PASADENA, Calif. — At 26, actor Joe Mazzello is already a 20-year veteran. But he’s not like most child actors who grow up on crafts services, private tutors and limos at their service.
“I think all of it has to do with parenting and keeping your kid grounded, keeping them in the real world and don’t let them get caught up in it,” the slender Mazzello says, seated on the sunny balcony of a hotel here.
“I always lived in upstate New York in a small town. And I never moved out to L.A. and did the ‘pilot season’ thing. I never immersed myself in it. I would do the job then I would go back home and live a regular life. I would be playing in the leaves and kickball with my friends, and I just had a very normal life. So I felt like I got to live two lives. I got to go out and do these amazing things, go to these exotic locations and have all this fun and then go home and also be a normal kid. I think that balance is what made me always love it.”
Mazzello, who appeared in films like “Radio Flyer,” “Presumed Innocent” and “Shadowlands,” is probably best known as the kid who was zapped off the fence in “Jurassic Park.”
But the days of gangly youth are gone for Mazzello, who becomes a man as Eugene Sledge in HBO’s “The Pacific,” premiering March 14.
Like the earlier “Band of Brothers,” this 10-part series examines World War II and the exorbitant price it extracted from our young. Produced by the team that made “Band of Brothers,” “The Pacific” deals mainly with the Marine battles of the Pacific Isles like Peleliu, Guadalcanal, Okinawa — part of it adapted from the real Eugene Sledge’s books.
“It has changed my life again because I’ve transitioned from being a child actor to being an adult actor and it’s opened up a whole new world for me,” he says.
A foot-long resume may have gotten him in the door, but Mazzello says auditioning for “The Pacific” was the most arduous he’s ever endured. “I auditioned six times. It was the usual way, I went to a casting director and I think she liked me right off the bat, then the next audition was in front of one of the producers, then another for another producer and another.”
He tried out for three different parts. “Finally the fifth audition I find out, ‘You’re going to audition for (producer) Steven Spielberg.’ Getting into a room with 20 people, HBO executives, PlayTime (another production company) and Steven Spielberg, I mean ...” he shakes his head.
But another producer, Tom Hanks, couldn’t be there, and Mazzello had to try again for him. “I felt like I’d already been to boot camp. I started auditioning in October and it ended finally in April.”
Growing up, he had learned patience from his parents, who run a dance studio, and not everything depended on whether he got the part. “When I was in high school my acting career took a back seat for me. I didn’t even have an agent for three years. I just took some time away from it. Again, it’s a credit to my parents who raised me to feel like all these other things were just as important. So I never got that engrossed in the whole ‘scene.’
“SATs, and the prom and girls and getting into college — that all meant a lot to me so I focused on that. I went to USC for film school, so it was still related but not acting, it was directing and such. I learned about the other side of the camera and as I was doing it I was thinking, ‘You know, I don’t think I’m done with it yet, with acting.’ It was something I always loved and made the decision: I’ve got to give this my whole heart now instead of just a half or a third of it.”
But it wasn’t so easy slipping back into the groove. “When I was a kid I was doing movie after movie. And when I came back, people said, ‘Oh, Joe Mazzello, that little kid.’ I said, ‘No, not exactly. I’m 23.’ I had to definitely re-invent myself a little bit and let people see me as an adult. I could still get into all the rooms I needed to get into because of my resume, but I had to still do it the old-fashioned way.”
Mazzello met his sweetheart, Devon Iott, at film school and the two of them have just finished a script together. He would like to direct some day and has been inspired by some of the directors he’s worked with like Richard Donner, David Fincher, Spielberg.
“When we did ‘Jurassic Park,’ there was a hurricane in Hawaii and Steven Spielberg decided instead of being safe, going underground and making sure he was alive, he decided he was going to film the hurricane. So he went outside and got some shots of the hurricane approaching. That moment was where I knew not only did I want to be an actor but I probably wanted to be a director too, which set me on a course to go to college to learn about that because that kind of dedication is just remarkable.”
Singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter will be featured on the PBS special “Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert” on March 10 (check local listings). The singer-songwriter says her earliest influences were the Beatles, Randy Newman and the Motown sound. “And my mother’s and father’s Woody Guthrie records and Judy Collins and Joan Baez and my dad’s jazz records. I mean, really, we had a lot of music in our house. My mother would blast the ‘Texaco Opera Theater’ every Saturday through the house. I still don’t really understand opera, but — but I love it. I love hearing it.”