There’s been a bit of Hollywood in Hartford lately. An independent film company shot a feature film there based on the life of boxing icon Willie Pep in Hartford.
Actor James Madio is the star. He worked with Steven Spielberg and Dustin Hoffman – Hollywood royalty. This month he portrayed a Hartford legend.
âWell, this is exciting. Just a little pressure, âMadio joked.
Inside the Hartford Club on Wednesday, Madio and other cast members completed a scene from the upcoming film, “Pep.” The film’s producers say Madio inspired its creation, showing the screenwriter a photo of Pep in 2008.
âHe said it was Willie Pep. He said that was the role my dad said I was born to play, âwriter and producer Steve Loff said.
Pep, real name Gugliemo Papaleo, was a two-time world featherweight champion in the 1940s. Before his death in 2006, at the age of 84, Pep spent much of his life in the Hartford area. . Rotating in Hartford throughout November, Madio really understood Pep’s legacy.
âEveryone has a Willy Pep story. I mean, every day I hear a new one about the way he walked, the way you shook his hand, the way you spelled, the way you drove. Everything, âMadio said.
These stories helped Madio understand her character and the story. It’s based in 1965, when Pep went through rough times and was attempting a comeback.
âHe turns to the one thing that always pulls him out of the doldrums, and that is fighting. So he’s making a comeback in the ring, âLoff said.
Playing a cameo role in the film is another Hartford boxing success. Marlon Starling remembers Pep sitting in the front row of one of his fights.
The film has special meaning for the entire Hartford boxing community. Another former world title holder, Israel “Pito” Cardona, was among many enthusiastic about Willie Pep’s upcoming film.
âHe’s from our hometown,â Cardona said. “So that’s something to be proud of.”
To look out of the room, Madio says full makeup was needed; giving it the appearance of a broken nose and facial scars. He says it was easy compared to emulating Pep’s boxing skills.
âI mean, I told everyone if I was able to imitate Willie’s moves, I would stop playing now and start fighting. Because the guy was never touched. He was very special in the ring, âexplained Madio.
Filming in Hartford began on November 1 and is scheduled to end on November 23. Producers are hoping it will be ready for a public release in the spring of 2023.