Michael Rapaport had already appeared in more than 50 TV shows and movies before his “Little Boy” co-star, 11-year-old Jakob Salvati, was born.
The pair were brought together in “Little Boy,” the story of a father (Rapaport) of two boys living in a small community. When his oldest son can’t pass the physical to join the troops during World War II, the father takes his place. The youngest son, Pepper (Salvati) looks for spiritual and magical help to get his father home safely.
The actors showed up to talk about the movie sporting similar looking plaid shirts. A coincidence.
Rapaport and Jakob spent a lot of time together before the cameras rolled and once filming started. “Little Boy” was shot at the Baja Studios in the isolated community of Rosarito, Mexico, the studio where “Titanic” was filmed.
Being on location gave the actors time to get to know each other.
“Jakob is a good kid,” Rapaport says. “The thing that was most impressive was his emotional wealth. It’s a challenging part whether you are 7 or 57 to cry and yell and scream. His focus was great and he was so professional considering he’s a young kid.”
It was a bit of a fluke Jakob got cast. His brother was the one called in to audition for the role and he just tagged along.
“The director came out to take a break from all the auditioning and he saw me and said, ‘We’re going to look at that kid, too’,” Jakob says. “The first time we met, we laughed. The second time, we laughed. The third time, we laughed. The fourth time he went for something serious. Not to brag but the people casting were blown away.”
As for working with Rapaport, Jakob’s most vivid memories of time off the set is “a lot of tickle wars.” The young actor smiles and adds that Rapaport won most of those wars.
It was easy for Rapaport to connect with his character because he has two young sons of his own. He’s not had to leave them behind to go off to war, but film and TV projects have separated him from his family for long periods of time.
The 45-year-old New York native was only 21 when he made his TV acting debut on “China Beach.” Since then, his career has been a wild mix of comedy (“Friends,” “My Name Is Earl”) and dramas (“Boston Public,” “Justified”).
His hasn’t made a lot of faith-based movies. One of the biggest themes in “Little Boy” is that all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed.
“I read the script and just thought it was just a beautiful story,” Rapaport says. “I just wanted to be a part of it. I just looked at it as a genuine, sweet human story that was told in a sweet, genuine way.”
He sees his past roles as fathers as being mostly immature, often disgruntled and generally more interested in getting a laugh than showing emotions. Rapaport loves that his role in “Little Boy” comes across as being a very grounded and loving man who will do anything of his family.