Scott Baio breaks away from sitcom rep to headline art film

TV veteran relishes role in indie romance

"I had one woman come up to me and say, 'I had to tell you I did not want to see this film because YOU were in it,'" Scott Baio recalls. "It was because of all my television baggage. Then she said, 'But it made me forget everything I knew about you.'"

That reaction is common from audience members who witness the former sitcom regular transform into a commanding leading man in the indie romance, "The Bread, My Sweet."

"I told her 'Thank you,' he continues. "And she said, 'I had no idea you could do this.'

I said, 'I knew I could.'"

Shot in Pittsburgh, with a next-to-nothing budget, "The Bread, My Sweet" is currently creating a word-of-mouth buzz a la "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Although its success is on a smaller financial scale, the artistic result is the same: a heartwarming, ethnic-themed movie that rises above its contrived conventions.

"We've been compared to ('Greek Wedding'), and some reviewers have said we're better than that movie," Baio says, speaking from his home in Los Angeles. "If you want to mention us and that movie in the same breath, go ahead. It's fine with me. Somebody was comparing us to 'Moonstruck' and I said, 'Go ahead.' Say anything that is great. 'It's like "Citizen Kane."' Go ahead."

In "Bread," Baio plays a bachelor executive who runs an Italian bakery on the side. When a family friend falls terminally ill, he hatches a scheme to marry her elusive daughter as a final gift toward her serenity.

The former sitcom star of "Happy Days" and "Charles in Charge" first became involved with the project when rookie writer-director Melissa Martin approached him with the script.

"I didn't want to do it because I didn't want to spend two months in Pittsburgh in the dead of summer playing a movie set in winter," he says. "It's a small movie -- it's not a big-budget deal. I thought, 'Man, this is gonna be rough.' But on the contrary, it was like going to camp."

photo

Special to the Journal-World

Scott Baio, center left, confers with filmmaker Melissa Martin on the set of "The Bread, My Sweet."

The Brooklyn native -- whose years of California living haven't eroded his accent -- could relate to the extended Italian family of the film. Although his own upbringing didn't specifically reflect that of his movie character's, Baio saw abundant parallels.

"Attitude, yelling, the passion, the anger," he lists as similarities. "Italian people are fairly volatile, and I am one ... There's more yelling than anything. It's not mean yelling; it's just yelling."

The actual shooting was a hoot for the 41-year-old actor ("The work became sort of secondary to the playing," he says), but once the film was completed he had little expectations that it would find an audience.

"Even on a $100 million movie you never know what's going to happen," he says. "I was like, 'Yeah, it will go to video and go to cable.' But the company Panorama took a shot and did a theatrical on it. And I'm very surprised and very happy."

Baio actually made a trek to Kansas City in support of the picture during last May's Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival. Out of dozens of entries, "Bread" took home the Audience Favorite award and Baio was named Best Actor.

Despite the consistent critical and viewer praise, Baio admits the movie has yet to open any new career doors for him.

"The majority of people who see the film seem to like it," he claims. "But unless it gets to New York or L.A., no one cares. You know the mentality: There's nothing between New York or L.A. That's a horrible thing to say, because in my opinion the REAL people in the world are between those places. But that's the business."

Fortunately, Baio has a few other big-screen gigs in the works. He'll be seen as the lead in the kiddy flick "Baby Geniuses 2: Superbabies" in August. And he's been cast in "Cursed," the upcoming horror blockbuster from "Scream" originators Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.

Considering the dozens of TV, feature film and direct-to-video efforts from his "colorful" past, Baio finds it hard to single out his most embarrassing moment.

"That's a long list," he confesses. "But I'll give you one. It's a film that I did (in 1979) called 'Skatetown, U.S.A.' It's a roller disco movie with Patrick Swayze, Dorothy Stratten and Ron Palillo. It's just a goofy, horrible thing -- and I've never seen one frame of it."

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