Weehawken native and former St. Peter's Prep football star Gianni McLaughlin
Gianni McLaughlin made his mark as a high school football player, as a hard-nosed linebacker for some very good St. Peter’s Prep teams in 2008 and 2009.
“I remember being a freshman at Prep and telling my Dad (Dr. Joseph McLaughlin, the St. Peter’s University Chair of Sociology and Urban Studies) and my friends that maybe I would eventually get some playing time if I kept my head down and worked hard at it. There was no question that Prep was going to make me a better player with the great coaches they have there. They teach you a work ethic and it’s up to you to follow through with it.”
Although being a little undersized, McLaughlin was an All-Hudson County honoree as a senior in 2009 on a team that lost to Don Bosco Prep in the NJSIAA Parochial Group 4 state championship game at MetLife Stadium. McLaughlin initially went to Springfield College to continue his football career, but it didn’t work.
“You can’t put a Hudson County kid there and expect it to work,” said McLaughlin, a native of Weehawken. “I just didn’t fit in. I hung out with guys who rooted for the Patriots. How wrong was that? I played football for one year and once that was over, I knew I was out of there.”
McLaughlin ended up transferring to Kean University, but encountered disaster soon after enrolling.
“The day before spring season was going to start, I needed an appendectomy,” McLaughlin said. “I was lucky that they caught it right before it was going to burst. But I was in bad pain. I tell people that I thought it was the last day of my life, because I wasn’t going to be able to play football. I loved playing football. It was my life, my passion. I had to find my passion in a positive outlet outside of football.”
While he was recuperating from the surgery, McLaughlin spoke with his mother, Yolanda Cuomo, about a new path to take in a possible career.
“I started out in real estate and then working on Wall Street, but I wanted something more to be creative,” McLaughlin said. “So I thought about getting into acting. I always wanted to do some sort of acting. I looked up all these different acting schools and came across Stella Adler School.”
The Stella Adler School was one of the leading acting schools in New York, the place where the careers of Academy Award winners Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro were born.
“I didn’t know if I could do it,” McLaughlin said. “I thought, ‘I’m a football player, not a theater guy.’ But my mother told me that if I wanted to be an actor, I had to take those classes.”
So in 2016, McLaughlin enrolled at the Stella Adler Studio.
“I knew I had found my new calling,” McLaughlin said.
One night, McLaughlin went to dinner with another Oscar winner Adrien Brody, who is a long-time family friend.
“I told him that I was at Stella Adler and he admitted it was a great place to start,” McLaughlin said. “He told me, ‘Just be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else.’ It was good advice.”
In 2017, McLaughlin got his first acting gig, playing an Italian-American assassin in the series “Peaky Blinders” the popular Netflix series that gained its popularity on the BBC in Great Britain. Ironically, McLaughlin was cast as part of a gang that was headed by Brody and went to England to shoot.
McLaughlin also had parts in the HBO series, “The Deuce,” and another part in another Netflix production called “The 5th Boro.”
“After the door opened, I wanted to do more,” McLaughlin said. “So I wanted to make my own films.”
McLaughin attended the New York Film Academy in 2018 to study filmmaking. His first short was called “Bless Me Father,” a short that he starred in as well as directed.
“I got such positive feedback that I knew that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” McLaughlin said.
He has formed his own film company, called Paper Cinema, named after a company his mother started 10 years ago. McLaughlin even has a studio space on West 28th Street in Manhattan.
“I’ve finally woken up,” McLaughlin said “I’m becoming the person who I’ve always wanted to be.”
McLaughlin’s latest offering is called “The Sorrento Job,” a dark comedy about a group of guys who want to pull off an expensive heist involving wine.
McLaughlin stars in the film as Nico and also directed the film that is now available on Amazon Prime.
“When I found out it was released (on Amazon Prime), I felt like a little kid at Christmas,” McLaughlin said. “It feels great to finally have anyone who can see it.”
McLaughlin has put his family to work in this film, with his fiancée Milly-May Mordrick acting in the movie, his mother Yolanda playing a mob boss, as well as friends and former Prep teammates Joe Impreveduto and Angelo “A.J.” Caprio earning significant roles in the film.
This is just the beginning for McLaughlin. He feels like he’s on to bigger and better things, more extensive productions.
“I have that drive,” McLaughlin said. “I learned that from (St. Peter’s Prep head football coach) Coach (Rich) Hansen. “I can’t get caught up in all the hype from this movie. It’s like playing football. I have to keep going.”