Interview with actor and producer Sergio Rizzuto from ‘Hard Kill’
With a filmography like Sergio Rizzuto’s, you’d assume he’s been a filmmaker for decades. But Rizzuto only got into the business back in 2017. Now, he’s producing and starring in his biggest role yet in the Bruce Willis led film Hard Kill.
Starring as The Pardoner, Rizzuto is also producing through his company Potato Eater Productions. Founded in 2017, Sergio Rizzuto has produced a number of films starring all of your favorite A-listers, like Willis, Al Pacino, and Megan Fox. Hard Kill is just the latest film to add to his list of achievements.
We interviewed Rizzuto about Hard Kill and his journey into becoming a hit filmmaker.
Tell us about your journey into film. What did you do before becoming an actor/filmmaker?
Before getting into film, I studied marketing at Villanova School of Business. And by studied, I mean I attended VSB. I probably graduated with the lowest GPA of any student if we’re being honest. I didn’t find it very interesting so I didn’t apply myself until they told me my last semester I needed a 2.0 to graduate and I had a 1.8.
So I tried a little. That being said, I was running a successful marketing company as a student there. I won their Innovation, Creativity and Excellence award, thanks to my favorite professor there, Dr. Ron Hill, who entered me into the competition after seeing my business. The award is arguably their biggest and given to one student per year, so it was quite an honor.
It felt good and also kind of silly to be honored by the school that told me I can’t graduate with a marketing degree while simultaneously winning their highest award. But anyways. I wasn’t interested in the work, so I did my own work. I slowly became uninterested in my business at the time and eventually sold it.
I did other things here and there. Developed an app I decided to scrap, opened a cafe, invested in various companies, created a clothing line based around a million follower science & astronomy meme page based on the astrophysicist Neil Tyson. Long story short with that one, I fell into a rabbit hole of theoretical physics.
I started an IG page for fun and it took off because I spent so much time on it – because I was interested. I find all of my successes so far have really been things that I just genuinely enjoyed doing. This leads into filmmaking. I was stuck in a rut. I was bouncing from thing to thing and I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do.
I was in a comfort zone that I needed to get out of. I felt shackled by self imposed restrictions and decided I would break them. January 2017 my New Years resolution: do something that makes me uncomfortable. I chose acting. It was completely out of the realm of anything I’d done before.
I googled acting places and found Actors Playground in Freehold, NJ, run by Ralph Colombino. At first it was extremely awkward. Then it got worse when I somehow got a role in a musical theatre performance with literally no experience in singing or dancing and so I ended up doing two different runs of that play.
I was just doing things that made me get out of my comfort zone and that play was almost unbearably uncomfortable. But it also got me to a point where I felt like I could act and just say fuck it and not care so much anymore. And then I started to really love it.
Which leads back to doing things I enjoy versus doing this for monetary gain or whatever else it may be. I really got into the acting. I started writing. I started doing short films with new friends. I was reading more, listening to audio books, etc. It was a renaissance period of my life.
So I stuck with it and am where I am today, which is a totally arbitrary and relative point in ones career depending on who you’re comparing it to. To some I’m further along the journey and others I’m far behind. The important thing is I’m enjoying it. So I’m going to keep doing it.
What’s your favorite movie, and what did you learn from it?
I have a handful. No Country for Old Men I loved. What I learned from it was that so many other movies are filled with unnecessary fluff. No Country doesn’t have a single line or moment that is unnecessary. So I try to keep that in mind when writing / reading and editing.
Citizen Kane is also a favorite for its complexity, it’s lighting. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s the closest thing I can relate to my favorite book, Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead. Not in terms of story, but in terms of the layers and complexity, the enormity of the world, the amount of time it spans, the relationships. The book has much more, obviously, but for a film, Kane is it.
Were you always set on producing, or did you want to do a combo of both producing and acting?
Producing came entirely as a byproduct of acting. I’ve been in and surrounded by business my entire life. Producers are also the ones who put people in movies. As an actor, why would I not want to be a producer then? I can just put myself in movies. Not only that, they’ll be movies I care about and want to be in.
I’m still in the process of making “my” movies. I’ve made a couple shorts so far that are “mine”. But the features are underway.
Why did you want to open your own production company?
To simultaneously tell stories to the world that are important to me while also creating more opportunities as an actor. It’d get me where I want to be faster. I also like being the shot caller. Ideally I’d have full creative control of every project I do. If it’s my own stuff, I can have that.
What was the first film you worked on? What was that experience like?
Reprisal with Bruce Willis. I was a cop. I had 2 lines and they were during an armored truck robbery scene with gun shots and sirens and honestly it was pretty intense because the biggest set I’d worked on before that was basically no budget student films. But it was a lot of fun.
Walk us through your creative process.
A ton of procrastination followed by packets of energy. I basically do nothing but think until I finally feel like “okay. This is it. I’m going to sit and write.” For acting.. I don’t know. It’s important to know a character inside out. So knowing as much as you can about them and their world is a necessity.
Then there’s just the in the moment pressure honestly. I worked with an acting coach, Kymberly Harris, for about 2 months before Hard Kill and not once did I act in front of her. I just feel awkward about it.. so I don’t really “act” until I need to. Which is when the camera is rolling. That’s something I’m going to have to address and overcome personally.
What music inspires you to create?
Good stories. Performances. I often feel compelled to create when I witness something that makes me go “wow .. that was really well done. That was done with passion and care and it took a lot of hard work. ‘Damn it that was good.’”
And then I sit around thinking about it and then hopefully start doing something. And re reading the question I realize it said what ‘music’. I love classical piano and classic rock. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, deBussy. I feel like I’m listening to more than just a song when Page or Gilmore let out a solo or while Plant sings or deBussy plays. They play from the depths of their emotions and you can hear it and feel it.
You’ve produced films featuring some big names, like Bruce Willis, Ewan McGregor, and Lucy Hale. Are there any misconceptions people have about working with A-listers?
I think people have the misconception that A-Listers aren’t people. I enjoy meeting most of them because they’re interesting and successful and usually because they’re incredibly hard working which is admirable.
However, they are just people with their own lives, their own families, etc. I can think of a handful I think are cocky or arrogant and whose company I didn’t very much enjoy, while others I can say are the total opposite and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. They’re just people. Some are cool, some aren’t.
Hard Kill is arguably your biggest acting role to date. What was it like preparing for that?
I worked with my acting coach Kymberly Harris for the majority of it and also my friend/actor, Jett Miller. They helped me learn about the character. My sessions with Kymberly, often 4 hours, were mostly spent on the breakdown of what’s being said and the psychology of the character. It was extremely helpful. I knew the Pardoner inside and out.
How did you get into character as The Pardoner?
I read a lot about similar people in history and I also created a life for him. Who was he? Why is he the way he is? Who does he care about? Who does he love? What does he love? Is he good? Is he bad? What’s his goal? Why? Is he a psycho, is he a sociopath, is he just misunderstood, etc.
I also called the director, Matt Eskandari and asked if I could rewrite some of my dialogue, which ended up being a lot of it, and he said yes. Which was great. Because I was writing it from the psychological perspective of the character.
I didn’t get to do as much as I would’ve liked but it was still overall a great experience. It was my largest role in a feature to date. And while I feel like I could’ve done better, I’m still learning and I had fun.
You tend to wear multiple hats while working on set. What’s it like juggling jobs?
I’m used to it. I’m at all points in my life doing various things. I can’t do just one thing. It’s normal to me.
What’s your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
Seeing something I made go from concept to screen.
What advice would you have for up and coming filmmakers/actors?
Do what you love. And do it because you enjoy it and no other reason. Additionally, I’d say network. Get to know other actors and filmmakers.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? Would you recommend them for up and coming actors?
Never and I don’t know if I ever would unless it sort of just happened. I’d be out of line to recommend one before trying it but there are people who do well and enjoy and pay a lot of money to be mentored so I guess it’s just an individual thing.
What has been your biggest success and failure to date?
I’ve stuck with it this long and I could have and should have done more.
Could we see any episodic TV from you anytime soon?
I think eventually I’ll make a TV series. I already have the idea. But it’ll be a few years most likely.
What’s your five year plan?
Continue acting and writing while also directing a bit more. Gather properties I find interesting and important to me and make them. In short – my plan is just to do whatever I want to do and if people like it then that’s great. I’m going to continue to on the path I’ve been on but more for myself.
I want to make my own movies. Not other people’s movies. I’ve gotta run the show. That’s when I have the most fun. And that’s when I can get the points across that I want to make. So that’s what I’ll do.
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
What director would direct the biopic of your life?
That’s a really tough one. I’m gonna take a shot in the dark and say either Coppola or Nolan. This would require much more thought and research to give a definitive answer.