A rare chance at Hollywood stardom doesn't always have the glamorous outcome that we think it should. I was curious as to what had caused the downward spiral of one of the stars of my favorite movie, A BRONX TALE.
Lillo Brancato called me after my request for an interview and opened up to share his journey. I believe Lillo had some setbacks that could later help others make a comeback and I felt it was necessary to be a part of allowing him to share his heart. It's crazy to get on the phone with a character from your favorite movie! You hear the voice on the other end and he says "hey buddy whats up its Lillo", and all I could think was no its not, it's "C"! He was the one that all the girls had a crush on, movie star good looks and a resemblence to Robert DeNiro. And like many had wondered what had ever happened to Calogero, that kid with a bright future? Where did it go wrong? But for me, I wanted to know what he was doing NOW and how he's dealing with the aftermath of self destruction.
Brancato had several roles after A Bronx Tale and even had a brief run on The Sopranos. But like many young rising stars he also became a fallen star in a story where ironically life imitated art. During my conversation with Lillo I heard in his voice some true remorse, repentance, and a willingness to stay sober while helping those that are going through what he experienced. However, Lillo was more concerned with a second chance at life, at relationships that were ruined, and repairing trust that was broken because of the addiction, more than a Hollywood comeback.
He explains that he has been offered some movie roles but didn't want to jinx anything so couldn't talk too much about that. However, lately his main role has been in front of teenagers and impressionable young adults. Lillo explained that he was just working on booking a few speaking engagements earlier and how he has been staying busy sharing his anti-drug message. The sound of his excitement about that opportunity was a change in the conversation early on. Lillo feels that at the moment, helping others by sharing his journey of "what not to do" is where he feels he needs to be at the moment.
Lillo is less concerned about movie roles and more concerned about working on himself. Brancato states; "he is commited on allowing God to change him, his heart, his way of thinking and the way he looks at things". I'm sure we all agree that everything starts with change and all second chances start with change and forgiveness.
In Dec 2005 Lillo was involved in a shooting incident that left off duty officer Daniel Enchautegui dead. Though Brancato was not the actual shooter, he was still being charged with 2nd degree murder for his involvement as he and the father of his girlfriend (at the time) decided to break into the home of a friend that was thought to have some Valium that they needed to help balance the extreme high of crack and heroin. In the midst of the break-in, Officer Enchautegui woke up to glass being shattered and came outside to stop the crime in progress. Shots went off and all three people involved were shot. Officer Enchautegui's wounds would be fatal. Lillo took two shots to the chest in the process. Brancato was given 10 years for his role in the incident that night and was released on New Years eve 2013 on good behavior.
There are several stars that have had their share of trouble. In 1993 Snoop Dogg caught a murder case, where his body guard shot and killed a rival gang member. Snoop was not the shooter. Another is Don King, he had 2 separate situations one in which he killed a man for trying to break in to his gambling operation and called it self defense. And the other incident King stomped a mans head to death for owing him $600 and yet he only served 4yrs and they called it manslaughter. And a similar situation in 1976 when a man was shot to death in Texas by one of Dog the Bounty Hunter's friends when they went to buy weed from him. Dog was not the shooter either, and was outside waiting in the car. Dog was still convicted of first degree murder and only served 18 months of a 5 year sentence. Since then, the world has forgiven him and he has went on to had a hit TV show for many seasons. Snoop has went on to sell millions of records, starred in many movie roles, had his own TV show and now even coaches a Pop Warner football team!
Lillo Brancato was in a similar situation, except the victim here was an off duty Police Officer. None the less, it seems like the public has long forgotten Snoop, Don King, and Dog The Bounty Hunter's incidents and Lillo will have to prove much more before his situation is forgotten. It's all in perception though, and how we choose to see it. Why are we so quick to over look the mistakes of one person and not another? Is one life worth more than the other? I believe that we all make mistakes but it's what you do after you realize you have made that mistake that really defines who we are.
I wanted to know... here's my conversation with Lillo Brancato:
RUBEN -One thing that surpised me was that youre actually Latino! You're from Colombia and born in Bogota?
LILLO- Yeah I'm Colombian born but I can't really identify much with the culture. Being raised Italian is pretty much all I know. I used to say that I was a born pasta eater, not eating too much these days because I'm working on my fitness but I love it. I would like to one day possibly visit Colombia though.
RUBEN - Have you ever tried to find your birth parents?
LILLO - No, I went through a stage when the emotions ran through me. Emotions that I couldnt understand but thats where it stayed, I have the greatest parents anyone could have. They are all I need, and why would I want to create that disappointment with them? I have to believe that God gave me these parents for a reason. I have a great family and I can't live in the past anymore.
RUBEN- I've read that your mother has expressed that ADOPTION and feeling abandoned was a reason for your drug use.
What would you say to anyone else that has been adopted and may feel the same way?
LILLO - Anyone can feel like "I wonder why my parents didn't want me", but maybe it was the best thing at the moment. Maybe it was that there wasn't anything wrong with ME, maybe it was the situation that they were in at the moment. Adoption was probably the best option for them at the time. I've had my share of emotions when it came to that but I can not blame my drug use on that. I think I found myself having a lot of free time, and the lifestyle and that's what started it but I can only blame myself and my bad choices that I made while living in the fog of my addiction.
RUBEN - Tell us how you landed your role in A BRONX TALE -
LILLO - I was 15 yrs old, it was 1992 I was at the beach with my brother and Marco Greco was there handing out flyers for a casting to the film for someone to play Robert DeNiros son. My brother Vinny approached him and told him that I would be perfect. I did an impersonation of DeNiro and impressed him, and that landed me the audition for the lead. I came in and impressed the casting agents and they gave me the role.
RUBEN - Chazz Palminteri and Robert DeNiro both spoke very highly of your talent as an actor. They say that what happened to you is more rare than wining the lotto, do you feel now that you took that for granted?
LILLO - Absolutely I took the opportunity of a lifetime and ruined it!! I took it all for granted because it all came so easy and when things come easy and no prior hard work is being put in then you expect all things to be that easy.
RUBEN - Have you been in touch with any one else from the cast?
LILLO - I've been in contact with Louis Vanaria he played crazy Mario. Some of the cast has shown their support but from a distance and understandably so. I wouldn't want anyone's career to be hurt by showing too much support too soon. I don't blame them at all.
RUBEN - The first time you got high was during the shooting of A Bronx Tale, one of my favorite scenes when you asked " is it better to be feared or loved?" how was that?
LILLO - It was actually the second time I actually smoked pot, the first time I smoked I felt like it didn't do anything to me, so I would be ok if I did it again. Some of the guys had some pot on the set while we were shooting so I thought I would be ok. I remember thinking "how do I look? I hope no one can tell I'm high", It was the beginning of the end.
RUBEN - Tell us about the advice you got from Robert DeNiro when he came to your house.
LILLO - DeNiro came to warn me about how different life would be after this. He warned me of fake friends. But it went in one ear and out the other. At the time I was like "come on Bobby that's not gonna happen to me" he said things would be different and life would change for me after this movie, he was right!
RUBEN - What was life like for you after A BRONX TALE?
LILLO - I got a lot of attention, an agent, and more roles. Things came easy, and doors opened up. Being young and getting introduced to the business was a dream come true, especially with having no prior acting lessons. Opportunities were being handed to me. Everything that DeNiro warned me about was right in front of me.
RUBEN - You worked with Chazz Palminteri, Robert DeNiro, Danny DeVito, Denzel Washington, James Gandolfini, all at such a young age. Do you think the fame got to your head and how did you react to it?
LILLO - Absolutely. I got involved at a young age and I had some negative surroundings and everything came so easy. Things were easier for me to make more bad decisions. Fame is like a drug too, and only ignites the addiction, fame is a high too. If your not doing the VIP thing then you gotta find a high somewhere else. Having fame and knowing the people I knew only enabled me to get drugs easier.
RUBEN - I can only imagine how great it was to work on The Sopranos. Do you have any personal memories that you learned from James Gandolfini?
LILLO - He was a great actor and I can't say that I was too close to him but he did tell me that "in this business we can't put all of our eggs in one basket. Be smart. Don't take it for granted. Don't have too much free time, that can get you in trouble." The world lost a great talent when we lost him. Another great actor that I was honored to work with.
RUBEN - Would you say that life imitated art when it came to your situation and A Bronx Tale?
LILLO- Yes for sure, I wasted my life because of lots of bad decisions. I was an extreme case of addiction. And just like in the movie someone lost a life. It is definitely ironic.
RUBEN - You were shot 2 times and In Nov 18 2006, You overdosed on heroin and morphine in prison, talk about that, was that the bottom line for you? Was that when woke up from your addiction?
LILLO - I actually overdosed in my cell on November 12 2006, and still did more drugs a few days later on November 18, till I was finally put In the hole for 80 days. That was the best thing that could have happened to me. I had a physical, emotional, and spiritual detox while in there. I had a visit from a friend and my cousin and having a clear head at the time, it all actually sank in and hurt even more. They expressed their disappointment and just knew it was time to allow myself to change, I needed to do something.
RUBEN - There was a story of you beating someone up in prison because he wouldnt get off the phone when you asked him to, is there any truth in that?
LILLO - My friend Rob had been waiting for 2 hours to use the phone, Rob hardly ever uses the phone, maybe once every twice a week to talk to his mom. The guy that was on the phone was a guy that is always on the phone, he was first on the phone outside and we had asked if Rob could use the phone and he was rude about telling us to wait. We went inside to wait for one of those phones and one opens up and here comes the same guy and gets back on the phone before Rob. He reacted with a threat and that's when it went down. It was a 20 second event that the media took and blew out of proportion. Being inside you have a different set of rules and the wrong people feed off of ones weakness. I was in a position where I was helping a friend call his mother and asked someone if he could use the phone because he had been on for 2 hours. I mean one fight in 8 years isn't bad at all but at that point the media is looking for the negative and they found it. Again, that was a mistake I made as well and I own up for all of my actions. I was let out early because all in all I had good behavior. Served my time, refocused my priorities and studied business, read a lot of books and stayed away from politics.
RUBEN - You took college courses in prison, tell us about that.
LILLO - I got my Associates Degree in business while in prison and I believe that I used my time in there wisely. In time, I'm hoping to start a film production company. Also I am really into health and fitness so I would love to open a nutrition store in the future.
RUBEN - Did you have a different kind of respect inside from some of the wise guys that you were locked up with and how did you feel about that?
LILLO - Well I wasn't in general population, they had me separated from mostly everyone but I have run into a few guys here and there and there is a different reaction from them but it's nothing that I'm looking for and nothing that I'm proud of. Now it's about showing everyone who I have grown into and have them be proud of my new person. I don't look to glorify who I once was. I've hurt way too many people and left a path of destruction behind me. I would rather have the respect of my peers for who I have become now than to be respected for tragedies, mistakes, bad choices and being a fool while blinded by the fog of my addiction.
RUBEN - I read that There was a "fireworks" celebration on the day of your release, windows were shattered and even the bomb squad was called out. How did you feel to come home after 8 yrs and be welcomed in such a way despite of what you were in for?
LILLO - Again, the media took that and made it something that it wasn't. My release date happened to be on New Years eve, and there was fireworks happening anyway. Those fireworks had nothing to do with my release, and I would never ask to have a celebration for that situation. There's nothing about that situation that I'm proud of so I wouldn't want that type of welcome home reception. There was explosives that were set off and someone could have gotten hurt, plus where that happened was like 20 minutes away from where I live so that had nothing to do with me or my release.
RUBEN - What would you say to the family of the murder victim?
LILLO - I would want the entire Enchautegui family to know how sorry I am for their loss, not just for the heroic officer Daniel Enchautegui but also for his parents. My bad choices led to a regretful night where a life was lost, none of that should have happened. It's a night I wish I could take back. Officer Enchautegui's sister recently said she feels that I should have done more time, and I dont blame her for feeling that way, she lost her brother. I have a brother that I'm close to and I cant even pretend to imagine her pain. I can't expect forgiveness but I do ask for it. I think about officer Daniel's family and how they were directly effected by his death and it's something that I am truly remorseful for.
RUBEN - Where I see the most negativity towards you is from law enforcement when it comes to your release. Do you feel like the NYPD will ever forgive you? What do you wish to prove to them the most?
LILLO - I have had officers that have come to me and have wished me luck in my future and tell me that they hope I'm sincere about my change and they hope that I'm really remorseful. All I could do is walk the walk. I can't walk around and expect them to love me just like that but I want to show anyone that has ever believed in me that I have realized my mistakes and want to make a positive difference now.
RUBEN - How important is FORGIVENESS To you?
LILLO - Very important!! Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and anyone can come to him for forgiveness. Just as he forgives us is how we should also forgive others. We can't expect to be forgiven if we can't forgive.
RUBEN - You wanted to write a movie about your life, a family relationship film. Is that still something you want to do?
LILLO - Yes, eventually. Not anytime soon though. That story is not anywhere close to being finished. That's all way too early. I'm not trying to offend anyone and there's a lot more that needs to be worked out in my own life for something like that. The wounds are too fresh and still healing. I'm not ready for that.
RUBEN - Do you feel that you still have support from the film industry or past co-stars?
What do you say to those that feel that you chose drugs over family and career?
LILLO - I've let a lot of people down, and wasted my talent and there has been some friends that are still supporting. I really do want to apologize and hope I can work with more great people in the future but honestly I think people want to see that change and not just hear me talk about it. There is a lot of regrets that I will live with but now it's time for change. I want to have those that I worked with before have a different perception of me. There is a lot of good people that make bad decisions and now I'm about positive actions and a positive message.
RUBEN - I'm a firm believer of second chances, Do you believe that you were given a second chance at life? And if so what are you doing different this time around?
LILLO- Even after taking it all for granted and even after being shot and overdosing, I believe that I needed to go through all of that so that I could stop doing what I was doing and eventually help others. I made some bad choices. Made some serious mistakes. I threw away all that I had been blessed with, I also hurt and disappointed way too many people. That person that did all of that is not me today, that's not who I am anymore and I will do my best to never be that person again. I don't expect sympathy from anyone, and I take full responsibility for my actions.
RUBEN- So, who are you today?
I feel that I'm more responsible and mentally stronger. Sober. And I am making better decisions. I was lost, I found God in all of this. Now this is my metamorphosis as God continues to transform me and work on me. In the midst of the disease you can't see or understand it but I know that God's plan unfolds in His time not mine. As far as my situation, I know that for me I had to spend that time away. I had no bail. I'm glad now that I didn't have bail. If I would have had been bailed out I most likely would have ran back to drugs and I would have kept getting high. So it's all in perception, now I don't look at it like I was locked up, I see it as I went away. I had to go away so that God can work on who I am before anyone else got hurt.
RUBEN - You recently played a catholic priest as one of your first roles out, why?
LILLO - I didn't think I should come out and play a violent character. Just not the timing. What message would I be sending? That would be a slap in the face to the Enchautegui family, for the NYPD, and those I hurt. It's about making responsible choices. I want to make better choices in life and in work. At the time I felt it was a role I needed to play.
RUBEN - Most inmates run to God while in prison, do you feel that at a time inside that you cried out to God For help?
LILLO - I spent some time in the hole and had some time to allow myself to find God. The devil is a liar and no matter how much you self medicate, the devil gives you that instant gratification but the problem still remains. However, God will always be there.
RUBEN - Are you working with any charity organizations at the moment?
LILLO - There are a few that I would love to work with, including some officers benevolent organizations. That's what's on my heart but I don't want to do anything just yet because I don't want anything to look fake or as if I'm doing things with other motives or intentions. It's all in Gods timing.
RUBEN - You want to relay a message to kids about the dangers of drug addiction, is there any place close to your heart where you would want to go and speak to kids?
LILLO - I have had the opportunity to speak to kids at the YMCA and at the Boys and Girls Club as well as at colleges, but I really want to do more with the Boys and Girls Club. Denzel Washington does a lot for the Boys and Girls club in Mount Vernon. All in due time though. I believe that God is still transforming me and will open up doors where he wants me to go and where I need to be. I just want it all to be genuine and not for selfish reasons. The reactions from the kids have been positive and they say they are touched. Hearing from someone who actually went through it is different than hearing it from a counselor that has never been through anything. They can actually relate or understand someone who knows the pain of addiction. It's hard to tell someone you know about the feeling of being dope sick when you have never felt those pains. People often think that it can't happen to them until it actually happens to you and you feel the pain. It's a hard thing to talk about but when it's real I think the kids will listen more.
RUBEN - Chazz Palmenteri once said, "here's a guy in the quintessential movie about not wasting your life... And he did."
I'm sure you went through a stage of anger for disappointing someone that you looked at as a father figure like Chazz Palminteri, what would you you say to him on a personal level and what would you like to prove to him?
LILLO - I would say, Chazz thank you for taking a shot on me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you for caring about me even when I didn't care much about myself. I would say sorry for letting you down. Sorry for not listening. I owe you more than you know.
Disappointing Chazz hurt me more than it hurt him. I was too blind at the moment to see that I was going down the road he warned me about. I would ask him to forgive me and work my butt off to get another shot to work with him. I know I let you down. And I just hope that you can see who I am today!
RUBEN - In the movie Sonny comes and pulls C out of the car when he is about to go and get in trouble with his friends. Do you ever wish that happened in real life, like Chazz would have pulled you out of your situation?
LILLO - I feel like he did!! And yet, after I got out of the car, I went back to find it and got right back in! My case of addiction was that extreme!
RUBEN - If there is anything that we can say that you you would need prayer about what would it be ?
LILLO - Faith, I could always use more faith and patience. Faith is important. Strength to stay focused. To stay strong enough to keep up the good fight to keep helping kids not go down the path I did. I'm looking for restored relationships and accepting Gods plan in my life.
In conclusuion, I've always said that it doesn't matter where you find God as long as you find him! For some of us it takes hitting rock bottom to wake up, and no one is going to be perfect. We all have room for improvement in all areas in our life. Lillo closed A Bronx Tale with "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices you make will shape your life forever", He learned that first hand. Now he's working on new better choices to Re-shape his new life. A better question to all who read is, if we fell the way that Lillo did, would we want to be forgiven and what mistakes constitute a lesser sin? It's on all how we look at it, life is full of second chances but sometimes we need to find that in our own heart so that we can learn to forgive and move forward. Let's clear the path for our own road to redemption. RT -