Venice actor Peter Badalamenti almost passed up Hollywood to mow lawns

mclear@bradenton.comJune 9, 2013 

He's been in movies with Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and Robert DeNiro. He's appeared on "30 Rock" and has hung around with Angelina Jolie.

But Peter Badalamenti didn't really want to become a movie actor. He was afraid it would interfere with his Venice lawn care business.

Badalamenti -- who's credited as Peter Donald Badalamenti II in his film and TV work -- still lives in Venice. He has appeared in about a dozen movies so far, including some recent ones he's not supposed to talk about yet.

His credits include some obscure horror flicks, with such titles as "Cremaster 3" and "Dr. Moreau's House of Pain." But he's also been in two of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies -- he played Penrod in the second and third installments of that series -- and he had about two-thirds of the title role in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Badalamenti stands 4 feet, 5 inches tall. In "Benjamin Button" -- a movie about a man who is born old and become younger as the years pass -- he played Button's body, with Brad Pitt's head superimposed.

"I was the first Benjamin," he said. "At first they wanted me on the set every time he (Pitt) was working so I could study him. After a while that got redundant, so I didn't have to go to the set any more."

Badalamenti grew up in Venice and lives there with his girlfriend and their two daughters.

"I went to all the Venice schools," he said. "Venice Elementary School, Venice Middle School, Venice High School. I live in the house I grew up in. I bought it."

His film career started in 1998, when the film "Great Expectations" was shooting in Sarasota.

"They were looking for a stand-in for a child actor," he said. "There was an ad in the paper. My mother saw it and she actually woke me up. I didn't want to do it. I had a lawn-care business. I was just going to do that. She said, 'No you're going be in movies. You're going to hang out with Robert DeNiro and Ethan Hawke.'"

Badalamenti went to the audition "just to appease her." But as soon as he walked in, Kathy Laughlin, a Tampa-based casting director and acting teacher, spotted him and pulled him aside.

"You're perfect," she told him. "You're hired."

He wasn't supposed to appear in the film, but on the last day of shooting, Badalamenti was asked to do some stunt work, taking the child actor's place driving a skiff. That got him his first screen time and made him eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild.

He started studying acting with Laughlin and looking for movie work.

It was four years later that his face appeared on screen for the first time, in "Cremaster 3."

There were some small roles after that -- stunt work in "The Punisher," a character called only "guy in holding area" in "Bad Boys II," and some big roles in unmemorable horror features.

But in 2006, he landed a role as Penrod, the lobster who is part of Davy Jones' crew, in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." The next year, he played the same character in "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." That time, instead of being transformed into a crustacean, he was actually visible and recognizable on screen.

Those roles led him to "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Julia

Ormond. Not the kind of people he would normallymeet mowing lawns in Venice.

"I got to meet Angelina at the premiere," he said. "I talked with her a little bit. She was very nice."

Though Badalamenti's size has opened a lot of doors for him, he finds that he's too tall for a lot of roles.

"I'm actually a big little person," he said. "I have a buddy out in Los Angeles who's under 4 feet tall."

But the fact that he has some acting chops, and that he's short but normally proportioned, keeps him working. He has some intriguing new films coming up, including some already completed.

Meanwhile, Badalamenti has branched out into other art forms.

With his daughterMadison, he recentlypublished "The Original Holiday Legends Auto-graph Book." It featureshis illustrations of such characters as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, with writings by Madison. The concept is that children can visit those characters at malls or holiday parties and have them sign their pictures.

"I got the idea when I took her to the mall to see the Easter Bunny," Badalamenti said. "A woman there recognized me from 'Pirates' and she asked me for my autograph. My daughter said 'Daddy, why doesn't anybody ask the Easter Bunny for his autograph?'"

He's also been tryinghis hand at sculpture, and has a piece in a currentexhibition called "New Works" that runs through July 12 at Art Center Sarasota.

And remember that lawn service that almost kept him from a career in movies?"I just sold it last year," he said.

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