IT’S NOTHING, IT’S MY LIFE
A Spotlite on RADIOMAN
By Chiara Spagnoli
Radioman, born Craig Castaldo, has had an extraordinary life: a spin on the classic rags-to-riches story, he started out in the streets of New York as a homeless lost soul and became the darling of filmmakers.
Tom Hanks and Joel Schumacher defined him as a landmark of New York City along with the Statue of Liberty and the Empire Stare Building. Johnny Depp wonders if he’s an alien from a distant planet or an eccentric billionaire, or both. Helen Mirren, George Clooney, Meryl Streep have known him for decades, and Robin Williams is flabbergasted by Radioman’s friendship with Scorsese: “He calls him Marty, I can’t call him that!” This extraordinary and amusing troll is the contemporary superhero of the silver screen, with cameos in countless films.
Chiara Spagnoli: You have acted in over 200 movies, how does it feel to have an entire film retracing your life?
Radioman: Miserable–no, I’m joking–it’s very bizarre and awe-inspiring to have anybody really care and think that my life is so interesting. It’s all about me, I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. People like it, they seem to adore it. I was in England, and Scotland, and they loved it, I never expected to get that kind of reception.
CS: How do you feel about being the lucky charm of filmmakers?
R: The movies that I’m in do well in theaters. and also when they’re released on DVDs, they tend to make money. Most of the films I’ve been in have been successful and in some of them I was just background. I think I may be some kind of a catalyst and make it happen for them.
CS: How did you start going on film sets? Do you remember your first one?
R: My first movie was with Bruce Willis in The Bonfire of the Vanities. I yelled at him in a high-pitched voice: “Bruce Willis your movie looks like an animation, it looks like a cartooooon, you don’t know how to act!” And I didn’t know what this guy was about, he had a bag with a bottle in it, and I thought he was a drunk, like I was at the time. I asked him if he wanted a beer and he told me he was an actor and that was a prop. Bruce said to me, “I’m just playing a part, but I’ll tell you what: when I finish the shoot I’ll have a beer with you!” So we had beers together and started talking.
CS: At the time you were homeless?
R: Yeah, I lived in the streets, in parks, down in the subway tunnels, on track 17 next to the men’s room at a low level of the Long Island Rail Road. A lot of homeless guys were there, at that time we were known as ‘bums,’ there was no word to define ‘homeless’ yet. You were either a bum or a derelict or somebody on the street nobody cared about.
CS: You also had a very rough time in a psychiatric institution, what do you recall about that experience?
R: I was there for two months or so. I was internalized for addiction even though I never did drugs or strange substances, it was just beer. One day I was on the set of a movie called City Hall and I didn’t realize there was a holiday. Al Pacino wasn’t there–he starred in the movie with John Cusack, Al played the mayor of the city of New York–and I said to everyone “Hey, I know Al Pacino, I know all these actors, and I’m friends with them all, they know who I am!”
They thought I was a nut and pushed me away. I spoke back to a cop who handcuffed me and gave orders to take me to Bellevue. Someone from the crew tried to say, “he really does know all these people,” but they took me away anyway. They kept me there, strapped me to a chair, brought me to the 24th floor of the observation room, and gave me some kind of drugs to try to mellow me out. I was screaming and yelling, saying: “I don’t belong here, I should be where they’re making movies.”
CS: How is it that you manage to find out the locations and schedules of the shootings?
R: Sometimes it was word of mouth. I would just ride around with my bike, and I would see the schedule signs of different permits, and I would put two and two together. Or I would ask one of the attendants about what was going on. They would tell me the call time, so sometimes I found out what was going on that way. I used to drive around a lot, day and night, I basically never used to go back home, I spent my time dwelling.
CS: Where does your passion for films come from?
R: My mother used to like to watch the old movies with Myrna Loy and Olivia de Havilland, Gone with the Wind and all these different films. My father would go for John Wayne and Ronald Coleman and stuff like that, Lawrence Olivier too. He also liked westerns and all the Italians, the old films on channel 9 with the subtitles, with Anna Magnani and all the old Italian actors.
CS: Why did you choose the radio as your symbol and why do you carry it around with you?
R: I always wanted to be a radio announcer, besides wanting to be a movie actor. I loved the movies, I used to watch them on television with my parents, but I always liked music, rock n’ roll. Before I was Radioman, I was known as Aqualung. I loved to show off, I always did it in school. I wanted to be the center of attention, and I didn’t really realize it, I was just being me. That’s the reason I have the radio around my neck, and because when I used to hold it in my hand, they tried to steal it–this way no one can take it away from me.
CS: Do you feel you’ve pursued your dream?
R: Yes, the dream just came to me 20 or 30 years later. I’ve been doing this for a long time. and I never expected it to be like this, have fame and recognition from people. I’m loving it. People love the documentary on Radioman, but to me it’s nothing, it’s my life.
Radioman has been in countless films throughout the years, and now there is a documentary about his life.
Written by Chiara Spagnoli
Photography by Jimi Celeste for Patrick McMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Radioman, FOCUS FEATURES Presents a New York Special Screening of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, Landmark Theater Sunshine Cinema, New York, November 30, 2011, Photography by Jimi Celeste for Patrick McMullan.com