Secrets of A Comedic Actor
by Erin Zeidenberg
photography courtesy of by Mark Aston , Joan Dante & Peter Dante
On the day of our interview, Peter Dante’s morning began with meditation and prayer, as it does almost every day of his life. Immediately, I’m intrigued by his casual style and find myself relaxed as he engages me in conversation about the usefulness of quiet time and reflection. “Prayer is a way to connect. It helps keep things balanced and real.” Honoring a genuine existence is what Peter Dante is all about. Although he is unhesitatingly comfortable in his own skin, he does not like the word celebrity or being referred to as one. “Celebrity has too much that goes along with it. There are actors and there are celebrities. People want to be celebrities but they aren’t honest and sincere. I’m simply a guy from a small town who likes to act and sing and enjoy life.”
Such a modest statement coming from an actor who has been bringing laughter and joy to the masses for well over a decade. In the mid 90’s, Peter had a small part on The Jeff Foxworthy Show and Larry Sanders Show. In 1998 he appeared in the films ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘The Water Boy’. From there he continued his comic relief in Happy Madison productions such as ‘Little Nicky’, ‘Mr. Deeds’, ‘Grandma’s Boy’, ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’, ‘Strange Wilderness’, ‘Jack and Jill’, and ‘Big Daddy’, for which he was nominated for a GLAAD award (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).
Peter has fond memories of growing up in West Hartford and connects the fine balance of his life today to his roots that were cultivated just four miles west of Hartford. “West Hartford is a beautiful town with great neighborhoods and great families. There was a sense of loyalty to what you had and what you did. I learned that very early on.” Being the fifth of six children, Peter quickly figured out a way to shine by being involved in both sports and the arts. “I was always trying to follow in my older brothers’ shoes, who were athletes, and my brother, Tony, who loved to sing. I found the Elmwood Community Center and started doing plays at a young age. I was also in the choir at Duffy Elementary and Conard High School. It was a great balance for me. I played basketball with friends and then did the Best of Broadway.” Peter’s early work experiences included landscaping, caddying for his father and other members of the Wampanoag Country Club, and roofing alongside his brother-in-law, Jim Carroll, JP Carroll Construction.
Flashing back to third grade, Peter conjures up the memory of when he was first introduced to his life- long passion of lacrosse. “I remember being at recess. My friends had lacrosse sticks in their hands and they were like ‘C’mon you’ve got to try this’. The following year I put the baseball glove down, picked up the lacrosse stick and haven’t put it down since.” After graduating high school, Peter attended Hofstra University where he continued to play lacrosse. “All of the parallels of lacrosse that I learned then, I teach now as life lessons. Lacrosse is the smartest game for any athlete as far as team sports are concerned. You need to be a student of the game to be great at it.” Today Peter coaches a Professional Lacrosse Team called LXMPRO which tours the nation helping grow youth lacrosse. In addition, he coached lacrosse at Loyola Marymount University and has been coaching both of his sons’ teams for many years.
Bubbling with pride, Peter discusses his favorite role of being a dad. You may be surprised to know that Peter’s wife, Cynthia, is Brad Pitt’s manager and publicist. Peter and Cynthia have two sons together , Jake and Lucas. Jake is fourteen and already almost six feet tall. He plays tackle football and hits homeruns on the baseball team. “He’s a strong kid. A beautiful boy.” Lucas is ten, plays lacrosse, flag football and sings in the choir. “He’s a great kid with a beautiful voice.” On the night of the Oscars, Peter stayed home and cooked dinner for the boys while his wife attended the Academy Awards with Brad Pitt.
Peter met Brad when he was working on the Larry Sanders Show. At the time Brad was shooting the movie California and needed an assistant. “I was Brad’s first assistant ever. I worked with him for two and a half years. He’s a great guy from a small town in Missouri and hasn’t changed a bit. He taught me a lot about the auditioning process and continues to be a huge part of my life. He’s Jake’s Godfather and we continue to do a lot of stuff together.”
It was also during his time on the Larry Sanders show when Peter met Adam Sandler. “I was playing basketball on Gary Shandling’s basketball court one Saturday when Adam walked up. He asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Connecticut . He then told me he was from New Hampshire. I said, ‘oh, you shoveled more snow than me.’ He laughed and said we should play one on one afterwards and we did. From that day on we’ve been best friends.” Peter and Adam continue to play basketball three times a week to stay in shape. They also sing together in The Adam Sandler Jam Band. It’s not a comedy thing. It’s a real band that they perform in twice a year. “It’s all intertwined with what I used to do growing up in West Hartford. We sang in bands as kids. My neighbor, Steve, and I used to perform at the Legion Hall and sing at house parties.”
Last summer, Peter was on the Cape with Adam Sandler shooting the film “That’s My Boy” which premiers June 15th. Peter has a small part in the film as Tony Orlando’s son. I asked Peter how much fun he actually has shooting these films. He laughed and said, “We’re having the time of our lives or we’d never continue to do it. But we’re also working hard. Adam writes tirelessly and always worries about how much better he can make things. The beauty of working with Adam, however, is that he gives you creative freedom between his writing. If you come up with additions that are funny, he’ll add it. He’ll change things on the spot. He’s also great at giving you a back up story to help set the stage. For example, in the ‘Wedding Singer’ my character gets a little kid drunk at a wedding. Adam whispered in my ear ‘pretend you’re back in New England and you just got one of your cousins drunk at the wedding but stare at everyone like you’ll beat them up if they look at you.’ And that’s how it’s always been.”
With his affable brown eyes, disarming grin and ability to swiftly pull you into his force field, it’s no wonder why people like Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler enjoy being a part of Peter Dante’s world. When he’s not being husband or dad, acting in films, coaching lacrosse, skateboarding, playing basketball or volunteering his time at a homeless shelter, Peter also writes and records his own music. His current album is titled “Peace, Love and Freedom” which you can find on iTunes or peterdante.com.
Peter’s latest success is about his mother, Joan, who recently overcame her challenge with breast cancer. You can sense Peter’s ardent love for her in his gratitude for her triumph. “My mom’s loyalty to the Catholic Church and the way she’s been a dedicated mother her whole life helped her beat breast cancer. Her faith, good health, and bike rides around the cemetery, which we used to take together, have kept her free of cancer.”
It doesn’t take long to figure out that, like his mother, Peter’s most powerful talisman is his faith. He knows life is a gift and what we do with that life is our gift back. Each week Peter gives back by counseling those who have lost their way at the Blessed Sacrament Shelter in Hollywood, by nurturing his own children, by inspiring the youth in lacrosse, by writing and sharing his music, and by continuing to bring humor into our hearts and homes.