Anyone who has seen Green Book will be eager to know more about Tony Lip (Viggo Mortenson) and Dr. Don Shirley(Mahersala Ali)’s friendship.
I recently had the chance to speak to Nick Vallelonga, who was perfectly placed to talk us through their friendship. Not only because he co-wrote the film, but he is Tony Vallelonga’s son, too.
“They went on for about another year after that,” Nick recently recalled to me over then phone. “They traveled to all 48 states on the mainland. Then Canada.”
“That’s why those things you hear my father talk about in the letters, his love for the country and how beautiful he thought it was. He loved the country. He saw every state. He was a die-hard American. He loved the United States Of America. He traveled around more.”
“Dr Shirley was then going to go on and do a tour of Europe and South America. But that’s when my mother said, ‘Enough is enough. You can’t be gone forever.’ And my dad realized that, too. They remained friends.”
“My father would go into the city and visit him at Carnegie Hall. They’d have lunches. Whenever Dr Shirley had any problems he’d call my father and he’d help to sort them out.”
“I spent a lot of time talking to Shirley for the film, and they remained such good friends for a long time because they affected each others’ lives so deeply. They could never forget.”
“That was what connected him and Dr Shirley. He wasn’t just outraged because he couldn’t eat in a restaurant. He was outraged that his friend couldn’t eat in a restaurant. It was both of those things that angered him. He didn’t like that.”
“He didn’t like people being mistreated. He would stand up and fight from them. It changed his attitude. It changed the way he raised us, his attitude towards other people. I always thought that’s why the film would resonate with people.”
Fans of “The Sopranos” will also recognize Tony Lip from his role as New York mob boss Carmine Lupatazzi. And I was eager to know more about how he went from being a bouncer to a prominent part of one of the greatest TV shows of all time.
“He continued to work in the Copa, and when they were doing ‘The Godfather’ they went in there, Coppola and the cast and people. They saw him and went, ‘We’ve got to put you in this movie.’”
“They put him in the movie, and then he became an actor. He was in ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Raging Bull,’ ‘Donnie Brasco,’ ‘The Pope Of Greenwich Village,’ lots of films. Then later on he got into ‘The Sopranos.’ That was probably the biggest thing he ever did. He was huge in that.”
“They’re not putting that out in the world that much. But the people that will get it will get it. They want to keep the story about him back then when it happened. But it was always going to come out eventually.”
But, ultimately, Vallelonga believes that his father’s whole life was much more exciting than just one movie or role
“He has so many stories, I could make 5 movies about him. Him in the Copa, in the hot dog eating contests. Those are all fun little stories that we knew when we grew up. I knew I had to put them in the film because it shows who he is.”
“It also shows that he is this big guy that could knock people out with one punch. He was known as the strongest guy in the neighborhood. The best bouncer and the toughest guy. But he was really a sweet guy.”
“His love for my mother. He never wanted to hurt her. My father could have gone and made money working for the mob. But he said no, and they respected him for that.”
“He would rather do the hot dog eating contest than hurt someone. He was banging around. He had a limited education, just street-smarts. That was how he put food on the table. But my father ended up running hotels and nightclubs and became an actor, he wrote a book, he was quite an amazing person.”
“Green Book” is now in cinemas.