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— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

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“My mom didn’t want me coming home and hanging out, so everything I had to do had to be connected to the church,” recalls actor Bobby Cannavale, who is in town for the 26th annual Denver International Film Festival.

“One of the things that the church had was the theater. Eight or nine years old, I was in Guys and Dolls. I was a gangster. I was the only kid in the cast. It made no sense, but they let me be in all the plays.”

These days, you won’t see him in church plays, but you will see him on TV and in the movies. Fans of NBC’s Third Watch may remember him as Bobby Caffey. He played Alonzo Torquemada on HBO’s Oz. He also had a memorable one-episode tryst with Samantha in Sex and the City.

His latest work, however, has been in movies. The Station Agent took the Audience Award at Sundance this year and shows several times at the DIFF, including Sunday night at 7:00 at Muenzinger on campus.

Friendship Film

Cannavale in The Station Agent
Cannavale made The Station Agent with friends

Written and directed by Cannavale’s friend Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent is a quiet little film about friendship. Finn (Peter Dinklage) is a dwarf who inherits a train depot in a small town in New Jersey. Finn wants to go unnoticed, but he keeps running into two of the town’s residents, Joe (Cannavale), who sells hot dogs from a truck, and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) who nearly runs him over — twice. Over the course of the film, the three become friends, in spite of Finn’s desire to be left alone with his trains.

“Tom’s a wonderful actor first and foremost,” says Cannavale. “We met about 8 years ago, acting in a play together, and we just became friends. That’s the interesting thing about this movie, is everybody in this movie are all friends from the theater. It’s the beauty of that community of actors in New York. It wasn’t just ‘come and play this part,’ everybody loved it. They’d get in their car and come out to New Jersey for a day and shoot these parts. I think that’s a hard thing to get anywhere else, especially L.A.”

In The Station Agent, except for Joe and Olivia, most of the people who meet Finn are either rude or overly curious about his being a dwarf. But Cannavale says that never came up between him and Dinklage.

“I’ve known him for a while, for about four or five years. In New York, everybody knows the Dink. He’s been around for such a long time, and he’s been acting on stage for so long, and he’s had a punk rock band, just everybody knows him. It’s like in the movie, it doesn’t even occur to you. He’s a handsome guy, he’s an interesting guy, he’s one of the funniest people I know, and he’s got that great voice. People are sort of attracted to him. Maybe initially maybe it’s because of that [curiosity] but then they’re like *snap*, you forget about it instantly.”

Rising Star

In addition to introducing The Station Agent, Cannavale also received the DIFF’s Rising Star Award. This is the first year the award has been given.

“I’ve never won an award for anything, and I think it’s weird. I mean, that’s really cool [but] it’s strange to think you could get an award for acting. I always thought that was strange. It’s a great honor, though. It’s really nice to be recognized. I don’t know what I’m going to say. I’m just going to say ‘thank you’ a lot.”

Cannavale just finished shooting his next movie in Winnipeg, a remake of the Japanese film Shall We Dance? with Richard Gere and Stanley Tucci. “I was nervous as hell when I got there and I had to be funny. There’s nothing worse than doing a comedic part and being nervous. You can’t do it. I think they got an inkling that I was nervous because they flew a print of The Station Agent up there before I started shooting my big scenes. They had a cast and crew screening of the movie. Everybody came and they went crazy for it and it totally relaxed me. The next day I had to work and Richard [Gere] just said ‘you just do your thing,’ and he became like the greatest straight man because he would just let me have fun and do whatever I wanted.”