It's time to learn how to pronounce Mr. Dinelaris' name, for it will soon be on the tip of your tongue.
How do you tell a story like Alexander Dinelaris Jr.'s?
The easiest way would be like a movie "pitch" or "treatment," for his saga is as lengthy (and has as many twists and turns) as Gone With the Wind...
...A young boy from a "broken" family sneaks into a local theatre palace every day, for hours, to escape his bleak surroundings. He wants to be part of that world he sees on the screen.
The boy, now eighteen, lives in his own apartment. In complete survival mode he works in restaurants but still, strapped for cash, LILCO turns off his heat and he has to sleep in his bathtub, for the warmth that the hot water brings him.
More than two decades later, all of which struggling, while working in the restaurant business (or selling wine), he writes his first play, receives recognition, meets and marries the love of his life, gets an adorable dog, has a couple of kids, co-writes a movie script, and triumphantly takes home an Oscar for a little picture called Birdman...
Well, that might all be true, but it did take about twenty-five years for Alex's career to reach this bountiful stage. A career that is far more extensive than even the boundless Birdman.
I caught up with Alex some three months ago on the cusp of "the awards show season." We took our seats in an East Village watering hole -- the product of a now "gentrified" NYC area. "So what else is going on?" I inquired, before I would dive into the "meat and bones" of Birdman.
1. Dinelaris has written the book of the musical On Your Feet (the inspirational tale of Emilio and Gloria Estephan) which opens on Broadway for previews on October 5th 2015.
2. He is the Co-Creator/Executive producer/Head Writer of the cable series The One Percent -- starring Ed Helms, Hillary Swank and Ed Harris -- in the works for Starz.
3. He is co-writing a new feature with acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro.
4. Oh, and not that long ago, Alex had The Bodyguard playing across the pond in England's West End. It is now touring the UK to record breaking houses.
"Okay, let's talk Birdman..."
Then all text-hell broke loose.
"You are on Page Six!" he was notified numerous times -- as he was overheard discussing The One Percent, with his writing staff, less than forty-eight hours before the New York Post came out.
"I did not know it was all that..." (Birdman). His olive complexioned (He is of Armenian and Spanish heritage) face was mildly flushed by the freely flowing beer, exhilaration, and animated conversation. "Right up until Venice, I wasn't sure how people would respond to the film. I couldn't even be sure that it was that good."
He seemed puzzled by what was happening around him.
"Yeah, it is that good," I said, "But let's start at the very beginning. How did you come to be in this hot spot?"
After his sleeping on floors, working in restaurants, owning restaurants, selling more wine, enjoying the support of some great friends, the years pass and finally a play, Folding the Monster, manages to gets some people interested. Important people--like Danny Aiello and Rosie O'Donnell.
Although Rosie joined The View, and the play was not fully produced, it did get a staged reading, with Aiello's agent (Johnnie Planco) taking notice and signing him. His roster, filled with folk such as Lauren Bacall and Peter O' Toole.
"Upon signing with him I joked, "I am going to be the only person on your client list I don't know..."
Yet, still sleeping on the floor of his childhood friend, Chris McCartin (on a continually deflating air mattress, of which he could never repair the small leak), Alex met the love of his life, Nyla Marbo, and got married ten months after their first date. Nyla, well employed was (and is) a successful strategist for the formidable Faith Popcorn's "Brain Reserve." Alex had a bed to sleep in -- at last.
Things accelerated at an amazing pace. He was singed to CAA Talent and then caught the attention of the Academy Award nominated Mexican Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, amongst others.)
"So, what is the deal with the script of Birdman? I mean, do you really think a critic would actually write a review, even before seeing a play? That was daring," I asked, somewhat self-destructively.
Kindly exasperated, as I was not the first "critic" to ask that question, Alex talked turkey...
"We took shots at every one, not just critics. It was always about ego. We were making fun of actors, writers, audiences, Hollywood and critics. It's about the deep-seated fear that we are all frauds. We all obsess over it, it is part of the condition of the artist."
"Yeah, but most of the critics love the film, I mean Rotten Tomatoes is like over ninety-percent, I mean, how great does it feel to be understood?"
"We are relieved. I wouldn't have been surprised if in Venice it got boos or positive reviews. But we never expected to get such intense and unanimous praise. We are very surprised and very grateful that Fox Searchlight took such a leap of faith on an art-house film about self-obsession. These days, genuinely original material is incredibly difficult to sell. The old joke in Hollywood is, "Give us something completely original that everybody already likes..."
"So, do you like collaborating, or is working alone easier? Or, actually, what is it like working with Alejandro?"
"Alejandro is as close to a genius as I've worked with. My job (along with my partner Nicolas) was to put his vision into practical terms. We didn't know who the character of Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) was when we began. We had Alejandro's original image of a man meditating... In his underwear... Three feet above the ground. Then we started asking questions. Why was he floating, and what was at the bottom of it? It developed into a script, and then into a film... And in the end, it was all about silencing that voice in your head, the one that tells you that you are, at once, a genius and a fraud... Once you can silence that voice, you may well be able to do anything..."
"Oh, Okay." I was kind of getting what he was talking about.
"Well, with Birdman, and all the plays and the TV show, how do you cope with your emotions? This is all so huge."
"I am so grateful, I keep waiting for someone to wake me up and tell me that the people at table six need bread. And I'll be saying, "Noooo! I was at the Oscars!" But to come to the realization that I have a Broadway Musical, a television series and an Oscar winning film in the same year... To sit with my mother as she melts with pride over it all... I am absolutely filled with gratitude. There are people with far more talent than me, who never got to experience this..."
Well, the rest is history, and four months following my conversation with Alex, Birdman won four Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, and Mr. Dinelaris is one of the workingest men in the business of show. And he has one really cute dog...
When Alex accepted his Oscar, he was the guy on the upper left of your screen, the guy who did a toast with his bald statuette. I know there are a lot of people to whom he would like to thank, for he named each one of them all when we spoke...
Since there is no music playing anyone off here, I can help him out...
Alex would like to thank:
His agent Olivier Sultan, his manager Johnnie Planco, his mother Maria Ramirez, His sister Andrea Dinelaris, his aunt (noted acting coach) Marjorie Ballentine, and of course his oldest friend and brother Christopher McCartin, who came down to Florida to return him to his life as a writer. All the amazing actors he has worked with since Danny Aiello spotted him, took an interest, and set him on his way. And his collaborators, Nico Giacobone, Alejandro Inarritu and Armando Bo... Oh yeah -- the Academy.
And to blow-up mattresses and hard floors everywhere.
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