John D’Leo is not yet at the point where hordes of fans mob him on the street — but that is fine with him.
“I don’t care about popularity,” the Manalapan native said. “I’ll trade a million people recognizing me on the street for one job, you know what I mean? My goal is not to be recognized — my goal is to make as many movies as I can.”
D’Leo, 19, has taken a levelheaded approach to Hollywood, even after working with some of the biggest names in entertainment — Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Angelina Jolie.
Two years after starring in the 2013 crime comedy film “The Family” alongside De Niro and Pfeiffer, D’Leo now appears in the Academy Award-nominated “Unbroken,” directed and produced by Jolie.
“Unbroken,” which is based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand, tells the harrowing true story of 1936 U.S. Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, who was tortured in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.
D’Leo plays Pete Zamperini, Louis’ older brother, who, at an early age, gives Louis the strength he needs to eventually survive his series of horrors.
“I was shocked,” D’Leo said about reading the script for “Unbroken.” “I was like, ‘I have to be a part of this. This is a huge-scale thing.’ Most actors worry about their parts and their role, but being a part of this project, you know you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.”
To prepare for the movie, which was shot in Australia, D’Leo did as much research as he could about the story, including reading Hillenbrand’s book.
Since his character is a runner, D’Leo worked with a trainer for a week-and-a-half and did his own running in the film.
His onscreen mother, played by Maddalena Ischiale, taught him Italian, which he speaks in the film. “It came pretty natural to me because I felt like I was speaking my own language in a way,” said D’Leo, who is half-Italian. “She sat down, she was very patient with me … she taught everyone [in the cast] Italian.”
But perhaps the greatest preparation D’Leo did for the film came from his conversations with Jolie, who inspired him to think of his own older brothers in his role as Pete.
“She’s fabulous because she is an actor’s director,” D’Leo said of Jolie. “She was an actor. She came from where we were from, so she knows exactly what we’re thinking and how to emotionally connect with us … I have spent personal time with her and her family and her kids. They are just great people.”
D’Leo, who lives in Manalapan with his parents Ginna and Chuck D’Leo, co-owners of the Soho Studios for Hair salon in Old Bridge, continues to spend his time auditioning. He will appear in the upcoming season of “Orange Is the New Black,” as well as in the independent film “Jack of the Red Hearts.”
But D’Leo is also considering going to college.
“I was told that to be an actor you can’t just worry about acting or directing,” he said. “Because being the best actor and director you can be is understanding why and how the world works … you have to be a smart actor. I have to be worldly educated.”
Although D’Leo said popularity is not a concern for him, he said he ultimately wants to be someone who inspires young children — as was the case for actor Paul Rudd, who invited D’Leo to have lunch every day with him while they filmed the 2012 comedy “Wanderlust.”
“I want to be like that,” D’Leo said. “I want to get to a point where a little kid gets excited to see me on set.”