and amazing experience, especially since it was my first time on a set. After F. Gary Gray realized that I wasn't joking when he said things like "back to one and camera left" and I looked at him all confused and said I didn't know what that meant or time out. He was kind enough to take me under his wing and show me the ropes. He was very patient and understanding. I look forward to the possibility of working with him in the future.

RICHARD
I've read that this really piqued your interest in acting. What followed, and when did you really start to think "Hey, I could make a career from this?"

PAUL
Yes, being on the set of "Waterfalls" did pique my interest in the entertainment business. Shortly afterwards I began taking acting classes and getting involved with different projects and learning the business. I don't recall there being "moment of realization" that I was going to "make a career" from it, I just keep doing what I love and moving forward.

RICHARD
It sounds like you've always been blessed with a go for it attitude and a healthy competitive streak...even from childhood. Was that instilled in you growing up? I mean, you went from modeling to acting to producing...you've done several indie flicks in the last couple years. In an industry that can really swallow you up, you've really asserted yourself as an increasingly visible presence as an actor and producer. How do you survive in Hollywood?

PAUL
Yes, my parents always told me I could do anything I set my mind to and kicked me in the butt when needed. I believe my competitive edge comes from sports at a young age and the discipline that was instilled in me. Between sports and having a big family it bred me into being a team player. This is a very competitive industry and keeping your head above water is not always easy, which is why I try my best to surround myself with good, honest, hard working people. It is so important to do that because like you said, this is an industry that can really swallow you up.

RICHARD
As you know, I first discovered you on Myspace...then Facebook. I've watched you. You're a networking maniac. You've acknowledged this in interviews, as well. Yet, what I appreciate about you is that while you're constantly networking your professional growth you also do maintain a strong presence with your fans. Why is that important to you?
 
PAUL
I feel it is important to be accessible to fans that support you and the work. They are the ones who "drive" success forward. If you don't have fans then who will watch the movies you are making and share it with their friends and so on? Besides, I am kind of a chatterbox. I enjoy meeting people and the talk.

RICHARD
You also have been accessible, it seems, to media large and small. I've read through your interviews and you give to the best of your ability as much of yourself to independent film writers (like myself) as you do to folks like the Hollywood Reporter. Is that a conscious choice on your part?

PAUL
I wouldn't say it's a conscious choice, I just enjoy talking to people and I feel that I don't have "favorites", I think that if you have the opportunity to share your work with others whether it's Variety or a student paper.no matter what the media outlet it's just awesome to be able to get it out there!
 
RICHARD
You've seemingly made a conscious choice to also project yourself, in a way confirmed by most who've written about you, as a grounded, warm and compassionate person who does community service. Some would say that Hollywood is very "me" oriented...How do you maintain that sense of balance?

PAUL
Like I mentioned earlier, surrounding yourself with good, trusting friends and family is one important way to stay grounded and not putting your self above anyone. We are all equal just some of us are in better places in life at different times. I also think it's important to get involved with your community. If I have the opportunity to help out at charity events I am so there.
 
RICHARD
What was your first short film? Feature film? How did they come about?

PAUL
Right after the TLC Water Falls Video was released my neighbor saw it and cast me in a feature called "Don't Feed the Animals" where I played a model. Go figure.

RICHARD
In some ways, you remind me of a couple actors I respect. James Franco and Adam Sandler have both made names for themselves, but they've never become, shall we say, "too big for their britches." Both actors maintain a strong devotion to learning acting, indie projects and to also working with and finding opportunities for their friends. Even though your feature-length work has increased, you continue your involvement in short films. You've also begun producing films. What made you make the leap from actor to producer?

PAUL
Well I will take that as a big compliment. I am and have been a big fan of Adam Sandler's work and from what I hear he has an allegiance to his friends. I haven't heard much about James Franco but I do like his work.
This is a multi faceted question. Well, I was your regular run of the mill actor pounding the pavement.taking class, sending out submissions, postcards, showcases.... etc. and nothing was happening. I wasn't getting any meetings with casting directors or agents. You can only take rejection for so long when you start to realize that the only one who is going to work the hardest for you is YOU! So I started putting a few projects together and I happen to be really good at it. Several friends keep encouraging me to keep producing and so here I am. I still put shorts together for multiple reasons- to help out my friends who need work, to meet new people and see how we work together, to have fun and of course to learn.
 
 
RICHARD
I'm not sure people always realize that there are true "working actors" in Hollywood...the folks who may not yet be household names and/or pulling down the million dollar paychecks, but who are working consistently. What drives you?
 
PAUL
I am very passionate and committed to what I do and that drives me to keep going.
 
RICHARD
You've handled a great diversity of roles...different physical appearances, etc. You've both lost weight and gained weight, something for which Christian Bale gained great notoriety. You've acknowledged that once you decided to act, you began studying it. Do you subscribe to a certain school of acting? For someone who seemingly became arts oriented sort of by "accident," it sounds like you've really learned to trust that inner voice. I'm always hesitant to say that someone is "born" an actor, but I do believe there are times it's true...though we can always hone the craft How have you grown as an actor? What have you learned about yourself, the craft, about succeeding in Hollywood?

PAUL
Yes I have learned a ton about myself and the craft in pursuing this career and it amazes me. I have studied at several schools. Being in an acting class, in a safe environment, gives you the opportunity to explore...an opportunity to put your fears, doubts, emotions, whatever is on the inside and bring it to the table. It will only help your growth as an actor. I have learned that succeeding in Hollywood is no walk in the park. It is about doing your work, knowing people, people knowing you and never giving up! As far as me subscribing to a certain school of acting is a tough question. It depends on what the role is and how I relate to it; each role might call for a different technique. As long as I can find that person with in me I don't care how I do it I just do it..or the role isn't for me.

RICHARD
Can you share some of your most rewarding experiences in filmmaking?

PAUL
It is an awesome feeling to be able to hire your friends in all areas of filmmaking from cast to crew to catering! Also having a finished project that you can be proud of is very rewarding.
 
RICHARD
Has there ever been a time you were tempted to head back to New York?

PAUL
Yes, I think about it often. I do miss the New York vibe, my family, the people and the energy of the city.

RICHARD
You've produced, acted...any desire to write or direct? You appear to like to challenge yourself.

PAUL
Not sure right now to be honest. Don't think I have a desire to write. but directing is definitely a possibility, but who knows!

RICHARD
"Ten 'Til Noon" is now available on DVD. Can you tell me about the film? 

PAUL
TTN is an award winning independent film that I co- produced and acted in. It's a crime thriller in the vain of Pulp Fiction. Let me know what you think when you check it out!

RICHARD
What can you tell me about "Knuckle Draggers?" Any other upcoming projects?

PAUL
"Knuckle Draggers" is a romantic dramedy that I produced and acted in starring opposite Ross McCall and Omar Gooding. It takes a realistic, but comic look at how the behaviors of men and women have evolved very little since the caveman times.
 
RICHARD
Even your short films have been award-winners on the festival circuit...do you enjoy the indie/festival circuit?

PAUL
Yes, I do enjoy the indie circuit. I have met many creative people and have learned so much about the indie/festival world.
 
RICHARD
Is there any type of film you'd like to make but haven't? Any individuals who you'd really like to work with?

PAUL
I think we are long over due for a good gangster film like "The Godfather."
That's a tough question, of course there are countless directors and actors I would love to work with including Frances Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, Ed Norton, Natalie Portman, Rachel McAdams just to name a few.

RICHARD
Who has inspired you?

PAUL
Robert De Niro and George Clooney are two right off the top of my head.

RICHARD
I always ask what you would say to someone who aspires to work in film...whether it's as an actor, writer, director?

PAUL
Believe in yourself, do it for no one else but yourself. Have other things in your life that you enjoy, "life imitates art, art imitates life."
My Philosophy:
Making changes takes motivation; determination, discipline and self-confidence. Weather it is making a film or taking action in life it starts with small steps that build on each other to make a difference. As a producer I bring good, ethical, competent people together to seek out efficient and productive ways to success. I believe with a healthy body and mind we can get beyond any limitation and create freedom for ourselves, and others. There is something for everyone out there, so find the program that is right for you and get to it. Never underestimate yourself and be the best that you can be!"

"When health is abundant, wisdom reveals itself; when art is manifested, strength fights; when wealth becomes mutual, joy is felt."

RICHARD
ACTOR's THEATRE QUESTION: What's your favorite word?
 
PAUL
My Favorite word: Awesome!
 
RICHARD
You talk a lot about being healthy on your website, but not in a judgmental way. You also do charity work for those with special needs. Can you share a bit about your philosophy on being healthy?

PAUL
Key words to know and follow: moderation, portions, exercise, knowing your limitations and addressing them, Happiness. I can talk about this all day and I mentioned this earlier but I believe with a healthy body and mind we can get beyond any limitation and create freedom for ourselves, and others. There is something for everyone out there, so find the program that is right for you and get to it. Never underestimate yourself and be the best that you can be!"
 
RICHARD
What are some of your hobbies at this point in life? I loved reading through the "Fun Facts" on your website.
 
PAUL
My hobbies are hockey, going to the gym and watching movies.
Favorite Films: The Usual Suspects, The Godfather, GoodFellas, American History X, Heat, Fight Club, Se7en, The Shawshank Redemption, Taxi Driver, Taps, Walk the Line and Good Will Hunting.
Favorite Actors: Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Robert Downey Jr., Sean Penn, and Johnny Depp.
Favorite Actresses: Jodi Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Rachel McAdams and Jennifer Aniston.
Favorite Directors: Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
 
RICHARD
 
Well, thank you for taking so much time with me. I enjoyed it tremendously!
 
PAUL
 
You're welcome!
 
Paul J. Alessi is featured in the upcoming "Knuckle Draggers," and his "Ten 'Til Noon" is currently available on DVD. For more information on his past, present and future projects, visit his website!
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