This weekend, Danny DeVito returns to his old stomping grounds when he heads to the Asbury Park Music & Film Festival, where, on Saturday, he will be honored with an evening dedicated to his career.
Dubbed “An Evening with Danny DeVito,” the event will feature a Q&A session with the Matilda star, as well as other special programming. While the DeVito event is currently sold out, the APMFF runs Friday through Sunday at locations along or near the Asbury Park boardwalk. Launched in 2015, the festival benefits several arts-focused youth programs throughout Asbury Park, and will feature about 30 film screenings, as well performances by Wyclef Jean and Sublime with Rome.
DeVito was born in Neptune Township and raised in Asbury Park. In his late teens, he headed to New York to pursue acting. The move clearly paid off.
Today, the Emmy Award-winning DeVito is known for his role as rich, amoral bar owner Frank Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is preparing to enter its 13th season on FXX. He also recently wrapped work on the live-action adaptation of Disney’s Dumbo, slated for release early next year.
Personally, however, he is mostly missing Jersey right now, he hasn’t been back home in about year. We recently caught up with DeVito about his time growing up in Asbury Park, his move out, and, seeing as he’s an Eagles fan, the Birds’ first Super Bowl victory earlier this year.
Before anything else, I have to ask: What was it like watching the Eagles win their first Super Bowl this year?
Was that great or what? I was with Rob [McElhenney] and Kaitlin [Olson], and I was blown away by it. It was the best Super Bowl of my life. Every turnaround, everything that happened was just too much. I was so excited. It would have been an awful trip back to California if we had lost.
It seemed like Rob was really going nuts.
Yeah, Rob was losing his mind. They were such good players. I mean, come on. Every time they threw the ball, it was like it had eyes. They did it, man! They beat their ass.
So you’re coming home to Asbury Park soon.
Going to Jersey, man. Going on a Satur-dee, looking forward to it. I got peeps down there, some old buds. I see them once in a while, and I always love going down the shore. Maybe I sneak in a caramel apple, know what I mean?
This festival seems like your third big honor for this year alongside the Jack Valenti award and being named a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. You’re Jersey royalty at this point alongside Bruce Springsteen and James Gandolfini, right?
I like to be in that company. I saw Bruce twice on Broadway, and it’s amazing. If you get a chance to see that show, yeah. It’s so good to see him close-up. All the songs just bring you back to your roots, your Jersey roots. But I grew up on doo-wop. I listened to a Philly show called Jocko’s Rocket Ship Show. Do you remember it?
I don’t remember it. But I’m aware of it.
Well, the big thing with Jocko was he played all the simple, heartfelt doo-wop songs, and he’d do a rhyme every night that meant a lot to me. He’d go, “Eee-tiddly-ock, this is Jock. And I’m back on the scene with the record machine. Correct time now: 11:17.” He did that every night at 11:17, and what used to pump me up is that that’s my birthday. I would say to my friends, “Jocko’s reaching out to me.”
Besides radio, what do you think about when you remember Asbury Park?
The beach was my home. I lived about 13 blocks from the beach, and I’d get on my bike every day. I’d go out as soon as I was allowed to leave the radius of the front stoop, and I’d ride down Second Avenue all the way to the boardwalk. Straight down, in and out of traffic like, “What the hell?” This was way before video games, but that’s exactly what it was like — just screaming down that street. Flying. We couldn’t wait to get to that sand. We’d jump from corner of blanket to corner of blanket and piss off everybody, and then just dive in the ocean.
I’ve also heard you were quite the dancer growing up.
Basically, we did all the dances. The mashed potatoes and all that. I was a fast dancer. All the guys would go and try and get close to any girl that would have you near her — that’s the whole idea. Bradley Beach was all filled with city girls. All the girls from Newark and East Orange and South Orange would come down in the summertime. You know, you’ve been down there. It’s an amazing sea of humanity, all having a good time.
You left Asbury as a teen, and have said before that the introduction of heroin into the area played a role in your departure. How?
It was tough, man. My father was very sensitive to that because my Uncle Frank, his brother, years and years ago died from a heroin overdose. In those days, when I was a young teenager, there were a lot of opioids, if you can imagine. Not as serious today, maybe, but there were also people with Bennies and Benzedrine and Seconal and everything. It was pharmaceuticals coming in. I don’t know how, but everybody was tampering a little bit with it. I was in Asbury High School, and he found a school in Summit, N.J., called Oratory Prep, a boarding school.
So as a protection from that, your dad got you out of it?
Yeah. In the long run, I appreciated that. Not that my real close friends ever succumbed to that, but a few did. A cousin and a couple of friends wound up shooting smack, and not having a life at all. It was there.
Was it in Summit that you first got into acting?
The first play I did was in Summit. I played St. Francis of Assisi. This was a Catholic high school and they did a play, and I don’t even know if I read it. I was the smallest, so they put me in a robe with no shoes and socks. Talk about being against type. Are you kidding me? They cast me as a saint. That is creative casting.
Before you broke into acting, you were a hair stylist. How did you fall into that gig?
One of my big jobs in the summer was cutting grass. Then, my sister decided that I would go to Wilfred Academy Beauty School on, and I said, “That is the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard in my life.” But she had a beauty parlor on Main Street, and she said, ‘You’re not going to go to college. What are you going to do? I’ll give you a job if you go.” So, she sent me to school.
Did you stick with it for long?
I did it for two years, and I went to New York and got exposed to the acting world. I used to go back and forth, too, because I went to night school. Then, I decided to enroll at American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and I’d save a few bucks cutting people’s hair and stuff.
After that, you started your career in acting. Is there a moment where you first felt like you made it?
It’s step by step, as an actor. It’s always that way. One job leads to another, or a friend tells you about something. Every once in a while, you land a really good part. It’s a lot of disappointments. It’s a lot of people saying no. Sometimes, I’d get into a play where it wasn’t the lead, but it was encouraging. You need that little bump every once in a while.
Asbury Park Film and Music Festival
- April 27-29, various venues, $10-$49, www.apmff.org