Once Upon a Time in Queens is the kind of film that takes you by surprise. What on the surface appears to be a film about a former mobster, jockeying for the power he once had, turns out to be a very touching family tale. Actress Babette Renee Props plays Rita Scoleri, the adult daughter of recently paroled Mafia man, Joe Scoleri (Paul Sorvino), whose life is turned upside down when her father comes home. Rita is faced with coming out to her very old-fashioned father, and attempting to connect with the man who she hasn’t seen outside of prison walls in 20 years.
Props recently spoke with AfterEllen about the film, which is currently in select theaters and available November 11 on VOD.
Babette Renee Props: Joe and Rita lost 20 years together. Rita was really on her own while her father was in prison. So the reunion is threaded with layered emotions from deep resentment to deep love for Rita toward her father. Mr. Joe is an old school Sicilian and loves his daughter and has tried his best considering all the choices he made and circumstances in his life.
AE: We don’t get to see too many adult children coming out to their parents on television and movies, and that scene between you and Paul Sorvino was very touching. What was it like working with Sorvino, who is such a film legend, on this really heartfelt and emotional scene?
BRP: I have been acting since I was nine years old. I am so grateful to have been asked to do this role where the writing, by directer David Rodriguez, is flawless. And then to connect with a great master actor, Sorvino—it made my job joyful, fulfilling and easy to stay in the moments. Sorvino is a gem. Every day before we began, he would turn to me and say, “Remember just trust the work.” I lost my father to brain cancer when I was 16 years old, so this role touched home with me on many levels. It was not work, we were just really “being.” Actors do not really get that kind of opportunity all the time, so I am very thankful.
AE: At first Rita doesn’t tell her father that she’s a lesbian, and moves out of the home she lives in with her partner, to move back in with him. Why do you think she makes that sacrifice?
BRP: I had the privilege of living with a Queens family, the Panepintos, for six weeks before shooting so I could really absorb the culture and people. I am not Sicilian—I was born in Oklahoma and raised in Arizona. They are tight as families, there is great love, commitment and loyalty. My character was raised old school Catholic, and the only child, so it was necessary for her to really try and mend the gaps with her father. Rita and Anna have a solid relationship so Rita had the support to try and heal the relationship with her father.
Babette Renee Props and Andrea Navedo Photo: John Barr (DP)
AE: Once Joe meets Anna (Andrea Navedo), Rita’s girlfriend, he starts to warm to Rita’s relationship and learn to accept and embrace the couple. It’s really the heart of the film. I couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t much info about the fact that Rita is gay in the press for the movie, and you have really taken it upon yourself to make sure that this wonderful part of the movie is brought to our attention. Why did you decide to go the extra mile?
BRP: I am a straight woman that is a strong advocate for gay/civil rights. David Rodriguez wrote and directed a post-mob film, a film about a family in the 21st century and all the challenges and changes it involves. Lionsgate missed the boat completely on the marketing, and if they were smart, they would change it. If one old school parent sees this film and starts their journey to learn to love their gay child unconditionally, then this storytelling has fulfilled its purpose. In a day and age with technology changing every minute and we are living in “real” time, it is vital to understand everything is transparent now. The cream always rises to the top and people are hungry for truths that compel them to grow and cope.
Once Upon a Time in Queens is available in select theaters now.