Ralph Perfetto finds second career as actor
If you watch the hit movie “The Irishman,” starring Hollywood heavyweights Robert DiNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, you’ll see Ralph Perfetto playing a Catholic monsignor presiding over Ray Romano’s wedding. When Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated version of “West Side Story” hits the big screen in 2020, you’ll see Perfetto playing an old Italian-American man.
And if you watch any one of dozens of television shows, from “Law and Order SVU” to “Madame Secretary,” you can catch a glimpse of Perfetto.
Perfetto, 85, a longtime Bay Ridge resident who is better known as a local Democratic Party leader, has found a rewarding second career as an actor.
“I’m having a great time and I’m making good money,” he told the Home Reporter.
Perfetto, who came to show business late in life, is the Democratic district leader of the 64th Assembly District covering parts of Bay Ridge and Staten Island and has spent decades working on political campaigns and advising elected officials on policy. He also had years of experience working in city government, including a lengthy stint serving in the Public Advocate’s Office under Betsy Gotbaum and Mark Green.
While he still loves politics, Perfetto admitted that his blossoming acting career is taking up more and more of his time these days.
And who could blame him? It’s not every day a person gets to rub elbows with famous directors like Martin Scorsese, who was at the helm of “The Irishman.”
“It was a thrill to be on that set. You knew it was going to be a special film,” he said. He enjoyed a nice chat with Pesci between takes and was thrilled when Scorsese came up to him at the end of the day’s shoot, shook his hand and thanked him.
Perfetto also loved working on “West Side Story,” especially the day Spike Lee came to the set to visit his friend Spielberg.
One of his fondest memories was teaching two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine how to play bocce on the set of “Going in Style.”
Caine was required to play bocce in a scene but was unfamiliar with the game. Perfetto came to his rescue by giving him some pointers. “Michael Caine, a man I admire so much as an actor, came up to me afterwards and thanked me for making him look good!” Perfetto said.
Perfetto caught the acting bug early on, when he was a child. “When I was young, I had a nervous stutter and I was introverted. It’s hard for anyone who knows me now to believe it, but I was introverted,” he said with a laugh.
He went to a speech therapist for help. A theater workshop was located across the hall. “I went there for $10 a week,” he said.
At one point, the director of the theater workshop, Burt Lane, the father of actress Diane Lane, made him get up onstage and pointed him out to the other acting students as an example of a brave person unafraid to take chances. Lane encouraged the other acting students to be more like Perfetto.
The moment left an impression on Perfetto.
But he dropped acting. “I went on with my life,” he said. He raised a family and worked in politics and government.
In 2008, he was getting set to retire from the Public Advocate’s Office when an insurance fraud case came into the office. Perfetto helped the victim recover $5,000 owed to him. The victim told Ralph he had a strong persona and could be an actor.
“Three months later, I retired. He called me again to help him on a second case,” said Perfetto, who was working as a private investigator at the time.
He helped the client a second time. The man’s name was Clem Caserta, an actor who has appeared in many films, including “A Bronx Tale” and “The Untouchables.”
Caserta introduced Perfetto to an agent who got him roles as a non-union actor. “I started out non-union and worked my way up to become a SAG actor,” he said, referring to the Screen Actors Guild.
Since the start of his career in 2008, Perfetto has had small roles in 37 movies and appeared in 53 episodes of television series, including appearing seven times on “Law and Order SVU.” He played a juror on “The Good Wife.” He has worked on “Madam Secretary” and “Billions.”
He has acted numerous times in historical re-enactments on the Discovery Channel.
“I’ve done commercials. I’ve played Mafia dons,” he said.
Perfetto’s love for acting is contagious. He acted in one commercial where the director needed a woman to play his wife. Perfetto recruited his neighbor, Gerri Sullivan.