INTERVIEW: Darren Lipari on 21 Bridges & More

We talk to the actor about his work on 21 Bridges, and his favourite alcoholic beverages.

Darren Lipari
Photographer: Steez Media Stylist: Victoria Jackson Groomer: Andrea Pezzillo

Films and television serials about the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the dangerous situations its officers regularly face in the line of duty are a familiar niche genre within media. From 1970s cult favourites like Cagney & Lacey and Kojak, to modern procedurals such as the long-running Law & Order and its many spin-offs, and even the recent comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, popular culture has had its fair share of the Big Apple-based cop shows. Furthermore, within this genre there is the familiar tale of corruption and intrigue within the police force, which often results in the death of a number of officers, normally at the hands of their duplicitous cop colleagues.

However, the upcoming picture 21 Bridges takes this basic premise, and turns the tension all the way up to 11 (or 21 in this case). Directed by Brian Kirk, and starring honorary Avenger Chadwick Boseman and starlet Sienna Miller as NYPD detectives, the film sees a pair of suspected cop killers go on the run as they are hunted down by Boseman and Miller. The exciting and innovative twist in this familiar story is that all 21 bridges and tunnels in and out of New York City are shut down by police, thereby locking down the entire metropolitan area. As the net tightens around the pair of fugitives and the police draw ever closer to catching them, the stakes grow exponentially and it is difficult to say who will emerge victorious in this vicious game of cat and mouse.

To coincide with the upcoming release of 21 Bridges in theatres, I was able to speak with one of the film’s stars Darren Lipari, who plays the important role of Lieutenant Kelly, to find out more about the movie and his character. Interestingly, Darren is no stranger to this genre as he has played multiple parts in many police procedurals over the years, so I was also keen to learn more about his time on the set of these various NYPD television shows.

In your new film 21 Bridges you star as Lieutenant Kelly, who is a member of the New York Police Department. What role does your character play in the picture’s narrative of deceit, intrigue and tense action?
Well, I don’t want to spoil too much but I will say that LT. Kelly has an integral role to the plot of the film. When a drug bust goes wrong and multiple cops are gunned down LT. Kelly, being a seasoned, high ranking officer is tasked with hunting down these killers alongside JK Simmons, Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller. Kelly’s a walker not a talker and is willing to put his life on the line to avenge his fallen brothers in blue.

What drew you to the part of Lieutenant Kelly? Was there something about the character or film’s themes that drew you in?
I didn’t know too much about the project before I went in to audition. What I did like was that Chadwick Boseman was attached early on. I’ve been a fan of his character work prior to his Black Panther fame in films like 42′ and Get On Up. I knew that he was an actor who is always looking to push his creative boundaries and gladly invites an opportunity to step out of his comfort zone. I knew because of his attachment that this was going to be a multi-faceted project with moral depth and integrity. As far as getting to know my character traits, Kelly’s bravery and willingness to charge ahead in the face of danger was something admirable and exciting to explore personally.

Alongside your starring film role, you are also portraying a hunter named Lane Cantrell in the backdoor pilot for the new CBS drama FBI: Most Wanted, which is a spin-off for the network’s successful show FBI. What is it like getting involved in a project that is somehow both new and part of an established universe at the same time?
Good question! This opportunity was something that was such a great surprise because I didn’t know it was a backdoor pilot. When your reps send you breakdowns of the role, networks can be very secretive about the titles and placements of things, rightfully so. I got the offer and the next thing I knew I was invited to do a table read at CBS with Dick Wolf, the new lead cast and guest stars Matthew Lillard and Peter Facinelli amongst others, which was such a treat for me. The original FBI cast as well as the new assembled cast from ‘Most Wanted’ were extremely welcoming and gracious.

As far as jumping onto the ‘FBI’ train in flux I just focused on honoring the story of my character and being in the reality of my scene. I went to recently see Willem Defoe on ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ and something that always grounded him was simply just the “doing” of acting. What are you doing in this scene? What is the subtext of this scene? When I find these answers and start to play around with ideas at home and then on-set, I’m quite comfortable with my surroundings.

You seem to have been drawn to TV shows and films involving different branches of law enforcement, such as the FBI, CIA, and NYPD. Is there something you especially enjoy about performing in these types of projects? If you were not passionate about the performing arts, would you have considered a career in law enforcement instead? If so, what kind of career path would you have liked to follow in that sector?
It must have been watching Die Hard too many times as a kid lol. To be completely honest with you, when I started working as an actor I never thought I would be playing so many different roles of law enforcement and did not actively seek out these roles. I think what happens in the business when you are starting out is that sometimes you have a look, attitude and essence about you that fits certain types of molds.

The great thing about playing different types of law enforcement is that it complements certain strengths of mine as an actor, which is playing “characters that are dealing with a crisis.” I enjoy and thrive with those types of characters and situations. While I most likely wouldn’t have considered a career in that area because I grew up in a performing arts household I have a deep respect for law enforcement because men and women of all colors, creeds and sexual orientation are putting their lives on the line for us. I take pride that I have the opportunity to represent those core values of the force.

Having grown up in Long Island and starring in shows set in New York, is there something familiar and appealing in getting to shoot around the Big Apple?
One of the magical things about being an actor especially in TV/Film is shooting on location. Even as a native new yorker there are so many places I’ve never been too but have experienced now simply from acting jobs. The heartbeat, pulse and living history of every exterior and interior NYC location is reenergizing and a character itself in its own right. There is a reality that you cannot avoid when you are shooting in NYC that reverberates with you whether you know it or not.

A great example of this was when we were shooting a scene in ’21 Bridges’ in Grand Central Terminal around 5AM. It was a large one take scene and we ran slightly into overtime and soon real morning commuters found their way into the film. The cast and crew worked off that energy. That’s definitely a “NY Moment”

I have seen your mother Donna D Lipari has been performing in her own one woman show The Medium, The Music, and ME! Did your mother encourage and inspire you to follow a career in the performing arts growing up? Would you like to collaborate with her on a project sometime in the future?
You really have done your research! Haha. 100%. My mother is a voice teacher and performer while my father was a field reporter for ABC and voice over artist so I was lucky to have parents that always encouraged me to follow my dreams and also made me see firsthand that making a living in the arts was a tangible reality. I was honored to have collaborated with her especially on such a personal project that was decades in the making. If we were going to do another project together I would suggest a comedy!

I know you have also spent time behind the camera as a writer and director. Your short film Pouring Glory had a lot packed into only 20 minutes. How did you come up with such an off-the-wall concept for the film? Do you have a particular creative process that you typically follow?
Oh, thanks for taking the time to watch! Pouring Glory was a conscious effort to return to my film making roots combined with the love and affection I have for the mockumentary genre, especially the works of Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap, Best in Show) and more recently Andy Samberg. The idea originally came out of working as a bartender and observing certain co-workers who just took themselves way too seriously.

I found the comedy in those daily observations and combined my need to explore the nature of celebrity culture and social media as well as making certain homages to some of my favorite films of the 80s. The story and scope began to spiral from there when I asked myself the question “If this is true in the world that I created, then what else is true” “If a bartender reaches such extreme heights of fame, fortune and influence, what other parts of life would he affect. Would he affect politics, the economy, etc., etc.

As far as a creative process I follow, the thought that ignites the spark for me is “What do I want or need to say?” “What do I have to get off my chest?” From there I have a kernel of an idea that I can start to fill with characters, circumstances and conflict. I also think that writing a three act structure outline even if its barebones can be very helpful.

Given how much fun you seemed to have writing, directing and acting in Pouring Glory, did you encounter any difficulties in fulfilling all these roles simultaneously? Was there a particular creative aspect you enjoyed the most?
Oh I definitely bit off more then I could chew with my various duties on the project but I think I subconsciously did that on purpose. At that time, I was out of film school for so long that I needed to relearn many production duties if I wanted to continue to do this alongside my acting. In some respects it was a mini film school for me again. It did become difficult to shut my brain off sometimes when I was acting since I was simultaneously thinking about what shots I needed to get and how I was going to cut them together. The next time I’ll probably just direct and edit.

I love having a shorthand with actors that speak the same language as I do and already understand the essence of the character. I can then sit back and see what colors they add to the performance, which also gives me more options in the editing room. Editing is also a huge creative aspect I enjoy. There are so many different directions and spontaneous unthinkable avenues you can go to in the editing room, especially when music is involved. Music Video editing is something I’m extremely passionate about and have released some of my editing projects on my website (darrenlipari.com)

Finally, a very important question for you: which is your favourite cocktail and why?
This is a very important question! Old Fashioned, hands down. Specifically with Michters or templeton rye, demerara syrup (brown sugar) angostura bitters with a very large orange peel. It’s a cocktail that’s simplistic yet complex and can be enjoyed by a cozy fireplace or poolside. I tend to enjoy cocktails that have a maximum of about 3 to 4 ingredients. For me, when it comes to cocktails, “less is more”

Thank you for inviting me to do this interview! I really enjoyed your questions and truly appreciate the in-depth research you did. I look forward to the next one down the road.

21 Bridges is released in cinemas November 22, 2019. Unfortunately, the film’s marketing team missed a trick by not releasing it on the 21st.

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