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Donnie Brasco

When Hollywood Comes to Call

By Wendy Anne Grossman
St. Petersburg Times
St. Petersburg, FL
February 23, 1997

The Mafia returns to Pasco County this Friday.

That’s when the new movie Donnie Brasco, starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, opens at the Hollywood 18 in Port Richey.

Donnie Brasco was the alias of FBI undercover agent Joe Pistone, who, starting in 1979, conducted a successful sting operation against the mob from the King’s Court Bottle Club in Holiday. Much of the movie is set at the club, which was on U.S. 19. But filming took place in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach, Brooklyn and Clifton, N.J.

Brasco, played by Depp, is a supposed jewel thief who smokes English cigarettes and plays high-stakes poker as he tries to work his way inside the Family Business. Brasco befriends hardened criminal Lefty Ruggiero, played by Pacino, who vouches for him to other mobsters. As Brasco moves deeper into the Mafia chain of command, he realizes that he is leading Lefty to an almost certain death. Meanwhile, Brasco tries to be a caring husband to a wife to whom he cannot tell the truth and a good father to kids he seldom sees.

Donnie Brasco is about two men who get caught in a conflict of loyalties,” said director Mike Newell, who also directed Four Weddings and a Funeral. “It is really about the price of betrayal, which always takes its toll not just on the betrayed but on the betrayer.”

The movie is based on Pistone’s book Donnie Brasco, My Undercover Life in the Mafia. The screenplay is by Paul Attanasio, who also wrote the scripts for Quiz Show and Disclosure.

This is Depp’s second Pasco-related movie; he also starred in Edward Scissorhands, which was filmed in Land O’Lakes.

Location is not Pasco’s only connection to Depp’s latest film. Clark and Rita Seymour, who spend the winters in their house in Holiday, rented their residence in Clifton, N.J., to TriStar Pictures for use as the Pistone home in Donnie Brasco. They later bought a red 1978 Cadillac used in the film and helped Bill and Pat Morgan buy the 1979 Cadillac that Pacino’s character drives. The Morgans, longtime friends of the Seymours, now live in Holiday.

Just before Christmas, a film production company stuck a flier in the Seymours’ mailbox at 202 Abbe Lane in Clifton. The company was seeking a house to be used in Donnie Brasco.

“We thought it was a joke,” Clark Seymour said. “On a lark we called.”

A number of other residents on Abbe Lane responded, too. Seymour said his house was chosen because it has a bigger kitchen than other houses on the street, which Newell liked. The production company gave the Seymours $7,500 for living expenses and rented their home. Seymour wouldn’t reveal how much he was paid for renting his home, but an average home rental fee is about $1,000 a day, said Steve Gonik, assistant director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission. The Seymours stored their furniture and moved into their daughter’s house in Lincoln Park, N.J., for three months.

The Seymours had spent the past 15 years sprucing up and remodeling their bilevel 1,800-square-foot home. The movie company trashed it. “They ripped my house apart,” Seymour said, showing pictures of the 5- by 10-foot holes cut into the ceilings for cameras. All the closets were torn out, the carpet was ripped up and walls were knocked down. “They asked me about every change,” Seymour said. “And they put it all back the way I wanted it.” Seymour got to keep the additions he liked. The house now has wood floors, a new roof and a bay window in the dining room.

By the time filming ended May 23, Seymour had met Pacino, Depp and Anne Heche, who plays Pistone’s wife.

Seymour videotaped behind-the-scenes action during the filming. He also has lots of photos of Depp. “Every time we asked for a picture, he posed,” Seymour said, turning the pages of his Depp scrapbook. The Seymours shot 10 rolls.

There is Depp kneeling on the ground to autograph their 3-year-old grandson Nicholas’ Tonka truck. Depp hugging their 22-year-old daughter, Danielle. And Depp smoking a cigarette on the set.

The Seymours salvaged a pair of Depp’s black cowboy boots, a couple of director’s chairs and a script. They also bought the red 1978 Cadillac used in the movie for $2,500.

“I’m sure they’re not going to do another movie in our house,” Rita Seymour said. “But we wouldn’t mind.”

Pat Morgan first eyed the other Cadillac, a 1979 model painted the color of a Hershey bar, sitting in front of the maple trees at the house of her friend, Clark Seymour. She wanted that car. She and her husband, Bill, got the Seymours to negotiate a deal for them to buy the car when filming ended. By June the deal was done.

“I flew up to New Jersey, jumped in and drove it down,” Bill Morgan said.

That was the first time Morgan had driven more than a few blocks in 3 1/2 years, he said. He had been laid up after five heart attacks, back surgery, a hip replacement and gall bladder surgery. He drove straight back to Florida by himself, napping at rest stops. His hip was hurting badly by the time he arrived at his home on Wiltshire Drive in Holiday. He has driven the car 18,000 miles since he bought it. It now has more than 85,000 miles on the odometer.

The brown vinyl paint is chipping off the steering wheel. Glue dulls the silver paint above the driver’s-side window, where cameras were bolted to the car for interior shots. And the paint on the hood doesn’t quite match the steel fender. But Morgan said those things don’t matter. He washes and waxes the Cadillac two or three times a week, he said.

“Once the movie’s over it’ll be done with—but right now it’s exciting,” Pat Morgan said. She loves movie car chase scenes; her favorite is the 22-minute chase in Bullet. She can’t wait to see her car zooming around when Donnie Brasco opens this week. “The Pacino car,” as Pat Morgan calls it, will be on display at the Muvico Palm Harbor 10 complex Friday and Saturday night from 6:30 to 10:30.

-- donated by Theresa

-- photos added by Zone editors