VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Nick Vallelonga, Co-Writer Of ‘Green Book,’ On Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali
Nick Vallelonga, the co-writer of the new film Green Book, has a very close relationship with the movie’s story, and he opened up about it in an exclusive discussion with uInterview.
Green Book — which was released on Friday after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September — tells the true story of the friendship that developed between black pianist Dr. Don Shirley, played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, and white Italian-American bouncer-turned-chauffer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga as the pair embarked on Shirley’s concert tour in the Deep South of the United States during the 1960s, when racial segregation still saddled the county. Viggo Mortensen plays Tony Lip, who is Nick Vallelonga’s real-life father, in the comedy-drama film that is already generating awards buzz.
Vallelonga explained that his father ended up working as a driver because he was forced to pick up a second job after the nightclub where he worked as a bouncer closed for renovations and repairs. After Tony met Shirley at Carnegie Hall, Vallelonga said, the latter “needed a driver but he also knew he maybe needed someone to protect him during this tour” in the South, where Jim Crow laws were still in place in 1962.
“Obviously, this [experience] was an amazing eye-opener,” Vallelonga added of his father’s experience as Shirley’s driver. “My dad was a product of his time and his environment, but still a nice guy although he was a big bruiser.”
He continued: “It completely changed him when he saw how Dr. Shirley was treated. He was a man who was playing [piano] for some of the most elite people: politicians, the richest people in the country, and then not being allowed to use a restroom in the same place that he was performing at. He was not allowed to eat at the restaurant of the place he was performing at. Things like that just outraged my father, he couldn’t believe it.”
Vallelonga added that his father’s experience with Shirley influence how he raised him and his siblings and how he treated other people after that.
“It’s an entertaining movie, but it also deals with heavy issues that still resonate today in our world,” he said.
So how did Mortensen do in his portrayal of Vallelonga’s father? The screenwriter had nothing but praise for the 60-year-old Danish-American actor and Oscar nominee.
“Just unbelievable. He’s my surrogate father,” Vallelonoga said of Mortensen and his performance. “Quite a chameleon change: he gained 45 pounds, he studied the way my father spoke. He huddled my family, ate with us a lot and talked to my uncles and the Calabrese dialect combined with the Bronx dialect. He just transformed. It was very eerie, but fantastic.”
Vallelonga also lauded Ali’s performance as Shirley. “To me, [Ali] is a genius portraying a genius. The combination of the two [actors], their chemistry was unbelievable.”
Actress Linda Cardellini plays Mortensen’s wife and Nick Vallelonga’s mother in Green Book, a performance the screenwriter admitted got him “teary-eyed.”
What does Vallelonga hopes audiences can take away from the movie? That even people from completely opposite worlds can form strong bonds while facing challenges.
“I want people to feel like if these guys can come together, anyone can because we’re all the same,” said Vallelonga. “It sounds cliche, but everyone’s the same. When you see the film, without giving too much away, there’s a little hope. So if we start opening the communication lines and speak to each other, maybe we can start fixing things.”