Gurney's Inn
May 30, 2007

Brooklyn Rules Freddie Prinze Jr.

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"I've said I was proud of other things, and I wasn't lying. I was just wrong, or I didn't know what pride was," Freddie Prinze Jr. admitted recently. "This role really made a difference for me. I finally got the kind of part that I've wanted my whole life."

Prinze was referring to Brooklyn Rules, which blends Stand By Me buddy allegiances with the adrenaline rush of GoodFellas. Employing witty dialogue, an autobiographic-like narrative, brilliant casting, and authentic Brooklyn backdrops, director Michael Corrente and Emmy-winning "Sopranos" screenwriter Terrence Winter have given the perennial mobster genre a new wrinkle.

Moviegoers are transported back to the mid-1980s, a time when the Gambino crime family held the neighborhood tightly in its grasp.

An intimate, highly personalized tale, Brooklyn Rules focuses on three childhood friends, starting with Michael (Prinze), who opts for legitimacy, scams his way into Columbia University, and falls for a Connecticut debutante (Mena Suvari). The second, the narcissistic, hair-obsessed, swaging Carmine (Scott Caan), chooses the criminal road. Rounding out the trio is the penny-pinching, religious, romantic Bobby (Jerry Ferrara from "Entourage") wanting nothing more than marriage and a job as a postal clerk.

Permanently influencing each of their lives is Mafioso underboss Caesar Manganaro (Alec Baldwin), whose raw cruelty is both hypnotically fascinating and repulsive.

Striking a personal chord, Prinze has known them all in real life. "I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. What people fail to realize is that it was the Number One city, per capita, for gang-related murder in this country and people that we knew, every year, were just suddenly gone. You saw people get shot and it was sort of acceptable," the 31-year-old tall, preppie, handsome actor said quietly during a recent visit to Manhattan's Regency Hotel.

"One of my best friends, Berto, was taken away 13 days before we graduated. It probably should've been me and not him. I don't really like to talk about it. To go to that kind of a place was intense. So I knew that I could do this part."

"I understand Michael's need to hustle and scam. I don't have an education. I'm the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I lied to my teachers and said whatever I had to say to get a D, just to get through," said Prinze. "I didn't skip school to go party. I had three jobs. We had a gas bill, do you know what I'm saying?" Several times the actor apologized for "not being that smart." His ability to size up people and situations, however, quickly compensates for any lack of formal education.

It took a simple gesture of genuine affection to escape "Land of Entrapment," Prinze's interpretation of Albuquerque's "Land of Enchantment" moniker. "My friend's dad told me, 'There's nothing here for you, son. You need to get out.' He gave me a couple of dollars and since I didn't have enough to get to New York, I ended up in L.A. and never looked back," said Prinze.

It turned out to be the right destination. After landing a guest spot on ABC's "Family Matters," Prinze's career quickly caught fire. Premiering on the big screen in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, he quickly gained leading man status via 1999's teen flick, She's All That.

At that point, Prinze wasn't thinking longevity. He harbored a secret fear that he'd never see his 23rd birthday. Starring in the breakthrough 1970s sitcom, "Chico and the Man," Prinze Sr. publicly battled drugs and depression before putting a gun to his head. Prinze Jr. was only 10 months at the time.

"Every decision I've made in the business has been motivated by my father," he said. One of those decisions was to co-create, write and star in the ABC sitcom titled "Freddie" during the 2005-06 season that brought the Prinze name back to America's living rooms on a weekly basis.

"I always try to keep things on my terms. I always want to be able to make sure and look at myself in the mirror when I go home and respect who I see and maintain dignity. It was the same thing with my show. They wanted me to make certain changes with certain things and fire certain people. I wasn't going to do that and they cancelled me. But it ended on my terms. I made the show I wanted. It hurt me tremendously, but every once in a while you get something like Brooklyn Rules."

Last seen on the big screen in the smash-hit franchise, Scooby Doo and Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, opposite his wife Sarah Michelle Gellar, who starred as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for seven seasons, Prinze noted, "I don't look for a lot of roles these days. I kind of fell in love with writing when I did my show and have a nice talent for it. So I'm focusing a little bit more on that."

That is not to imply that Prinze will avoid the camera all together. He explained, "I did a Paul Reiser and Harold Ramis pilot a couple of weeks ago. It's a single camera half hour show and CBS has never done one in the entire history of the network. So it's a long shot, but if it gets on, this thing is so good."

In the meantime, he's not waiting by the phone. Come summer, Prinze returns to Brooklyn as executive producer of a $2 million budgeted independent film by Conrad Jackson titled Manslaughter.

"I grew up with Conrad, and he helped create my TV series. I want to kind of protect him and look after him, and we've hired a lot of the same people from the show," the actor said.

Prinze has mastered one of life's major lessons – friends and family are more enduring than fame.

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