You might recognize Peter Facinelli from his star turn as lovable jerk Mike Dexter in the 1998 teen film Can’t Hardly Wait. Or maybe from his run as Van on the early-aughts crime series Fastlane or Coop on Showtime’s terrific show Nurse Jackie. Or perhaps as Dr. Carlisle Cullen, the patriarch of a certain clan of vampires in a little thing called Twilight. (Hey, no judgment here.) The point is: Facinelli—born in Queens, happily ensconced in LA—is the consummate pro. He finds great parts, always knocks them out of the park, and then moves onto the next one.
This winter, he’s as busy as ever, appearing in the Al Capone flick Gangster Land and making his debut on CBS’s S.W.A.T. During some time away from set, Facinelli chatted with us about taking pointers from William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, the trials and tribulations of an actor in 2017, and why real guys drive stick shift—or Harleys. And for more great celebrity interviews, don’t miss our sit-down with White Famous star Jay Pharoah.
How has being a working actor changed in the 20 years you’ve been doing it?
I do the same work that I did 10 or 20 years ago, but people are watching that work on different mediums: TVs, big screens, iPad screens, phone screens, and computer screens. But it’s all the same work.
Does the streaming explosion change how you approach your work?
No. For me, you’re telling a story that’s being captured on film. You’re trying to do the best you can to tell that story. In the end, it doesn’t matter where people are watching it. It matters if they are watching it. Hopefully, you can make it something that’s exciting enough to watch. There’s so much choice today. Twenty years ago, there were four or five channels. It’s grown exponentially. In some ways, there are lots more opportunities for actors. In other ways, it’s harder to find material that’s going to stick out.
What’s your dream gig? Is it a multiple-season television show? A big studio movie?
It’s a little of both. I’ve experienced both worlds. I’ve done films, some big, some small. I’ve done TV series that have gone seven years and TV series that have gone one. Best case scenario: I’m excited on my drive to work in the morning.
What does Peter Facinelli drive work in the morning?
I have a Harley. A 2010 lowrider Harley that I have fun driving. And then I have a 2010 Mopar Challenger. A stick shift. That’s fun to drive, too.
I’m a big fan of ’70s cars. They have that personality. The Mopar Challenger is a ’70s car without the ’70s problems. It’s got air conditioning and a radio, but it doesn’t leak oil.
You ever get tired of driving stick shift in LA?
I’ve burned through a couple of transmissions in traffic. But I feel like with a stick you’re driving the car. With an automatic, the car is driving you. I like being able to have a car to physically drive. When there’s too much traffic, I just use the motorcycle.
You said you wanted to be an actor because of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What appealed to you about that movie?
When I watched that film, I saw two actors having a great time. I thought, “I want to do that, to have fun playing characters.” They were the ultimate anti-heroes, and there was a great friendship in the film. Working for 20 years, I’ve gotten to play so many fun characters, form so many great friendships. I sometimes joke that I’ve died a lot in films, so I’ve gotten to live a lot of lifetimes in one life.
You studied acting at Atlantic Theater Company Acting School with teachers including William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman. Were they stars then?
Macy had done some stuff, so there was a wow factor when he walked in the door. Felicity Huffman had done a lot of theater, so at that time she was very well respected as an actor. When she spoke, people sat up and listened.
What was really nice was beyond those names or what they were known for was how they spoke about the passion of their art. That translated to me. As a student, you sat there and hope you’d achieve that one day. Acting is a lifetime calling. You don’t master it in five years, a decade, or in 20 years. Success is the longevity of a career, and what that career looks like over the span of decades. I hope to have decades more to go.
Do people still recognize you as Mike Dexter?
Some. Which is kind of nice. When people are throwing quotes at you from a movie that came out 20 years ago, that means you did a good job. When I did Twilight, people were like, “How can Mike Dexter be Carlisle? That’s ridiculous.” Part of me took offense and part of me took it as a compliment because I had done such a good job of creating a character. It was my job to create a new character who was going to override the image that people had of me. Hopefully, they’d walk away with a new perception.
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Photo by TJ Manou.