Massi Furlan exudes a European eloquence and charm that is infused with an intrepid masculinity. He speaks Italian, Spanish, and English fluently with the ability to speak Russian phonetically.
His six years in the Italian army flying helicopters further completes the aura of a rugged, fearless and formidable character… when all these traits are put together, Massi Furlan is the quintessential television and film actor for playing a multitude of villains. Here’s his most recent resume. In The Dark Knight Rises, Furlan played the villainous Janitor, in the DVD movie, Abducted, he played a Russian bad guy, he has had recurring roles in NCIS as an East European villain, in Ben Afflick’s new movie, Live By Night, Massi played a relentless mobster, and in his newest movie being released in October,Trafficked with Ashley Judd, Massi Furlan played an evil Mexican Trafficker.
However, the Italian born actor, started his career off as a comedian doing impressions of famous Italian celebrities. “My biggest pleasure is to make people laugh and make people smile,” Massi told me in our interview.
Recently, Massi Furlan had to challenge himself in the biggest role of his life, which was battling throat cancer. Being a cancer survivor myself, I truly understood the hardships he endured physically and mentally to overcome this disease. Yet, he never stopped working. He never stopped laughing. He never stopped believing that he would conquer this villain inside of him.
Christine Peake of The Peakpr Group set up the interview with Massi Furlan at the lovely restaurant Osteria Bigoli on Montana Ave. in Santa Monica. Eating delicious Italian food, Massi Furlan and I talked about his career and his fight against cancer.
The Hollywood 360: How did you get into acting?
Massi Furlan: When I started back in Italy, I was doing standup comedy. I was impersonating celebrities and doing shows in clubs. The biggest pleasure for me was to make people laugh and make people smile. Going twenty years forward, now I kill people in movies which is not really a great achievement for a standup comedian.(joking) I moved to Miami in 1998 because my brother was a chef at a successful Italian restaurant and I fell in love with Miami and decided to move there. After a few years, I got back into the entertainment business. I shot a few commercials … but then I realized there wasn’t much work in Miami, so I decided to move to LA. I realized though, when I got to LA, the competition was fierce.
A few more details about my career. I was flying helicopters for the Italian Army starting at the age of 17. I stayed in the Army for about six years.
The Hollywood 360: What was your first big break in LA in regards to acting?
Massi Furlan: The biggest movie I got my break in was The Dark Knight Rises with Christopher Nolan. It was a great surprise getting the part. I got the phone call that I got the job 2 ½ months after I auditioned for the role so I had completely forgotten about it. I played the janitor on the stock exchange with actor Tom Hardy. We break into the stock exchange and take three hostages and do a shoot out plus a motor cycle chase with Batman in Gotham City.
The Hollywood 360: Do you do your own stunts because of your background in the Army?
Massi Furlan: I do mostly all my stunts unless they are really crazy stuff like jumping out of a four story building. I play the villains in the movies so I get killed a lot. I do the scenes where’s there is punching, getting shot, having quibs in the chest to squirt blood.
The Hollywood 360: What Nationality did you play in the Batman movie?
Massi Furlan: I played a Russian. I play Russian more than anything else. I speak Spanish so I play Mexican, Cuban, I play Puerto Rican, I play French, Italian.
The Hollywood 360: How many languages do you speak?
Massi Furlan: I speak Italian, Spanish, English, and a little bit of French. I would say 80% of my roles, I play are Eastern European. I don’t really speak Russian but I got this role for Lifetime and after the audition, the producer called me and asked if I spoke Russian. I told him I wasn’t fluent, but I do the accent. After I said that, they hung up. But my agent called like 30 minutes later telling me I had gotten the role. But then they did give me two scenes in Russian. I got help from my friends who spoke Russian and they recorded the dialogue, then I learned it phonetically.
The Hollywood 360: What other roles have you done after the Batman movie?
Massi Furlan: I did a great movie called Blood of Redemption directed by Giorgio Serafini. I played the Serbian bad guy. I also got killed. I did a NCIS, Los Angeles where I electrocuted LL Cool J and I pull a tooth out of his partner’s mouth. So yes, I was torturing people.
The Hollywood 360: When you are playing the roles of these evil characters, how do make them interesting and not so dark?
Massi Furlan: The way to make them likeable is I play around with different layers… a little smile, a lot of sarcasm. I remember my greatest acting coach told me, ‘Massi, when you do that smile, it’s so evil. It freaks me out.’ So I kept that in mind… the right time, the right smile, can be very evil. I’m not like screaming, yelling or cursing. That doesn’t make you evil or a bad guy by doing that. It’s in the eyes as well, the expression or feeling you are portraying.
The Hollywood 360: How do you let go of the character after you play them?
Massi Furlan: It’s normally easy to let go of the character for me. However, I worked on a movie that is premiering in New York City in the Fall called Trafficked. It was very tough playing this character because we were dealing with young girls as opposed to playing a villain in a Batman movie and dealing with grown men. You rob a bank, it’s not as bad as doing something bad to a teenager in a movie. I play a Mexican guy who’s not the nicest or sweetest guy around. I shaved my head. I have a big scar and a tattoo on my neck. Let’s leave it at that. The movie is coming out on October 5th and will be organized by the United Nations and we will have a premiere in LA as well.
There is one more movie premiere in August that’s called Randy’s Canvas and is a non-profit film for autism. Guess what? I am not playing the bad guy in the film.
The Hollywood 360: What role are you playing then?
Massi Furlan: I play a Gay Italian man who owns an art gallery. There’s a boy who has autism and is a very good painter so I give him a chance to work for me. There’s a love story in it too. And they make me look twenty years younger. My hair is slicked back which I can never do, they give me a big fake tan, black hair. We shot the movie in Warwick and Providence Rhode Island.
The Hollywood 360: Your acting is composed of all the different aspects of who you are. You’ve been a comedian, you’ve played villains, you have a background as a helicopter pilot and a military man, you are also European, how do bring all these qualities into your roles?
Massi Furlan: The secret is the opposite… to stay away from who you are as a character. I have to make myself as Massi go away from the character. That’s what I normally do.
The Hollywood 360: Because you know about guns and take gun shots…how has that influenced your roles.
Massi Furlan: They always have a double who can do stunts but I do a lot of my own. However, I have a story about doing stunts. I did a Lifetime movie called Lay Over but it’s now out on DVD with a different title called,Abducted. It’s with Lauren Holly. We were supposed to do a stunt scene where I get killed and because I played this really bad Russian guy, they wanted me to die really bad. They decided I was going to get shot by the whole Swat team. 15 shots. The guy in charge of the special effects for the stunts … the guy looked really old, he looked like he really didn’t want to be there, and then his equipment looked like it was from the 1800’s. LOL. His squibs (explosions in your shirt) were large instead of small. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this guy hasn’t updated his equipment in a while,’ and I began to worry. This girl was getting killed before me. They were putting two squibs on her chest. We were both worried. I told her to let me know if it hurts. So we do the scene, she gets killed, and I asked how did it feel? She told me it hurt a bit. Now, I have 14 of these squibs on me. I go to the guy who is in charge so he can give me the t-shirt with the squibs on it; and I notice he is missing two of his fingers. So the guy who is responsible for my explosives, is missing two fingers. I panicked. Should I trust this guy? It hurt like hell when they shot me and it was hard to play dead after that. I tried hard not to scream.
The Hollywood 360: What is your vision for yourself as you continue down the path of your career?
Massi Furlan: I really hope to get into comedy when playing a character in the movies. It’s my forte.
The Hollywood 360: I want to now talk about your health challenge that happened a few years ago. Could you please tell me how you discovered that you had throat cancer.
Massi Furlan: I had zero concern whatsoever when there was an inflammation in my throat. They did the exam, a biopsy, and an ultra sound. When they told me to come to the office for the results, I wasn’t worried. I don’t know why. It came back positive that I had cancer. I originally went to the doctor because I had a redness on my face. But when the results came back that I had cancer, I said, ‘Well I guess we don’t give a sh..t about the redness.’ I never felt like a victim. I know that there are people who go through much, much worse. I went to many different doctors and between my friends telling me how to treat the cancer and the doctors giving me my options, I had to make a big decision as to what to do. I decided to do the traditional treatment of chemotherapy and radiation.
My doctor encouraged me by saying that throat cancer was one of the easiest to beat. I knew it would be a tough time for a year and I did beat it.
Here’s what else happened. I worked in one of the biggest movies I was ever in at this time. I went for the audition on Ben Affleck’s movie, Live By Night after I was diagnosed with cancer. I was in no state of mind to do an audition, but I did. I ended up getting the part but we weren’t shooting the movie until one year later. Meanwhile, I did the chemo and radiation and when I showed up on set, I was 41lbs lighter. Everyone was complimenting me because this movie took place in the 1920’s and everyone was skinny, skinny. I said to myself, ‘OK, I didn’t lose it for the movie, but it worked out.’ I am working though with a food tube sticking out of my stomach because I couldn’t digest food yet and I couldn’t swallow. Nobody knew I was taping this long tube to my chest so when everyone was breaking for lunch, I would go to my trailer. I didn’t want to lose the part, so I put up with this inconvenience. But it ended up working out really well.
The Hollywood 360: What a beautiful story. I know how hard chemo is on the system because I too had go through it when I had breast cancer. What a blessing you were able to work under those conditions.
Massi Furlan: I hope to inspire others. I actually had a friend who introduced me to someone who had gone through throat cancer. This guy would call me and tell me step by step what would happen to my body when I was going through the terrible times. His information was incredibly helpful because I knew what to expect and how to handle the painful after effects of the treatments. I would like to do this for someone else.
The Hollywood 360: How would you like to end the interview? What would you like to say to everyone.
Massi Furlan: Be good and be funny.
Massi Furlan Twitter: https://twitter.com/Massi_bos