Painting the picture of an American actor’s career will often be rich with great trials, funny anecdotes, and a true matter-of-factness that comes with the hard-earned success of breaking into the artistic industry in the United States. However, no person’s journey to success is the same, and here is no exception. This story tells of bold life changes and the fearless pursuit of respect among some of the most important names in the industry.
The setting is Palm Beach County, Florida in the early nineties. Robert Catrini and his wife attend a dollar movie night at one of the local theatres. Steven Seagal’s Out For Justice (1991) is playing and Catrini, a native New-Yorker himself, takes a particular amusement at Seagal’s thick Brooklyn accent above any other interest he takes in the film. Whilst the film as a whole was nothing memorable for Catrini, there was one detail of the film that did catch his attention.
“There was someone in the cast, his name was Sal Richards. I had known Sal briefly; he was a stand-up comic in upstate New York, and I didn’t know he was an actor. But here he was with Steven Seagal, and I sat up in my seat and just said "Sal Richards" out loud in the theatre. Of course, everybody looked at me. Suddenly, I went from half asleep to being wide awake.”
"I asked my wife, "What would you think if I changed careers and became an actor?" and she didn’t even bat an eyelid. She said, "I think you’d be terrific.""
With the support of his wife, Catrini threw himself into his new life, beginning with tutelage and stage plays. It was here that something special was clearly apparent about Catrini. He recalls his first audition for a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
“At the end, it was me and the young lady who was playing [Katherina] on the stage. They said, "Congratulations, you’ve got the part." She was jumping up and down, and I was happy but this is one of those moments I look back on and think, "Why didn’t you keep your mouth shut?"
I said, "Wow, thank you, what part did I get?" They looked at me like I had two heads and said, "Petruchio."" Gaining the lead role as a fledgling actor was the sign of his trajectory, going on to perform across many stage productions in leading roles.
It was at this point, in the latter half of the nineties, that Robert’s first experiences onscreen emerged in commercial work and television. While his wife continued living in Florida, Catrini was setting the stage in New York for the biggest step in his career; gaining his Screen Actors' Guild Card and a reputation as a proficient male lead. His search for challenging work and his pragmatic approach to his craft meant that an appearance on New York-based television shows was essential; namely Law and Order. "It took thirteen months to get in to read for Law and Order. I slept on my mother’s floor in her studio apartment. It was an arduous process even just getting in to read. But when I did, I booked it on the first shot." Catrini is credited in the 1998 episode Under the Influence.
The steps Catrini would have to take would not be without their sacrifices. Catrini acknowledges fully the support of his wife with whom he celebrates thirty-nine years of marriage. However, in 1998, Catrini's looming next step was very apparent. The foundation was set in New York, but his career was destined to take off in California. Catrini’s wife would not be able to join him. “It was what we needed to do. When I left New York, my wife was crying in the driveway. She said, "You go out there and set up your career, do what you need to do, and we’ll work this out somehow.""
Nearing fifty, and still relatively new to the actors' scene, Catrini had made progress actors of several decades could only dream of. “Growing up in Brooklyn, we were very, very poor. I had always wanted to act, I had just never said anything. I remember going to Manhattan and just standing outside the Actors' Studio…I wanted respect from my peers. I wanted respect from the people at world class level.” Well on the way to realising his dream, Robert Catrini’s resolve had carried him through the late nineties.
Travelling west across America to California, Hollywood awaited him. His wife would not join him until 2003; five years later.
Continued next week in Part Two.