Born in Queens, New York, Peter Facinelli made his television debut at the age of 22 in an episode of “Law and Order.” Three years later he played big man on campus Mike Dexter in the iconic high school comedy “Can’t Hardly Wait.” He spent the next decade working steadily on both television (“Fastlane,” “Six Feet Under”) and film (“The Scorpion King,” “The Big Kahuna,” “Riding in Cars With Boys”). Convinced by his agent to read the script of an upcoming “vampire” movie, he embraced the role of Dr. Carlisle Cullen. He returns to that role for a fourth time this week with the release of the film “Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1.” He will also be seen on screen next month in the film “Loosies,” which he wrote and produced. When he’s not working Mr. Facinelli spends time with his family: wife Jennie Garth and daughters Luca, Lola and Fiona.
Mr. Facinelli was in Kansas City recently and took time out to sit down with MediaMikes.
Mike Smith: How was your visit to Kansas City?
Peter Facinelli: Best barbecue I ever had!
MS: It seemed for months that the only “Law and Order” episode that was on TNT was the one that featured you and the “Mack Rangers!” Even though it was one of your first acting jobs did you have a sense that you were working on a quality show?
PF: Wow. I forgot the name of the club…the “Mack Rangers.” (laughs) At the time “Law and Order” was pretty popular so I was happy to be a part of it. I was just excited to be working with Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach. It was one of my favorite shows so it was surreal that I was on it.
MS: What inspired you to become an actor?
PF: A movie called “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” I watched that movie when I was in the 3rd grade and I said, “those guys are having fun…that’s what I want to do.”
MS: Maybe it was just me but I thought early in your career you bore a striking resemblance to Tom Cruise. Did you hear that from casting agents and do you think that may have hurt you job wise?
PF: Yeah, I definitely heard that early in my career. I don’t get that much anymore. I did definitely hear that. I don’t think it helped any (laughs). Nobody wants ANOTHER Tom Cruise. And of course you want to have your own identity. Your own career. You don’t want to be the kid that looks like Tom Cruise. I didn’t think about it much. I took it as a compliment…he’s a good looking man (laughs). I just did the work and tried to forge out a career for myself.
MS: “Can’t Hardly Wait” is still regarded as one of the best films about high school life. How much of yourself is in the character of Mike Dexter?
PF: Not that much, actually. I based that character on three people I went to high school with. It’s fun for me that the film has stood the test of time. I’ll have people see me from across the street and shout out lines from the movie. “Mike Dexter is a god!” It’s fun for me that this movie has such a shelf life. It’s affected a couple of generations now. People my age…people a little older than me…people younger. A lot of “Twilight” fans…thirteen year old girls that have seen the film. They all like it. At the time we didn’t know we were making a teen classic. We were all young and upcoming. It was a fun movie.
MS: When you were first approached for the first “Twilight” film were you aware of the books’ popularity? And did you expect the film to be as successful as it was?
PF: When my agent originally asked me if I wanted to be in a vampire movie I said “no.” I thought it was going to be a “D” movie…lots of bats. But he told me to read the book…that it had a large underground following. At that time the books weren’t as big as they are now. I read it and I fell in love with it. It reminded me of the old Bela Lugosi movies. And it looked at vampires in different ways. It was kind of exciting. Again, the books weren’t as popular…this was just right before they exploded.
MS: Has the success of the “Twilight” films given you more freedom as an actor?
PF: It’s given me more time. Now I don’t have to try and work on everything. I can just work on what I want. It’s allowed me to get some of the stuff that I’ve written out there. I recently formed a production company called Fancinelli Films. So we’re making movies now. I’ve written three scripts. I’ve produced two of them. Two of them have been made. We’ve also acquired a bunch of material. It’s allowed me to be in a place where I can generate my own work. It lets me do the things I want to do while looking for other projects.
MS: You’ve had recurring roles in several television series, including “Fastlane,” “Six Feet Under” and, currently, “Nurse Jackie.” Do you have a preference between film and television?
PF: I like both for different reasons. I try to go where the good writing is. “Fastlane” was fun because I grew up on “Starsky and Hutch.” There was really nothing like it on television. Same with “Damages,” “Six Feet Under” and “Nurse Jackie.” It’s just good writing. I gravitate towards that. The medium was different then it was in the past. There is some really great T.V. out there. Wherever that property is…that has good writing…that’s where I go to. What I love about film is that…with a film there’s the premiere…it’s up on the big screen and it’s kind of an event. With television there’s an immediacy there. You’re shooting quicker. During the day there’s more pages that you’re doing. And a couple months after you shoot it’s on television.
MS: You recently wrote and starred in the film “Loosies.” What inspired you to try your hand at writing?
PF: I think I started writing because I was constantly reading scripts that I didn’t like. It’s like you’re sitting there as an actor waiting for someone to give you something and being disappointed. It’s kind of like looking for a needle in a hay stack. And the things I did like the competition is really high for because they’re really few and far between…scripts that are really powerful. And I started thinking, “what kind of stories do I want to tell?” If this stuff that I don’t like over here is getting made then maybe I can make something better. So I started writing. Telling stories that I thought were interesting and that people would like.
MS: Twenty-five roles in the film and you couldn’t find a part for Jennie?
PF: (laughs) Jen and I have always tried to keep our stuff separate. We met on a T.V. movie set. We’ve pretty much kept our careers separate. She does her thing and I do my thing. But the briefcase get’s dropped at the door and we have our life together.
MS: Now that you’ve had three screenplays produced do you see yourself in the director’s chair anytime soon?
PF: Yes. I would love to. That’s the progression…where I’d like to be. Film is a director’s medium. It’s frustrating for me as an actor sometimes. I go in. I play my role. And I go away. Whether the movies turns out good or not is out of my control. Sometimes my performance is out of my control. Being able to produce and write gives me some of that control. I can see the movie all the way through…from beginning to end. The next step for me would be to direct. To be able to create the whole world. That’s exciting to me. That’s something that I definitely want to do and look forward to doing.
MS: Besides the upcoming “Twilight” films what else are you working on?
PF: “Loosies” is in the can and in post production. I have another film I wrote called “El Chico Blanco” that I wanted to squeeze into this past summer but since I had to be on “Nurse Jackie” in September I just wasn’t able to do it. So I’ll hopefully do that early next year. And then I’m going to take the next summer off. I’ve been working since last June (2009) almost non-stop. The kids miss me. So I think we’re going to travel in the summer and then I’ll go back to “Nurse Jackie.” I definitely have “El Chico Blanco” on my mind. There are also a couple of properties I’ve acquired that I’m trying to get financing for as a producer. And as far as acting, I’ll keep on looking. And if I don’t find it I’ll write it.