Actor Ray Iannicelli. Photo Credit: King PDT/

Actor Ray Iannicelli. Photo Credit: King PDT.

Editorial note: This interview was conducted toward the end of 2014.

“What is a saint?” Brother Geraghty, a Catholic school teacher played by Chris O’Dowd in the recent comedy St. Vincent, asks the class of nominally attentive students that sits before him. After a few seconds of mystified silence, the class know-it-all stretches out her hand and chirps the textbook answer: “A saint is someone who displays exceptional holiness in their relations with other human beings.”

By the time we sit down to watch St. Vincent, we should already know that the filmmakers have decided to explore the theme of sainthood in an unconventional way — perennial anti-hero Bill Murray stars in the title role. What we don’t know is how exactly Murray’s character, Vincent — a curmudgeonly Vietnam veteran who drinks, gambles, and “employs” a pregnant prostitute — will ascend the mount of holiness and receive the halo we see him pictured with in the movie’s promotional poster.

GALO recently sat down with Ray Iannicelli, who stars alongside Murray in St. Vincent as Roger, Vincent’s bartender friend and, as such, reluctant enabler of the old man’s alcohol habit. A Brooklynite born and raised, Iannicelli is an alumnus of the Catholic schools featured in the movie, and knows a thing or two about “God’s country” — his nickname for the Brooklyn neighborhoods where the film was shot. He discussed the perks of being able to walk to work for the filming of St. Vincent, hanging out with Bill Murray and Harvey Weinstein at the film’s New York premiere, and whether Catholic school can be an inspiration for acting.

GALO: Hey Ray, how’s it going?

Ray Iannicelli: Pretty good! Knock on wood.

GALO: I was just reading that you run a company called PATH

RI: Professional Actors Training and Helping, yeah.

GALO: So you have actors helping out medical and religious professionals in dealing with emotionally difficult situations they might encounter on the job. I’ve never heard of anything like this. Did you come up with the idea yourself?

RI: It was an idea two of my friends and I had. It started out when we were working as actors at Columbia Medical School. There was a doctor up there who loved theater, and she began using actors to help train people for these situations, just because she thought it would be better than using patients who might be overwhelmed by the task of acting out difficult scenarios. They’re dealing with their own problems, so she turned to actors.

In essence, I started the company with a few friends, and it evolved into being my company; we’ve had clients at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia Medical School — a whole bunch of places and areas. We portray patients and we also work with continuing medical education with residents. So some of the patients and situations we portray are very serious and confrontational, and some are very easy and run of the mill, which we do for beginning students.

GALO: That’s brilliant.

RI: Yeah, it really helps. Just to give you an idea, we got a call from the New York Presbyterian Hospital the other day, and they asked to have someone portray a patient coming into the emergency room who was afflicted with symptoms of Ebola.

GALO: Wow! It sounds like a big commitment, both in terms of time and the emotional toll.

RI: Yeah, it is, but actors love doing it. It’s good rehearsal, and when you play patients with mental or emotional instability, it’s really just about learning how to talk to a patient.

GALO: It seems like everybody wins, like everybody involved — actors and doctors — benefits from the arrangement.

RI: I think so, yeah. Although some doctors, for reasons of their own, are actually resistant to the idea. I think because it’s something new, something a little bit off-center.

GALO: Understandable.

GALO: It sounds like you keep things interesting on and off-screen. Your first movie role ever was in Prizzi’s Honor (1985), where you got to work alongside Jack Nicholson.

RI: And John Huston too, who was the director.

GALO: That seems like a huge shift, going from doing smaller gigs straight to working with Nicholson and  Huston. Was it as big a professional leap as it sounds?

RI: Well, before that, I did many, many plays. I did student films, and generally very small films, but yeah, then all of a sudden I got to do this movie with Jack Nicholson, and hang around the set for two weeks and get paid for it, which was a thrill. And working with John Huston too, I mean, come on! It was very intimidating.

GALO: I can imagine! Did you feel the same way working with Bill Murray recently on the set of St. Vincent?

RI: You know, Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray have something in common — they both are stars and terrifically talented actors, but they’re very humble. They’re both very gregarious on the set, and will literally talk to anybody. Nobody is “less than,” so to speak. Of course, there are lines you can’t cross as a professional, since everybody is there mainly to do their job, but Bill Murray especially tends to keep things light, to keep things fresh. He was very amicable, so St. Vincent was a good set to work on.

GALO: In St. Vincent, you play a character who is a good friend and confidant of Murray’s character. I imagine in the script your characters have some pretty intimate conversations. Did those translate to conversations off-screen as well?

RI: Yeah, you work through material in the rehearsal as far as your speech, your movements and the choreography — all that you work out in tandem with the director. So you get a feeling of what you bring to the set as far as your character is concerned, but then when the shooting and rehearsal begins, and you begin reacting in real life, so to speak, to what the other characters are saying and doing, that fine-tunes your character as well. But lastly, and most importantly, what really fine-tunes your character are the actors you’re working with. So there is that interchange, that back and forth, between what we’re saying in real life and what our characters are doing on-screen.

But just to give you an idea of Bill Murray, the other night they had a party in Manhattan for one of the premieres. And I was speaking to Bill Murray, and keep in mind we worked together but don’t really know each other all that well — two weeks is not that long a period of time [laughs] — and Bill Murray calls over Harvey Weinstein!


He says, “Harvey, I want you to meet Ray,” and, of course, Mr. Weinstein was very nice, you know, “Oh hello, you did a great job,” and so on. So that’s the kind of guy Bill Murray is. He treats you like you’re just one of the guys, even if he doesn’t know you that well.

Oh, we also all talked about baseball, which he loves. So it was a good party — good food and good company.

GALO: A lot of the filming for St. Vincent took place in Brooklyn. You’re from Brooklyn, born and raised, and you live there now, right? Were you happy to get a project that’s virtually right in your backyard?

RI: Yeah! I mean I could walk to work. It’s definitely better than working 50 miles from home — although, when you’re that far from home, they put you up. But even in the case where I’m in the Bronx and I have to get home, you have to call a car and wait for the car. But for St. Vincent, I was 10 minutes from home, so that was great; right in Brooklyn — God’s country.


GALO: So you’re a New Yorker through and through. A few years ago, you had a role in the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a story that hinges on 9/11. Was that a significant project for you as a New Yorker, having been so close to the events it portrays?