“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” ~ Oogway, Kung Fu Panda
Wanderers, I need you to use your fabulous imaginations for a moment. Picture the scene: lunchtime, in the café downstairs at the National Gallery in London. The room is quiet, the other patrons cheerful, and Cesare Taurasi is explaining his philosophy through Kung Fu Panda quotes. This afternoon can only go well.
Cesare can be a hard person to find information on, poised as he is at the beginning of what promises to be a long and impressive career, but one of the first things I learn is that he’s a terrible influence. I mention that I’m considering trekking to France to see Papadopoulos & Sons at the Dinard Film Festival – abusing my student loan in the process – and he laughs.
“Use it! That’s good advice for all the people on the website. Use your student loan for things you like.” It’s hard to argue with that.
I’m hit by a sudden terror that I might be pronouncing his name wrong, but he’s quick to reassure me that I’ve got it right (it’s Chez-ar-ae).
“It doesn’t bother me at all, you know, not everyone’s supposed to know how to say a particular name… I used to hate it when I was a kid. I wanted to change it to Chris. But I love it now. It’s really rare, and there’s only one Cesare Taurasi in the world, which is me!” He admits, though, that he often uses ‘Chris’ for an easier life when ordering pizzas, or taxis. “It only becomes a problem when I go ‘Taxi for Cesare going to wherever?’ and they’re like ‘Uh, no’ and it’s like ‘Oh, I mean Chris! Chris.’”
We take a moment to chat about Young Dracula, which Cesare joined in series three last year as sinister vampire tutor Bertrand du Fortunesa.
“In my head he’s just a lone ranger; everything important in history, he’s been a part of it, he’s been everywhere.” Bertrand’s a pretty complex character; was he given a detailed backstory for him when he got the role?
“Not really, no. And there isn’t that much in the script. So… I sort of created my own little journey and a little timeline of where I was, what I did, and how I ended up at Garside School.”
That actually sounds like a lot of fun, albeit nerve-wracking fun.
“It’s why I love being an actor, is because you can just use your imagination, you don’t need to worry about facts or anything, you can just make it up – no-one cares, y’know, it doesn’t matter. And not everything is great that you think of, but the little things that are… are really, really useful.
“He is fun to play. Playing, as a job, it’s just ridiculous. So much fun. I’m a 25-year-old Italian-Mancunian lad, and I get to play a 400-year-old French vampire.”
The interview screeches to a halt for a second as I punch the air and declare myself the winner of an argument on the internet; Cesare, to his credit, takes this in his stride and adds that he researched the time period and pinned down a war that Bertrand was bitten in. A half-fang; I declare another win.
“If you go back in time for 400 years, there was a time, I think it was the French civil war that was going on, and I think I put in that he was bitten at that time. You know, that’s why I like to do his name – the only thing about him that’s French is his name, that I always put in, like instead of saying Bertrand like everyone else calls me I like call myself,” he slips into a French accent for a moment, “Bertrand – and I always find it funny, like it’s always a little game, how many times I can actually put it in.”
Obviously the freedom to create Bertrand for himself is something Cesare’s enjoyed, but I can’t believe it wasn’t a little daunting at the beginning, at least.
“I remember getting the part and thinking, ‘Oh, heck – I’ve gotta get to work!’” He grins. “There’s not a lot talked about Bertrand which is why he’s so mysterious. No-one knows where he’s been, where he’s from, what he’s done – it’s a lot of fun making up stuff, but it’s also really helpful when there’s stuff in the script as well, so you’ve sort of got to find a balance between them both.”
Young Dracula’s not Cesare’s first recurring TV role; he also played Piero de Medici in The Borgias, which is aimed at a decidedly more adult audience.
“It’s totally different to be honest… Mainly the themes and issues. Instead of a young vampire coming of age, you have a corrupt family striving for money and power. There’s a lot more blood, gore and violence in The Borgias.” He also mentions the difference between the sets – Young Dracula is filmed on location in Liverpool while The Borgias is shot in one huge studio in Budapest, with a variety of different settings laid out side-by-side in one room.
“It’s really interesting. I mean both are great – how it looks on Young Dracula is what I love most about the show, it looks so much fun, it’s so detailed, the props, everything about that aspect is great. It’s so cool. I always like to look for things that you can play with, on set, and it’s really easy with Young Dracula ‘cause there’s loads of cool stuff that I, genuinely, am intrigued to play with.”
Of course, some of the most intriguing props in Young Dracula series three weren’t really meant to be played with.
“Yeah, you have to be careful, like… not to tear the Book. We only had one Book, it looked amazing, right? And the Art Department did such a good job on it. It looked so cool. So you have to be careful not to damage it. They’ve spent all this time on the Book, you can’t wreck it; you don’t wanna hurt someone else’s piece of art.”
I can’t resist fishing for hints about the next series’ storyline, but to no avail.
“I can’t say anything! It’s good though – it’s better than last year’s storyline, there’s a lot more outdoors stuff as well which is always fun to do. Yeah, yeah, you’ll find it interesting actually. There’s a lot of – lots of interesting things happen.” What a tease, eh, wanderers?
On, then, to a topic we can discuss relatively safely – Papadopoulos and Sons. Specifically, I wonder what on earth was going on in the Cribs video that was released as one of the early teasers.
“That was me larking about – one of the girls on production came up to me and she was like ‘Do you wanna do an interview?’ and I was like ‘Oh, I dunno’. She was like ‘Alright, d’you wanna do like a cribs-style thing of your trailer?’ and I was like ‘Yeah! Let’s do it.’ So I did it. I was looking for things that you could do. And then it turned into a little caricature of me.” I’d wondered if it was in character at all, given the upbeat nature of the film. “Oh, it’s nothing to do with the film. I actually talk in a London accent in the film. It’s me being hyper. Me being a boy – a stupid boy. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.”
Now we’ve covered the important behind-the-scenes clip, I’m curious to know about the film itself – after all, as yet we’ve only seen the trailers (well, okay, and quizzed the director).
“Um… It’s a feel-good family movie. That is literally the best way to describe it. It’s a bit like East Is East, but instead of a Pakistani family in Manchester it’s a Greek family in London. It’s the same concept… it’s a lot of good fun! And it’s just different to other films out.” It’s already secured distribution in Greece, Cyprus, Austria and Germany – will we be seeing it in the UK soon?
“Yeah, fingers crossed, touch wood, it’ll come out in the UK… it should do.” Otherwise, we’ll just have to pop across to France, where it’s showing at the Dinard Film Festival in early October.
So what’s the storyline, and where does Cesare fit into the picture?
“In a nutshell, Harry Papadopoulos is a successful businessman who, through the banking crisis, loses all of his money. He finds out that he still co-owns a fish and chip shop in South London with his older brother, someone he hasn’t spoken to in years. Through the film, he rekindles his relationship with his brother and fights to win his money back. But as the film progresses, he realises that the life he led as a rich, successful businessman isn’t the life he truly wants.
“My character, Mehmet, works in his dad’s Turkish kebab house across the road to where the Greek fish and chip shop is. There’s a friendly rivalry between them and I am assigned by my father to investigate the ‘Greeks’ but I actually fall for Harry’s daughter!”
“It’s a good adventure. And the whole of the family could sit down and watch it. It’s a brilliant film and it leaves you with a smile on your face as well. Shows how life’s too short, you know – not to worry about things.” Sounds like just Cesare’s kind of film; he laughs when I suggest it.
“Yeah, yeah, pretty much, yeah!”
There are a lot of very thoughtful characters with the weight of the world on their shoulders on Cesare’s resume – is his Papadopoulos & Sons character similar?
“I think it is because I’m quite a pensive person. Mehmet is not really a thinker actually, he’s more of a doer, he’s just an easy-going character…” And, I point out, he doesn’t have to be a prisoner of war or rule over a city, like some of his previous characters.
“No, no, he just has to walk through the park and serve kebabs! Which is different! He’s a good lad, Mehmet.”
We’re fond of a good convention in the Fandom Wanderers newsroom, and Cesare recently attended one – Manchester MCM Expo – with Young Dracula. He couldn’t attend its London equivalent due to other commitments, but then they were invited to the Manchester one.
“I thought you know what, I’d go, cos it’s in my home town… it’s gonna be interesting.” His voice takes on a slightly awed tone as he thinks back. “And it was brilliant. We received such a good response for the show, and I’m really interested to hear people’s opinions of the show. And it was a range of ages that came; we had an autograph signing as well, which was a lot of fun. It was a bit weird for me ‘cause I’m not used to that. But it was a lot of fun. Good costumes, a lot of good costumes – there was a bunch of guys dressed as Ghostbusters, and I was walking out, and I was like ‘Listen, boys,’ I said, ‘please, just stop and let me just take a picture of you ‘cause you look amazing.’ And they all did a pose for me! It was amazing.” Well, there’s a convention convert if ever we’ve met one. Would he go back?
“Yeah, I would actually. Yeah, definitely!”
He surprises me with his answer to my next question – about how he got into acting, and how he got where he is today.
“Well, I’m still on a journey.” He says it as if he’s nobody special. He may be right on some level, though – I’m sure he’ll be too big a name for little old me to interview in no time at all. But he says he’s not really looking for fame.
“It’s not really me, um… yeah it’s not really me, like I don’t really enjoy that side of it. I more see acting as a job… a really fun job. ‘Cause at the end of the day, I am a big kid and I just love enjoying new things; meeting new people… playing, acting- you know, dressing up!
“But I’ve always wanted to be an actor, when I was younger I used to watch so many films I shouldn’t have been watching, really, y’know, like Godfather and Casino, Taxi Driver, I watched all them types of films. I studied it at school, and I went to a drama club in Manchester every weekend, which was great! Did loads of plays, got to be with friends, and sort of decided, ‘You know what? I actually wanna do this as a living, I’m gonna try and do it as a living.’ So… took a gap year and moved down to London. Six years ago. And went to a drama school down here, called Arts Educational, and studied for three years.”
He’s doing really well, for only three years out of drama school.
“Thank you very much. I’ve just been lucky; it’s hard, it’s hard work to be an actor. You’ve just gotta hope for the best… You don’t have to go to drama school to be an actor, you don’t really need to.”On that note, does he have any advice for aspiring actors?
“If you’re young, go to classes, and if you’re really interested in it, see some agents in your area, look at this thing called the CDS, it’s the Conference of Drama Schools [recently rebranded Drama UK] and you can go on it and look at all the different accredited drama schools in the country, there’s only a few of them, but if you’re really interested you can look at their courses – if not just write to agents, y’know, go to drama clubs, and have some fun. And act, and play! Have fun.”
We’ve seen Cesare on TV and soon we’ll be seeing him in a film, but how about theatre?
“Hopefully. I love theatre. I used to do theatre all the time when I was younger, we took a play up to Edinburgh and performed at… Liverpool… Manchester… all around. I just haven’t had the opportunity to work in theatre at the moment.” We suppose he’s been busy.
“I wish I was more busy, you know?” Ah, the actor’s refrain. “I do love the theatre. It’s a great, great thing. I would love to perform on stage, and hopefully something’ll come up, so I can get that opportunity. But at the moment it seems like I’m doing more screen stuff, which I also love as well.” The two things must be quite different, though.
“For theatre, you get more time to rehearse. Whereas TV it’s sort of learn your lines and go in, and film the scenes in a day. With film and TV, it’s all… non-linear so you can film the ending first, middle the next… There’s been a couple of occasions where I’ve been knocked back, thinking ‘Oh. What am I actually doing?’ You don’t actually think what you’ve been thinking before then. It’s quite difficult. But it’s also really enjoyable, to work on set. There’s a buzz about the place. The buzz on stage is being actually on stage performing in front of a live audience. Whereas on screen the buzz comes from all the people involved, running around shouting ‘ACTION!’”
Of all the characters he’s ever played, does he have a favourite? He thinks for a while about that one.
“Not really. I sort of have a spot in my heart for all the characters that I’ve been able to portray.” Well then, how about a character he’d love to play, or something he’d love to appear in? Another thoughtful pause. “I love Boardwalk Empire, I’d love to be in that. I watched The Sopranos for years as well, I love that.” Would he go for a role in it? “If they make a film, yeah, I’d love to. But I don’t really have a character that I’ve always wanted to play. Like, I know some of my mates have been asked that as well, and they’re like ‘Yes, I’d love to play Hamlet’, but… there’s nothing really, I just wanna do as much as I can do. You learn more working on new things. I didn’t really know much about vampires, before Young Dracula…” And now is he a complete vampire nerd?
“I am. I’m actually a vampire.” He laughs. “Also, in The Borgias where I played an historical figure… I didn’t know too much about 15th century Italy, or the era of the Borgia Pope and the Medicis ruling over Florence, so you learn new things constantly.” Preparing for The Borgias, for example, saw Cesare heading to the Victoria & Albert Museum, where they were showing a Renaissance exhibition.
“There were actually pieces of furniture from the Medici Palace, so… That sort of aspect of it is just brilliant. And it helps, it does help, and it’s like ‘wow, this is how they lived’. You learn new things.”
“I’ll research something that I’ve never been interested in, in the past, but now because it has a connection to a character, I’m really interested in it.”
“It’s good to play different people than yourself. Someone who’s wealthy, someone who’s totally different. It’s good to discover new things, that’s the thing that I enjoy most about it all.” And how does he get in character for these different roles?
“It depends what the scene is, and it depends what the character is, and it depends what’s going on – I mean, something like Young Dracula isn’t too intense… or you don’t need to, you know, walk around on your own. On other stuff… music really helps, listening to music. Listening to a particular song that your character likes. For Papadopoulos I listened to loads of Tinie Tempah, loads of Tinie Tempah.” For The Borgias, it was Carlo Gesualdo and old Italian orchestral pieces.
Any plans afoot for the future?
“Well, currently I’m unemployed. If you’re an actor, you’re out of work more than you’re in work, there’s a lot of good actors who are not working. You’ve just got to appreciate every time that you do work, you should feel blessed to be able to do what you wanna do in life. But at the moment I am unemployed! I am looking for more work. So, I’m in the process of auditioning for new projects.”
“It’s nice to… just to hear of a couple of people actually out there that liked the show, and the shows, yeah, and me.” Grown-ups, too, in the case of Young Dracula, I point out. “Yeah, it’s good to have a diverse age group.” And then, just as I am preparing to turn off my tape recorder and say goodbye to this fantastic bloke, he says something that ensures, once and for all, that he will always be welcome to hang out with any of the Fandom Wanderers team, should he so wish. I suggest that the mark of a good children’s show is that it appeals to adults too.
“I totally agree, adults have to watch it, it’s why I watch some cartoons. Like Spongebob Squarepants – a lot of the jokes in there go over younger audience members’ heads.”
Ten minutes later, we’re still talking about Ice Age and cartoons.
“Honestly, it’s so good, I suggest people go out and watch Ice Age, the new Ice Age. It’s so funny. I love all them. Like, on TV I’ve got Superhero Squad – it’s on CITV every Saturday morning. I’m out, but I have it on record, and I just watch it in the evenings. It’s about a young version of Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk… it’s so good, and the jokes in there just hit you, they’re so funny. It’s really, really good. I love cartoons, I really do.” It turns out he’s a Disney fan, too. “Yesterday it was horrible… I was planning on sitting out in the park, and then it started raining! I flicked over to a channel, and Robin Hood, Disney’s Robin Hood was on. It was brilliant, I’ve not seen it for years. Such a good film! I get excited about cartoon films.”
And so we part ways. Cesare told me early on in proceedings that this would be his first interview, and it’s a real honour for us to be the ‘zine that brings it to the public. There you have it; a deep thinker, a lover of cartoons, and all-around brilliant guy – Cesare Taurasi.
Cesare Taurasi was talking to Eleanor Musgrove.