A conversation with actor Ray Iannicelli Special

Posted May 21, 2014 by Mindy Peterman
Ray Iannicelli is an actor whose 30-year career spans stage, screen and film. He’s worked with screen veterans such as Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray, but you may know him best from his role in the classic film "Rounders" and his role on HBO’s "Oz".
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Ray Iannicelli likes to bring an element of humor into the roles he plays. “It makes it more interesting,” he told me. “Even if you’re a bad guy.” He should know. He has been cast in a multitude of roles over the span of three decades and he continues to love and respect his craft. I recently spoke with Iannicelli by phone about his career.
Where are you from originally?
Brooklyn, New York. God’s country.
How did you get into acting?
I was in the army, got out of the army and went back to college. I started going out with my English teacher. She told me I should be an actor and introduced me to a woman named Julie Bavaso, who she was taking lessons from. Julie was an actor, a playwright, a director, kind of well known in New York and the off-off Broadway scene, back a thousand years ago. I think I always wanted to be an actor, though. I think it was meant to be.
The first film credit I could find for you was Prizzi's Honor.
Oh, yeah! I worked with John Huston and Jack Nicholson. It was great. I think I spent two weeks on that set.
What was it like being part of a project that featured an iconic star and director so early in your career?
I was scared to death going in to that project, having a scene with Nicholson and having to work with John Huston. But it all worked out very well.Yeah, I walked on water for about three months after. It was such a wonderful experience. I got to realize that you just have to be professional. You go there, you do your job and that’s what they expect. I worked with these people who were very generous, like Nicholson, on set. Generous meaning to other actors. They weren’t there to hog the spotlight. If you made a mistake they just went along with it. They were positive. They were encouraging. John Huston, the director, was very old at the time. So he didn’t have that much to say. He was on a portable oxygen device.
Your role as Officer Roger Brese in Oz was, so far, your only recurring role on a TV series. Did you enjoy it?
Oh, yeah it was great.
Would you like to be a regular on a television series?
Sure, that would be great. You get a little comfortable. Sometimes even when you have a recurring role, you get on a show once or twice in a drama, you almost feel like an interloper. So I would feel, I’m sure, much more relaxed and creative if I were a regular. I think most actors would agree with that. When you’re comfortable and relaxed, it’s a better creative atmosphere.
You’ve also been featured in three of the Law and Order franchise series. On the original Law and Order you played five different roles over the years. On SVU you played four and Criminal Intent, two. What is it about this show that keeps you coming back?
What keeps me coming back is that they offer me a contract. It’s a paying gig. It’s a good show. It gets me out of the house. My wife is happy about that.
Is it fun playing a different character each time?
It is fun. I mostly play city guys. I’m a city guy. One thing I always try to do is insert a bit of a sense of humor into it. I think it makes it much more interesting. Even if you’re a bad guy.
You were in Rounders.
Yeah, I loved it. I got to sit next to John Malkovich for a week. When we weren’t filming, we were bullshitting. He’s a nice guy. Regular guy. Quiet.
You’ve done voice acting for video games and animated films.
It’s fun. That whole community is great. I get to know the sound people, the mixers and the sound engineers.
Can you talk about one of your favorite roles and why it’s special to you?
Prizzi’s Honor stands out because it was my first big time [film] with a great actor like Nicholson and a director like Huston. So I guess that sets it apart. The thing I like about acting is the camaraderie that you have. It happens more when you do a play because you’re with that group all the time. But if you work for a day sometimes or you work for a week or two weeks on a film, there’s a certain camaraderie that you have. It’s kind of special. I love actors. Actors, I think, are special people. People say all actors are crazy but that’s not true. We’re artists and in a sense kind of different. Not crazy. Because we study the human condition, we understand that people are complex, wonderful beings. If you have half a head on your shoulder you realize this. You take people for who they are, with their warts and everything else. We’re all connected. We’re all in this together.
You're in three films coming out this year: a remake of Annie, a film called The Challenger (starring the late Michael Clarke Duncan; post production) and one where you play opposite Bill Murray called St. Vincent de Van Nuys (released April 11).
Bill Murray, he’s something. Physically he’s a big guy, which I didn’t realize. He looks like a linebacker for the New York Jets. When he walks in he has a certain sense of himself and a certain commanding presence. We worked together for four or five days in a bar. I have a number of scenes with him in the bar.
He loves to improvise within his lines. In other words, he’ll give you the cue at the end of his lines so you know you have to start talking. But before that with each take, he’ll do it a little bit differently. He rarely does his lines the same way. Within those lines he’s improvising. So he’s a very creative guy and very easy to work with. And he has fun.
What is the movie about?
It’s about a guy, Bill Murray, who is a misanthrope. There’s a young boy involved, who has divorced parents. And Bill Murray gets to be his buddy. He’s a war vet, a real ornery guy, a difficult guy to get along with. But they make this bond. So it’s really about that journey.
And what role do you play?
I’m the bartender. We have things we share with the regulars, a couple of special regulars in the bar. We get into a big argument and almost a fist fight. But I didn’t want to fight him because he was too big. That’s the relationship we have. Bartender and patron.