Growing Up In The Tender Bar
By Jay S. Jacobs
YouTube has become a valid source for catching the eye of Hollywood casting directors. Many people put in tons of work and hours trying to go viral. Then there are cases like ten-year-old Daniel Ranieri. He hit the pop culture zeitgeist early in the current coronavirus situation, when on a whim, his mother took a video of him railing about the pandemic. It was never meant to be widely seen. Then fate intervened.
“She sent the video to a couple of her friends,” young Ranieri explained recently. “My aunt posted it on social media. The next day it went viral. Then a couple of months later Jimmy Kimmel saw it and [asked do] you want to be on a show? We went on the show.”
The show was Jimmy Kimmel Live, the popular ABC late night talk show. Their staff had loved the viral video and decided to fly him to Hollywood. It was kind of a big deal for a little kid from the Bronx.
“It was great,” Ranieri recalls. “It was so fun. I was with my mom. He was so funny. Now we’re going to be on the show again with everything for [the movie]. He’s just a very nice guy.”
That movie is Ranieri’s film debut, in the new film The Tender Bar, starring Ben Affleck and Tye Sheridan and directed by George Clooney. It was based on the best-selling memoir by JR Moehringer about growing up in Boston in the 1980s. Clooney had discovered Ranieri through his appearance on Kimmel and felt he may be perfect to play the lead character as a young boy.
“This casting director called my mom and said that George wanted me in his next movie, so I auditioned,” Ranieri said. “A couple of weeks later, I found that that I got the part. I was excited.”
It was a pretty big deal, particularly considering that Ranieri had never acted before. Not even school plays.
“I never did,” Ranieri explained. “When I got the call from the casting director, she said, ‘Do you have any other things, or like auditions?’ I was like, I’m just a normal kid. I don’t have anything else.”
Now he was going to be in a film with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Beyond the A-list director and co-stars, his mother would be played by Lily Rabe of American Horror Story and his grandpa by Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future.
“I found out we had to go to Boston in February, which was in a couple months,” Ranieri said. “I was excited to film with George and Ben when I found out. When I was filming with them, they were so nice. I love them so much. And Tye. One of my favorite scenes with Tye is that I had to criticize him.” He chuckled. “It was very fun filming every single scene, every day on set.”
Which was a bit of a stretch, since Ranieri and Tye Sheridan were playing the same character at different points in his life. Ranieri played the JR Moehringer character as a little boy, and Sheridan played him as a young man. That scene was a fantasy sequence where young JR appeared in a dream to lay judgment on how the older JR was living his life.
So, as a ten-year-old, no one knows what Ranieri will be like in his late twenties. But, if he had the opportunity to talk to his older self, what would he want to tell him?
“Probably work hard and stay strong,” Ranieri replied. He took a long pause, contemplating. “Focus on life,” he continued. “Don’t get off track. Be determined. All that stuff.” He paused again and then laughed, “But if I’m doing bad in life, I might tell [myself] F you.”
Well, he may be doing bad things in life then, but right now everything is looking rosy. Despite having no experience at acting, it came naturally to be on set to young Ranieri.
“The first day I was a little nervous,” Ranieri admitted. “But then, as soon as I’d done the first scene, I was not nervous at all. I felt very comfortable with George. I trusted George and throughout the whole filming, Ben and George were just great.”
Even though he was still a young boy, he already knew about his famous co-stars and director, and he was excited to work with them.
“I did know them before,” Ranieri said. “I knew that Ben was Batman and George was in Ocean’s 11 and Tye was in Ready Player One. I was really excited to film with them. Every day on set was just great.”
And while he had never seen Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, he knew about him.
“My mom saw it, so she told me about him,” Ranieri recalled. “As soon as she told me about him, I was excited to film with him.”
Most of Ranieri’s scenes were with Rabe as his mother (“She was so nice to me. She was funny. I felt she respected me so much.”) and Affleck as his Uncle Charlie (“The first scene we filmed together we had a connection.”).
Ironically, going back to the viral video which first got Ranieri noticed, he had to learn the craft of acting in the middle of the pandemic.
“It’s kind of annoying, because on set we had to wear masks all the time,” Ranieri said, reprising the rant he had gone on all those months earlier. “Filming the scenes [we] took them off. When we were on set, but we weren’t filming, we had to keep the masks on and a face shield. When you’re filming you take the gear off and we all felt like a family together. That was the most difficult part, wearing the mask.”
Ranieri knows that he enjoyed the experience, even while dealing with masks.
“The most fun thing was filming scenes with Ben, George and Tye, all the people that I trusted and had a connection with.” Ranieri said. “Lily, Christopher, everybody. It was just very nice and heartwarming.”
There was one other slight problem though – although it was understandable and did not taint the whole process.
“The hardest thing was school,” Ranieri admitted. “I had to go from filming and as soon as I got done filming, I had to go back to school. Then I got pulled and I went back to filming a scene. Then I got pulled again went back into school. I couldn’t really see anybody like Tye, or Ben, or Lily, or Christopher. Well, some scenes I filmed with them, but I would like to see Tye film scenes because he’s older than me and I would like to get some advice from him by watching him. I would like to improve as an actor from watching it.”
The acting was a fascinating experience for Ranieri, as is the other side of Hollywood – Ranieri is doing his first publicity tour. The day before this exclusive interview, we also took part in a virtual press conference in which Ranieri appeared with Affleck, Rabe, Sheridan, Lloyd, Briana Middleton, producer Grant Heslov and screenwriter William Monahan. He also has done TV appearances and a red carpet in Hollywood, where he had the opportunity to meet the man he was playing as a boy – author JR Moehringer.
“It was great,” Ranieri said. “He was so nice. He was so kind and happy. He said that the movie, they missed out on a couple of things about the book. I didn’t read the book, but my whole family pretty much did. They also said that they left out some parts that was in the book that was supposed to be in the movie. But the movie is still great, in my opinion. At the red carpet, we were taking pictures and he was just so nice.”
Now that Ranieri has a movie coming out and is working with people like Clooney, Affleck and Sheridan, do his friends at home and in school treat him any differently?
“Not really,” Ranieri said. “They’re just excited, but they don’t treat me any different.”
And is The Tender Bar experience leading him on a new career path?
“I want to take acting [seriously].” Ranieri enthused. “I want to be in Star Wars movies, Marvel movies, all those. I’m really into action movies, I want to be in one of those.”
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 6, 2022.
Photos ©2021 Claire Folger. Courtesy of Amazon Studios. All rights reserved.