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Q&A: 'Not Fade Away' star John Magaro

April 23, 2013|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

One of 2012's best movies came and went without a shred of the attention it deserves, and it’s not as if the film's some obscure, subtitled documentary only a niche audience would see anyway.

It's "Not Fade Away," the tremendous feature writing-directing debut for "The Sopranos" creator David Chase, which arrives April 30 on Blu-Ray/DVD. It’s a must-see for anyone who loves classic, music-driven coming-of-age stories and how the feeling of being young can excite and change on a daily basis. Star John Magaro (“Liberal Arts”) endured months of musical training to play Douglas, a kid in the early '60s who goes from a lousy drummer to a charismatic singer and finally gains the attention of his old crush (Bella Heathcote) in the process.

From New York, Magaro, 30, talked about under-appreciated culture,  the experience of being tossed around by Mr. Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini (who plays Douglas' cranky father), and if he’d really want to live through the ‘60s.

I loved "Not Fade Away” and it was number five on my top 10 list, but I feel like it's under-appreciated much like some bands aren't appreciated in their time. Why do you think that happens with certain cultural elements?
Man, that's a great question, and I wish I had a more scientific answer for it. [Laughs] I think that happens a lot with music and film, for multiple reasons. Maybe it comes out at the wrong time, gets lost in the mix of things. Maybe we're saturated by so much film and so much television and so much music at this point, it's easy for us to say, "Oh, I'll see that later, or I'll check that out later," and by the time you have the chance to check it out, it's already gone. So fortunately, this is coming out on DVD right now and hopefully more people will get to see it and feel the way you felt about it when you saw it in the theater.

In the extras, Bella talks about you having a different persona as a drummer, seeing a sexy side of you from her perspective. How much did you feel the music brought out a different side of you, and how likely are you to continue now that she said that?
[Laughs] First of all, I don't know if I should take that as an insult from Bella. I might have to talk to her about that comment. No, in all seriousness, I think there's something really--'cause I didn't play music before this movie. I sung a little bit, but not like a rock singer or anything like that. But I remember the first time we played as a band, it was about a month after we had started learning our instruments, and we got through a song. We eked out this song, which sounded horrible but to us it sounded great. I remember this euphoric feeling after we had finished it, and I think there's something about music that makes you feel that way. I think that's why a lot of rock musicians seem so cool when they're up on stage because it just loosens you up. It opens you up to this feeling of liberation where you're comfortable letting some of your guard down and just being what you want to be. And I think playing the drums or playing music in general really affords that opportunity. So I would understand why she would say that. [Laughs]

What goes through your head when Tony Soprano is telling you what to do?
[Laughs] When he's telling me what to do, it's OK 'cause I can shrug that off and I can still be a bit of a jerk to him and respond in a snot-nosed, punk way. But when he comes at you and he grabs you by the collar and he pushes you against the counter and rips your shirt and smacks you around a little bit, that's a little bit scary.

And take after take you're telling David Chase you have to change your pants.
[Laughs] That scene, when we did that the first time, before we rehearsed it a little bit and it was like, "OK, this is what will happen, he'll come at you and he'll grab you and give you what for." And David's like, "Any questions?" We're both like, "No, I think we got it." And on the first take he comes at me with that Jim Gandolfini fury and grabs the shirt and basically rips the shirt apart. All the buttons pop off and there are parts of the shirt across the room. And then they yell cut and the costume designer comes in freaking out. "We only have three of those shirts--you can't do this all the time." And he had to calm down and tone it down and just rip the collar. But when he wants to come at you, you gotta be on your toes.

Douglas' parents don't understand why he wants to be a band. What was your own rebellion in your past that your parents didn't understand?
I think to some degree deciding to pursue acting and pursue this kind of lifestyle. I grew up in Cleveland, and there's not a lot of actors where I grew up. So the idea of doing this is such an alien idea for my parents, who were both teachers for 35 years that I think they were worried about the safety of doing something that seems so risky.

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