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    City Beat

    'The Big Kahuna' helps Peter Facinelli move past his doppleganger label

    Interview & Photo By Steve Ramos

    No phone call. No meeting. Not even a glance from across a crowded restaurant. Peter Facinelli never met Tom Cruise. It's just as well. The 26-year-old actor can't help the face he was born with. Basically, Facinelli has never been interested in becoming Cruise Jr. despite the physical resemblance. He just wants to stand on his own merits.

    "I find it flattering," Facinelli says, speaking at this year's Sundance Film Festival. "I think he's underrated. I think he's a good actor. But I don't go out and copy him. It's Hollywood's way of stereotyping somebody."

    Facinelli is receiving critical acclaim for his role opposite Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito in the salesman drama The Big Kahuna. It's his first opportunity to play opposite a couple of big boys.

    Based on the Roger Rueff play, Hospitality Suite, the film follows two veteran salesmen, Larry (Spacey) and Phil (DeVito) who face off against a shy researcher named Bob (Facinelli) in the small hotel room that doubles as their salesroom. All three are in search of the mystery client with the big account that will rejuvenate their company. But it's Bob who ultimately connects with talk about religion.

    The Big Kahuna is a risky choice for Facinelli. Sparring against DeVito and Spacey with fast-talking verbal battles, the young actor sets himself up for merciless comparisons. But by the end of The Big Kahuna, Facinelli holds his own opposite his veteran colleagues.

    Already, Facinelli has a number of film roles that cover the cinematic gamut. Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81 was a studio film that never received much support. Can't Hardly Wait proved to be a typical teen comedy. Supernova turned into a wannabe sci-fi blockbuster with plenty of post-production delays and creative battles. Finally, The Big Kahuna is a true low-budget independent.

    It's Sundance 2000 and Facinelli is busy learning how to play the publicity game. He sits alongside DeVito and Spacey at news conferences. There are interviews in his condo bedroom. Wherever a free space is available, Facinelli leans back, ready to fight his "Tom Cruise" label.

    "It's almost like you're constantly being stereotyped," he says. "So I'm like this boxer, bobbing and weaving. I'm trying not to get tagged in a way that makes things harder for me.

    "I'd love to do more leading roles, but I'd also like to weave back and forth and have a career. I think Paul Newman did that really well. You look at Cool Hand Luke and Hud. These were great characters. But he's also a leading man. It's just very inspirational to me."

    Facinelli has always kept busy working. But The Big Kahuna offers him an extended shot in the spotlight. It's a welcome change of pace for someone still relatively unknown.

    "Sometimes I wish I was in a different place," Facinelli says. "I've done 11 films in four-and-a-half years, so I've been working a lot. I've seen people who have done two movies, and all of a sudden they're on the covers of magazines. I think, well how come I've done 11 films and I'm not on any magazine? But I'm actually happy because I'm not in this industry to rise to the top in two weeks and then fall in a year."

    There is more to Facinelli's life than an acting career. He speaks at length about his infant daughter. He talks about his family. But it's clear that acting is his lifelong passion. Basically, he can't remember ever wanting do something else.

    "I remember in the third grade, I had to go to the library and pick out books," Facinelli says, laughing. "I picked out this little picture biography of Robert Redford. I remember reading it and being so intrigued even at that early of an age."

    Life as a professional actor started with classes at New York University. There were loft parties where Facinelli and other aspiring artists would sit for hours and talk shop. Those idealistic days were long ago.

    Facinelli learns more about the business side of Hollywood with every film project. He faces steady competition for key roles from his acting peers: Matt Damon, Vince Vaughn and Joaquin Phoenix. If he gets bothered on the streets of New York City, it's because people have mistaken him for another celebrity. Holding onto his privacy is not an issue for Facinelli. But it might be one day.

    "I'd like to be acting when I'm 70. It's a long road I have ahead of me, and I'm looking at everything that I'm doing as building blocks. It's a learning process. I've been in a lot of different films. There are films that people have seen and films that people haven't seen. But to me they're all learning experiences as an actor."

    Facinelli never wanted to become part of some teen brat pack. He always jumped at the opportunity to play mature roles. It was important that he create his own identity. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if he impressed some producer with his acting range along the way.

    "What I want to do in my career is really tap into different sides of myself and show different parts of myself," Facinelli says. "That's what drives me as an actor: to be able to do different work, to be able to surprise the audience, to be able to step into different shoes and be able to live a lot of different lives in one life."

    On that day, Facinelli plans to step out of his Tom Cruise shadow for good. He's already practicing his newfound showbiz status.

    "One day, they'll look at another actor and say, 'He's a Peter Facinelli.' "

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