Baltimore Sun

Nardolillo flipped career script, but confident in filmmaker path

- By Peter Sblendorio

Before he became a fast-rising filmmaker, Anthony Nardolillo flipped the script on his entire career.

The director never imagined he’d be making movies when he was playing college football at Virginia Tech and Shepherd University more than a decade ago, but he has released his second film, “7th & Union,” with more projects on the way.

“I did not study film. Not until my late 20s did I even have an inkling that I’d be involved in film,” said Nardolillo.

“When I graduated college — I studied finance and accounting — I was traveling for business, and I started to take salsa classes out of my love for salsa music growing up . ... I started dancing profession­ally, and I started dancing around the world. That brought me to LA.”

It was in Los Angeles that Nardolillo, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, auditioned for his first movie. That project was never made, but he wrote his own script for a 2007 short film, the salsacente­red drama “Mano,” which he co-directed after another filmmaker dropped out.

“That’s when I saw what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Nardolillo said.

Fifteen years later, Nardolillo, 44, has “7th & Union” — a drama about an underdog Mexican boxer that drew inspiratio­n from “Rocky” — now streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video.

The film stars popular Mexican actor Omar Chaparro as the fighter Raymundo, who retired from the sport due to injury but returns to the ring to support his struggling immigrant family. The cast also features Edy

Ganem (“Devious Maids”), Oscar Torre (“The Haves and the Have Nots”) and Felipe Esparza (“Superstore”).

“(Omar is) really known for comedy, and we both

... were up for the challenge of having him lead this dramatic role. It was almost an underdog story in itself, in the actual making of the film,” Nardolillo said. “I was anxious to show audiences his dramatic chops.”

Nardolillo describes

“7th & Union” as a character-driven story, and made sure that remained at the movie’s heart when distributo­rs urged him to focus more on the fighting.

“I’m like, ‘Rocky’ had one fight,” Nardolillo said. “It was his story. You fell in love with him. That’s what I leaned on with this.”

“Just like in ‘Rocky,’ when he fights that first fight, doesn’t win, but when he fights and it’s still a victory, we’re jumping up. Not because he threw great punches, but because we fell in love with him. We rooted for him. It’s an extreme, 100% parallel. That was the goal with Ray.”

Nardolillo also included English and Spanish

dialogue in the film to bring authentici­ty to the characters.

Production for “7th & Union” occurred over 17 days in 2020, with Nardolillo saying it was the first film to get approved by Hollywood unions during the pandemic.

Nardolillo’s first movie, “Shine,” about two salsa-dancing brothers from New York City, hit theaters in 2018 and was awarded best feature at HBO’s Urbanworld Film Festival.

He expects his next movie, the heist thriller “Righteous Thieves,” to arrive in the spring, and says he has two unannounce­d “big studio projects” in the works as well.

Nardolillo says he briefly questioned his future after “Shine” put up modest box office numbers, but is now confident with the path he’s on.

“I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to go out there and find the next project, use this as a stepping stone to show that I can get a movie made,’ ” Nardolillo said.

“I think it’s ‘7th and Union’ and this third film that I have now said, ‘OK, this is where I belong.’ ”

 ?? EMMA MCINTYRE/GETTY ?? Anthony Nardolillo attends the premiere of“7th & Union” during the 2021 Los Angeles Latino Internatio­nal Film Festival in Hollywood, California.
EMMA MCINTYRE/GETTY Anthony Nardolillo attends the premiere of“7th & Union” during the 2021 Los Angeles Latino Internatio­nal Film Festival in Hollywood, California.

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