Max Casella’s first movie role came in 1992, when he was cast as Racetrack Higgins in the Disney-produced musical Newsies. More than two decades and nearly 40 TV and film roles later, Casella is celebrating another music-filled period piece set in New York City, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis. While at the film’s premiere in New York on Saturday night, the 46-year-old actor took the time to look back on Newsies’s journey from critical and financial bomb to cult favorite and hit Broadway show.
“I was [at Newsies on Broadway] opening night. It’s great,” he told BuzzFeed of the show, which has earned two Tonys. “It was weird. [The movie] was like 20 years ago. I was a kid when I did it. It was such a bomb, you forgot about it. Nobody talked about it. You didn’t talk about it. And then, to see it on Broadway, it just brought back a lot of memories.”
The original Newsies film cost $15 million and took in less than $3 million in initial ticket sales, becoming one of Disney’s biggest disappointments. The critical reaction to the movie, which featured Christian Bale as the leader of a newsboy strike at the turn of the 20th century, wasn’t much better, either.
“The box office was pretty bad,” Casella recalled with a laugh. “I enjoyed it. It was the first movie I ever did. It was a big, big backlot musical, old style, and it was great for me, for the first movie you’re doing to be a big musical. I was devastated.”
Casella was 24 when he made the movie, shooting Newsies at night after days on the set of Doogie Howser, M.D., where he played the titular medical prodigy’s (Neil Patrick Harris) best friend Vinnie Delpino. The Newsies devastation didn’t last long, either; the next year, as Casella pointed out, he got to work with Tim Burton on the biopic Ed Wood. And he’s since put together a formidable list of credits over the last two decades, headlined by TV roles in The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and films like Revolutionary Road and this summer’s Blue Jasmine.
Plus, that big bomb that was Newsies ended up exploding into its own cult fame; to this day, Casella gets called out by fans — especially, he said, “girls who were 12 in 1992,” who defied the critics and loved the movie as children.
Casella began to realize the movie had a fan base “right around when the internet started, which was ‘96,” years after it was considered a box office failure.
There should be no such troubles for Inside Llewyn Davis, which was greeted with warm applause at Lincoln Center on Saturday. The ’60s-set drama stars Oscar Isaac as the nominal down-on-his-luck folk musician, loosely based on the late Dave Van Ronk, whose self-destructive tendencies mute his incredible talents. Llewyn’s only steady gig is a monthly spot at the Gaslight Club in the West Village, a bar and performance space owned by Casella’s Pappi Corsicato.
Unfortunately, Pappi never sings “King of New York” during the film, but those who were 12 in 1992 can hold out hope that the DVD extras will include a throwback surprise.