To play comic Sebastian Maniscalco’s suburban dad, Robert De Niro took advice from the man himself

The father, Salvo Maniscalco, who’s an Arlington Heights hairdresser, taught some Italian to the Oscar winner for role in ‘About My Father.’

SHARE To play comic Sebastian Maniscalco’s suburban dad, Robert De Niro took advice from the man himself
“About My Father” star Sebastian Maniscalco (left) arrives with his father, Salvo, at the film’s Chicago premiere May 6 at AMC River East.

“About My Father” star Sebastian Maniscalco (left) arrives with his father, Salvo, at the film’s Chicago premiere May 6 at AMC River East.

Kevin Tanaka / Sun-Times

Arlington Heights-raised comedian Sebastian Maniscalco has made a career out of poking fun at his family, in particular zoning in on the Old World ways of his Sicilian immigrant father.

Salvo Maniscalco’s rehashings of family dinners, unique methods of rodent control and Internet struggles became focal points of his son’s comedy specials.

In Maniscalco’s new movie “About My Father” (opening Thursday), his go-to comedy bit expands even further while also showing that funny runs in the family.

Loosely biographical, with a lot of Hollywood script-twisting, the film takes on a “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” meets “Meet the Fockers” vibe. It centers on the younger Maniscalco’s mission to propose to his future wife (played by Leslie Bibb), first needing to find a way to introduce his larger-than-life father to her conservative, well-to-do family (featuring Kim Cattrall as the matriarch). The contrasts of the American dream collide.

While Sebastian Maniscalco plays himself, his dad is played by none other than Robert De Niro. During a father-and-son interview in Chicago after the film’s local premiere, Salvo Maniscalco joked that he considered playing himself.

“I never considered him,” his son quickly added. “When we were going through casting, Salvo Maniscalco was never on the top of the list.”

Sebastian Maniscalco (left) plays himself in “About My Father,” alongside Robert De Niro as his dad, Salvo.

Sebastian Maniscalco (left) plays himself in “About My Father,” alongside Robert De Niro as his dad, Salvo.

Lionsgate

Salvo did find his own way to contribute to “About My Father,” though, by teaching the “Godfather Part II” Oscar winner some of their native tongue.

“We went through the script, and, where it said to say something in Italian, he wanted to know how to do so,” the father said.

He first met De Niro on the set of Martin Scorsese’s 2019 saga “The Irishman,” in which Sebastian Maniscalco had a minor role. It’s also where the comic got to know the acting legend, though it took some extra intervention to cast him in “About My Father.”

“I didn’t have the relationship with him where I go, ‘Bob, you wanna do this?’ ” Sebastian Maniscalco said.

One of the film’s producers, Paul Weitz, got the script into De Niro’s hands, and the actor fell in love with the character.

In the film, Salvo is a charming and lovable figure whose hilarious quips and innocent rituals (like father and son’s “night spritz,” spraying down their body with cologne before going to bed) become memorable, as do his talents for hairdressing and cooking.

In real life, the father has long worked as a hairdresser — he still does so a few days a week. After emigrating to the United States with his family when he was 15 and embarking on his own adult life, Salvo Maniscalco established a salon in the northwest suburbs and, to this day, lives in the same house in Arlington Heights where he raised Sebastian, though the comic moved to Los Angeles in 1998 for his career.

“I had a great upbringing here. I really am proud to have been born here and think it really has affected me in a way. If you live in Chicago, you have to have tough skin, right?” Sebastian Maniscalco said, adding, “After the premiere, my buddies were ripping me to shreds, even though I’m in a movie with Robert De Niro! So you can’t get a big head where I come from, and I wanted to pay homage to that and Chicago in the film.”

Though “About My Father” was filmed in Mobile, Alabama, Sebastian Maniscalco said he tries to get back to Chicago two to three times a year, stopping at his favorite places, spots like Chicago Cut, the RPM restaurants and Portillo’s.

“If you’re Italian or Sicilian, you communicate with food,” he said.

Sebastian Maniscalco also spends time with his Italian mother, Rose, who in the film is, well, dead.

“She is alive and well, and she’s upset she was murdered and not in the movie,” the son joked. “My mom is a funny character and does funny things. But, for some reason, I’ve always gravitated towards my dad. That relationship dynamic seems to really work in the standup world and movie world. … There’s a lot of conflict here. And out of conflict comes a lot of humor.”

That came into full view when the two took a recent bonding trip to the homeland in Sicily.

“I’m so glad we took that trip, but flying with him on an airplane was something else,” Sebastian Maniscalco said. “He packed food, and we take off, and he’s whipping up a spread of eggplant and squid on an Alitalia flight. We might as well have prepared a table.

“People were actually looking at us like, ‘Are they serving that?’ And I had to say, ‘No, we brought it from home.’ ”

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