As part of our Ringside series where we hear from Rocky fans who’ve had the opportunity to sit at ringside during the filming of the series, we’re happy to hear from our pal Tony DeGennaro: Philadelphia native, Rocky filming locations guru and creator of the web series Captain Catholic.
Tony had an opportunity to become an extra in four scenes while working on the set of Creed II. Here’s his story:
Meet the Ukrainian Bartender That Almost Was
I’d like to introduce everyone to the man in the picture. Meet Tony DeGennaro, the Ukrainian bartender who served drinks next to Viktor Drago … or at least almost did. Now that “CREED 2” has officially been released, I can finally “legally” share his tragic story…. my brush with fame that was never meant to be.
When Creed II filmed in Philly this past spring, I was able to be an extra in four different scenes.
The process was always the same – you sent in a picture and some other information, and they’d send you an e-mail back telling you your role. For the other scenes I was in, I was assigned standard roles like “Fight Spectator,” “Fillmore Audience Member,” etc. For this particular scene, which was an overnight extravaganza labeled as a “Nightclub Scene,” I initially received the usual automated e-mail letting me know I’d be a “Club Patron.” But then, only two minutes later, I received a “less automated” response that just stated, “You’ll be a bartender.”
This sounded kind of exciting, although I figured at best, I’d just be a bartender in the background, maybe something just a tad more exciting than the other standard roles I had. I was wrong. So wrong.
The Ukrainian Bar, As Played by a Philly Prison
I arrived the next evening at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly (crazy setting for a Ukrainian Nightclub, but the set actually looked amazing). There were about 150 other extras there. After a little bit, a female production assistant with a megaphone announced that it was time for us all to line up. I strolled over to the back of the line slowly, staring at my phone while I texted my wife. All of a sudden, the production assistant with the megaphone said, “Can we have Tony?”
Obviously, I figured they were talking about some other Tony, but I raised my hand anyway. Then she said, “…Tony… De… DeGennaro?” I was pretty shocked as I raised my hand a bit higher. The PA finally saw me and said, “Tony? Awesome! Come to the front of the line!”
I skipped to the front of the line not really sure what to expect. The PA shook my hand and introduced herself. Her name was Laura, but she said to call her “Cannoli” if I needed anything (her name was Laura Connolly, but as an Irish girl growing up in South Philly, everyone changed her last name to “Cannoli” – you can see her name in the credits at the end of Creed 2). She said, “You’re our bartender, right?! I need you to just fill out this paperwork. Then head over to ‘Hair and Makeup.'”
Hair and Makeup?!?! In all the other scenes I was in, only the people who were close to all the main actors went to Hair and Makeup. So I headed over to the bright lights and mirrors you always see on TV that are used for movie stars, and they put a ton of stage makeup on my face.
Then, the makeup lady said to the hairdresser, “You don’t need to do anything with his hair, do you?” You know, since I’m bald. But the hairdresser said, “Actually, let me see him.” The hairdresser spent about 15 minutes carefully trimming every part of my bald head, finally carving the hair at the bottom of the back of my head into a little “V.” Must be something popular in Ukraine.
After a few minutes, Cannoli introduced me to another guy and a girl about my age. They were both from Russia with strong Russian accents (I have no idea why a half-Italian from the Philly suburbs like me was paired with them, but it was fine with me – I guess I look more Russian than I thought). Cannoli told the three of us that we were going to be the featured bartenders of this scene. She said we’d be “prominently featured” in the scene, and we’d need to stay close to her for the next few hours while they finished getting the set ready.
I was pretty pumped at this point.
Getting into Costume
Next up, I was sent to the “Costumes Department.” They didn’t like my shirt, so they gave me the shirt you see in the pictures below (must have been a Ukrainian-style shirt). It was made of silk with a zipper down the middle, with crazy gold buttons on the shoulders. It was pretty comfy.
I walked back to my seat, and the male bartender took the pictures you see of me below (phones and cameras were strictly prohibited on set, so the pictures you see below are all I have of Tony DeGennaro the Ukrainian bartender). As I paraded around the extras “holding” room, people kept asking me, “Yo, how did you get to be a featured bartender?!” I told them I had no clue. It was a pretty great feeling while it lasted, hahaha.
Around 8:00pm, Cannoli grabbed the megaphone again and said, “Alright, let me just give everyone a synopsis of what’s going on in this scene. Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, starts out as a bartender in Ukraine. He’s going to be tending bar at this scene when all of a sudden, he gets himself in to trouble and Ivan has to bail him out.”
So it took me a few seconds to process this before I realized… “What a minute…. Drago’s son is a bartender?! I AM A BARTENDER! So I’m gonna be making drinks right next to Drago’s son!” I don’t think I could have been more excited.
Finally, at about 10:00pm, it was time to go over to the set. Cannoli escorted me, the 2 other bartenders, a bouncer, and another Russian guy who was going to be the DJ over to the set by ourselves (the rest of the extras didn’t come just yet). The set was incredible. They managed to turn a centuries-old prison into a seizure-inducing Ukrainian nightclub that blasted the song “Drunk Groove” by Maruv & Boosin over and over again until we wrapped at 5:30am (that song is still stuck in my head).
They took me and the 2 other bartenders to the bar. It was unreal. All the bottles of alcohol were labeled in Russian, the reflections of the strobe lights bounced off of my funky silk shirt, and the DJ was having a ball as he shouted at us to dance.
One of the production assistants came over and said, “Alright, guys! Start mixing drinks! Get a feel for it.” So I grabbed the Russian bottles of vodka, started pouring random stuff into different glasses, had a toast with the other bartenders – we had no idea what we were doing but it was a blast.
And then it happened.
The assistant director of the entire movie (I think her name is Sharon) who worked on every other scene I was at came up and started talking to us. She said, “So you guys are our bartenders?! Excellent. Although… there sure are a lot of you for a bar as small as this… but, we’ll make it work!”
As soon as she said that, I immediately realized that this was NOT going to happen.
Meeting the Dragos
But for the time being, I was still behind the Ukrainian bar mixing up whatever on earth I was mixing up. After another 10 minutes, they escorted me and the other 2 bartenders to a side room in the prison (actually right next to Al Capone’s former cell). We sat down and waited a bit.
After a few minutes, I noticed there were two black “director’s chairs” sitting only a few feet away from us. The one chair was labeled “Viktor Drago,” and the other chair was labeled “Ivan Drago.”
A moment later, Florian Munteanu (who plays Viktor Drago in Creed 2) walked into the room and looked right at me and the other two bartenders. Flo waved to us and said, “Hey guys, what’s goin’ on?” This was pretty cool. I waved back and said “Hey.”
A few minutes later, Dolph Lundgren walks right past us and begins talking to Florian. The two of them talked in front of us for about a half hour. Then, Florian started putting on a white apron, and I was getting pretty excited at the idea of mixing drinks next to one of the lead characters of the movie.
After a while, I headed to the bathroom and ran into another production assistant, who congratulated me on being a bartender. I said, “Ah, with my luck, the whole scene is probably gonna be cut.” He said, “No way man. Didn’t they tell you? This is the opening scene of the entire movie.” This was getting too good to be true. He went on, “Oh, crap, they didn’t tell you that? Ok, don’t tell anybody I told you.”
So I went back to my seat next to Florian and Dolph. At about midnight, they brought in all the other extras while we watched them walk past us. This seemed weird to me. A half hour went by, and me and the other two bartenders were still just sitting there by ourselves. Finally, a new production assistant came out to get us. He grabbed me and the male bartender, and told the female bartender to wait a few more minutes. He looked at me and the other male bartender and said, “Hey guys, quick change of plans – you guys are actually gonna be bouncers now!”
As soon as he said that, I realized there was no way in the world the camera would be anywhere near me in this scene. No director in the world, no matter how hard they attempt to make the audience suspend disbelief, would ever be able to convince moviegoers that someone of my Gumby-like physique would ever be a bouncer. The honeymoon was over.
The Original Opening Sequence
So as I stood at the very back of the “nightclub,” I watched them film the opening scene of the entire movie.
Sure enough, Viktor Drago was standing behind the same bar that I had stood behind only a few hours before. He grabbed the very same bottles of alcohol that I had just touched. I watched as the cameramen gathered around the bar, filming every inch of the bar that I had once occupied. All I could do was picture Tony DeGennaro, the Ukrainian bartender, standing right by his good pal Viktor’s side. He and I would have introduced the audience to the 8th movie of the Rocky franchise, my favorite movie series of all-time which I absolutely love.
I was in a very dark … dark place that night.
And then I went to see Creed II in the movie theater seven months later and found out that the entire scene was cut and replaced with a completely different opening scene.
Oh, well! That was my “brush with fame.”
So, was it a blessing or a tragedy of epic proportions that I was cut as a bartender? Definitely a blessing, because I would have been pretty devastated if I had waited eight months to see myself featured in the movie only to realize the whole scene was scrapped! But hopefully the scene makes the “Deleted Scenes” of the Blu-Ray when it’s released, it would be cool to see. Maybe… just maybe the world can get a glimpse of Tony DeGennaro, the Ukrainian bouncer.
In the end, not only am I ecstatic I appeared in a couple of other scenes in the final cut of the movie (Bianca’s concert at The Fillmore and the Final Fight Scene), and not only was I lucky I got to literally “run into” Sylvester Stallone one day on the set, but I like to think that the whole experience made for a pretty FANtastic story.
Although on the other hand, I do sincerely apologize to anyone who actually wasted their time reading this novel – please tell me who you are, because you are clearly my true and most dedicated friends.