The patriarch of the Cullen clan, Peter Facinelli spent much of last winter in Baton Rouge playing Carlisle Cullen while filming Breaking Dawn, the two-part finale of The Twilight Saga. But the versatile actor’s career hasn’t been defined by the undead dad. While playing another more juvenile doctor on Showtime’s dark comedy Nurse Jackie, Facinelli is also developing multiple projects across the media landscape through his production company, Facinelli Films. We spoke over the phone about becoming a part-time Louisiana resident, juggling roles in film and television, and finally being able to get a tan.
MH: You filmed the first few installments of the Twilight franchise up in the Northwest. Was it a big shift coming down to Louisiana for the final two films?
PF: I actually enjoyed it, you know? I love the scenery there, the food, the culture. I shot a movie in New Orleans a while back and I’ve always loved Louisiana. So getting to go back there was kind of nice. What was really nice about it was it was so warm there. We went up to Canada and it was freezing cold so it was a little bit of a treat to be able to walk on set in a t-shirt or go to dinners.
MH: Did you have the opportunity to make it back to New Orleans?
PF: I did. My family came into town and I took them to New Orleans and we had a good time. I think I tweeted a picture…there was an old photography place where we walked in to like a costume place where you could put on some old New Orleans garb and take a picture like an old time photo. So the kids had a lot of fun with that and I took the kids to Bourbon Street during the day, as they were hosing down the streets, and my little daughter said, “Why do they hose down the streets?” I said, “Because grown-ups throw up on it all night long.” She was like, “Dad, you can’t take me here ever again.”
MH: Yeah, there are a few things in the morning that will make you blush on Bourbon.
PF: They had a good time, a really good time. New Orleans, in that part of town, there’s just so much culture, and the music’s great and the food is great. It was exciting to be there.
MH: You had to spend a lot of time in Baton Rouge. Was there anything that made it a little more comfortable there?
PF: We had apartments [in Perkins Rowe] and I remember my first night, I was so hungry and I went out to the strip mall and I had California Pizza Kitchen and I was like, “I can’t believe I’m eating at California Pizza Kitchen when I’m in Baton Rouge.” It’s pretty ironic but, yeah, we just hit up a lot of cool restaurants. We worked so many hours that most of the time we were inside the studio but whenever we got to go out, we just hit up the restaurants and had some good food.
MH: I really want to talk to you about what you’re doing with Facinelli Films. In particular, can you tell me about Street Soldier?
PF: Yeah, I started this company a little over a year ago. I had three scripts that I had written and every time I’d get some traction on them, I’d go off to do a movie and it would all fall apart. So I hired a guy named Rob DeFranco to kind of oversee my company. But in the first six months, we had two films in production so things got off the bat pretty quickly. One of them was a little movie I sold to the Hallmark channel that my wife starred in and it aired in February to great ratings, so Hallmark was ecstatic. The second one was a little movie called Loosies with Jaimie Alexander from Thor, Michael Madsen and Vincent Gallo and that was a blast. It was about a two million dollar picture that we shot in New York and Rhode Island. And IFC just picked it up so it’ll get a limited release and hopefully grow from there on a platform.
MH: Oh, wow I can’t wait to see it. The cast is great.
PF: We got the rights to this thing called Street Soldier, which tells the Whitey Bulger story through the eyes of one of the enforcers, which I thought was a really good take on Whitey Bulger. So, we got the rights and simultaneously someone had written a script and had the financing and came to us. So, we have the financing, we have the script and we’re going out to directors. I want to shoot it next May. Now we’re just looking to get a director on board.
MH: And that was a project you were looking at before he was caught?
PF: We got the rights to that about [a year] ago. Rob DeFranco came to me with a book and he grew up in Boston, so he knew the story really well. I didn’t, so I read the book and I thought it was interesting. It was kind of serendipitous because [the project came together and] then Bulger just got caught so it gives us a nice ending to our movie and definitely brought more awareness to the project.
MH: Will you be doing any work on the script yourself?
PF: No, it’s already done. I think that right now we’ll get a director on board, and everybody will tweak it. I’m just producing it. I might, if my schedule allows, do a part in it, but I’m not sure if I’ll act in it or not right now. I have so many other projects with Facinelli Films that some of them I’ll just produce and some of them I’ll write and then, hopefully, I’ll direct a few.
MH: Have you had the opportunity to direct anything yet?
PF: I just directed a bunch of web-isodes for College Humor, which is really fun.
MH: Is there a certain type of project you’re looking to create having now created Facinelli Films?
PF: I have four or five movie projects that are now in development. Some of them are written, some of them are just pitch ideas. We have about four or five TV shows and we have a deal to do a reality series. My philosophy is, it goes along the lines of my career. My career has been very versatile in the roles that I’ve played. I didn’t want to have one passion project that I spent five years trying to get made so I basically have a slate of projects that are all different. Some of them are comedies, some of them are little indies, some of them are bigger, fifteen to twenty million dollar projects. I guess our mission statement is just making projects that are character-driven and also commercial.
MH: I’m kind of a latecomer to Nurse Jackie and it is just the most amazing show. Showtime has just become this home for all the great dark comedies and Nurse Jackie is chief among those. Can you talk about how you were cast as Dr. Coop and how you prepared for that part?
PF: I had done a pilot with the show runners of Nurse Jackie about a year before for Showtime and it didn’t get picked up. It was a really good little dark comedy. It was between our show and Californication and they picked up Californication. The next year, the writers were on Nurse Jackie and they, I had just wrapped up on Twilight. Nobody knew what Twilight was at that time or that it was gonna be successful at all. They came to me and said, “There’s a role here that we’d like you for…would you wanna do it?” And I read the script and just thought, “Well, first of all Edie Falco’s on board and anything Edie Falco’s coming back to TV for…it’s gotta be good, you know? And I really liked my character. I thought it was fun. My concern was, because the tone was so different than anything I had ever seen, I wanted to make sure that what I was doing was along the same lines as what they were thinking. Normally, I don’t like auditioning because it’s such an odd process and it’s unlike anything you’re doing while you’re on the set. You’re sitting in a little chair and miming stuff and it’s kind of a weird process. But with this one, I asked them to audition for it. I said, “Can I come in and can we read this?” because they were friends. Because I had worked with them before I didn’t want to show up on set and be doing something completely different than what they expected and have them go “Oh, no.” So I came in, we sat down, we played with the material and I did my version of Coop and they were like, ‘That’s the guy,” and they sent the tape over to Edie and Edie liked it and the rest is history.
MH: It’s great to see actors that are so loved from The Sopranos on Nurse Jackie, working with a crop of talented younger actors like you.
PF: Yeah, we have a good time on that show. We laugh a lot. Which is fun because sometimes you do dramatic work or you’re doing darker stuff and there’s a tension on the set because the tone of the film sets that tension, but on Nurse Jackie we definitely end up after cuts having a good laugh. Sometimes I can’t help it, and I’ll laugh in the middle of a take.
MH: Coop just looks like the most fun character to play.
PF: It is fun and what makes it even more fun is the group of people and very talented cast. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with, not just Edie, but with the other actors on the show, too. It really feels like we’re doing a theatre piece. We’re going there, we rehearse it once and then everybody kind of plays with it. It’s fun. You know, when you’re working with really good actors, you never know what to expect and you’re just going along for the ride.
MH: Is there any connecting at all through the doctor you play on Nurse Jackie to Dr. Carlisle Cullen?
PF: Absolutely none, which is what I love about it (laughs). They’re so distinctly different. I mean, they’re probably 180 degrees from each other. When I was thinking about doing the show I thought, “What a fun thing to do because I have this one character, Carlisle, who’s kind of the rock of the family, he’s very mature, he’s confident, he’s compassionate and the leader of this family who everyone looks to. Then you have this other guy who’s basically very immature, self-absorbed, childlike and I thought, “What a fun world…to play two doctors who are so completely different that the only thing they share is the same white jacket.”
MH: And you’ve been shooting both Twilight and Nurse Jackie simultaneously, correct?
PF: On last couple of Twilight movies, I’ve done double duty, doing both at the same time, so they kind of overlapped. I thought it would be really difficult, but it actually was refreshing. I’d be doing three days on Twilight, doing Eclipse or Breaking Dawn and then I would fly back somewhere else and all of a sudden be in a completely different environment doing a completely different character. It broke the monotony. I love both characters so much that it was fun to be able to go back and forth between the two. Sometimes people ask me, “Do you ever get the lines confused or the roles confused?” They’re so distinctly different that, no.
MH: They’re both just kind of incidentally doctors.
PF: Yeah, that’s the only thing that I guess they do share is that they’re both doctors.
MH: I first got acquainted with you on Fastlane, a great show that felt like one of the first to really have the scope of a big action feature.
PF: Well, McG directed it so that was what was really exciting to me. I grew up watching Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky & Hutch, and there was nothing like that on TV at the time. I thought, “Well this is just a really fun show to do.” You go to work every day and you get to play cops and robbers and drive Ferraris and shoot guns like John Woo style. And I was proud of that show. I thought it was a lot of fun. In some ways, I wish we got one more season, but I’m not sad that it ended because if it hadn’t, and they did five or six seasons, then it would’ve been harder for me to stretch out and play the other roles that I play now. I would have been so solidified as that character that people wouldn’t have looked at Carlisle the same. So, I look back at my work and I have characters like Mike Dexter from Can’t Hardly Wait and then I put that next to the character of Van Ray from Fastlane and I put that character next to Carlisle and I put that character next to Coop. I’m proud of the very distinctness of each character. Each character is a different person and I always joked that if I had all the characters that I ever played in one room… that would be a really fun party (laughing).
MH: The other thing about Fastlane is it seems like one of the shows that brought TV production values up to film standards.
PF: Well that’s what people always say to me: “What do you like doing better, television or film?” And I say it’s just a matter of where the material is. There’s really good material on television and if I can find it there, that’s a great outlet. If I can find it in film, great. The difference is, TV is immediate and film is kind of bigger. You finish a film and it comes out eight months later but it’s a bigger premiere and it lives on in things like DVDs. But I guess TV lives on in DVDs now, too. The difference to me is that TV’s pace is faster and we’re shooting more pages a day and in film, you shoot less pages a day and it’s a slower process. I enjoy doing both. And for me, it’s just where the quality material is.
MH: You’re so young and Carlisle’s very old, this patriarch with gravitas. Was playing an older, wiser character a challenge for you?
PF: Well, when I first read the roll, I was like how am I gonna make this guy who’s like 350 years old but at the same time in appearance, he’s twenty-three. In the books, he’s twenty-three so he has a young appearance with an old soul. Because I’m young, I thought, “How am I gonna be the leader of this family looking so young?” I don’t know how I’m gonna be Rob Pattinson’s dad, you know? When we hang out, I can be his older brother but physically it was a challenge to say, ‘I have to be the father figure.’ So what I did to create the character was, I looked at Carlisle and I did a little bit of history on the last 350 years of his life and what was going on in those times. I kind of gave myself a little history lesson and mapped out his character and his journey through those 350 years and then I felt like, ‘Okay, I’m bringing that knowledge to the screen whether it appears or not, I have that knowledge inside. Then, just making sure he has the leadership qualities and his speech patterns are a little slower and he’s a little more still than a character like Coop, who runs around like he just drank four cans of Red Bull.
MH: How much Red Bull do you have to ingest to play Coop?
PF: About four cans a day (laughs).
MH: That’s awesome! I hope the production pays for that. There have been several Twilight films now and you’ve shot the two-part finale…
PF: Yeah, we shot all of it. My filming on The Twilight Saga’s done. I mean, I still have press stuff for the next two years and films will be released this November and next November but as far as the filming process, we’re finished.
MH: Does it feel like you’re kind of at the end of that road?
PF: In some ways it doesn’t feel like it’s over, because I still get together with the cast for press and I still get to experience that for the next two years. But it saddens me that I won’t be able to be on film and be on set with the cast. I mean, they’ve come to be like family and that experience is over so it’s kind of bittersweet, but at the same time, after five movies you’re kind of ready to go on and play other things. That’s taken up a lot of my time over the last three years. Other than Loosies and Nurse Jackie and Breaking Dawn, I haven’t been able to do much other stuff, which is part of the reason I started the production company so I could get other stuff off the ground that I don’t have to be in.
MH: You seem to invest a lot of energy in philanthropy. I know when you were here in Baton Rouge people were talking about how you were the first one to buy a ticket to St. Jude’s Dream House.
PF: I love to be able to give back and bring awareness to things. I work a lot with children’s cancer research. St. Jude’s is one of them. Alex’s Lemonade Foundation is another one. Sometimes I’ll do autograph signings to help benefit the charities or spread awareness. I feel like it’s part of my duty is to be able to be a good role model and be able to use my name to bring awareness to different charities.
MH: Why is children’s cancer research in particular close to your heart?
PF: I have three kids of my own and I couldn’t imagine one of my daughters getting sick. One of my daughters, Lola, was sick for a little while, though she ended up being fine. She was in the hospital with fever for a month…a fever of unknown origin and there were times when they were kicking around that she might have leukemia. They had to drill into her, they had to do tests. It was a very scary period for me as a father and, though she came out of it ok. My daughter ended up getting better and didn’t have thankfully anything [more serious]. It definitely brought awareness to me and I visited children’s hospitals. I visited cancer wings and it’s just so unfair to me that these kids are sitting in this hospital when they should be out playing, you know? And what I found most particularly interesting being in those cancer wings was that it wasn’t dark and depressing. These kids were filled with hope and I wanted to continue that hope and I felt like it was my duty to go out and do something about it to keep the hope alive.
MH: One more question, and this can be off the record if you want. Are you tired of answering that question about having to stay out of the sunlight to stay pale?
PF: (Laughs) Plenty of times if I was in the sun I would sink into the shadows unconsciously just because I was so used to staying out of the sun. I remember going to my daughter’s soccer games with sunglasses and hoodie and I would look like the Unabomber, you know, just because the more sun you have the more make up you have to put on. This summer I took the kids to Europe, to the Maldives, and it was kind of nice for the first time in, I don’t know, years where I was actually able to sit in the sun and not worry about it.
MH: So, I guess that’s a no.
PF: No (laughs).