Merrick teen actor makes it on the silver screen


Chase Vacnin, a Merokean and a junior at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, will be featured in a new project from James DeMonaco, the writer and director of the “Purge” film franchise.

Vacnin will share the screen with Naomi Watts, Frank Grillo and Bobby Cannavale for the film, “Once Upon a Time in Staten Island.” The role is a big step for the 16-year-old actor, Vacnin said. His previous work included the comedy “Little Rascals Save the Day.”

His character, Albie Lenza, whom Vacnin described as “lovable but not all there,” is a departure for him — “really nothing like me,” Vacnin said. “He’s in his own head, but I’m really outgoing. It allows me to see another perspective, and now Albie will always be a part of me.”

Vacnin’s mother, Lynne, said that Lenza is a “bulldog kid.”

“It’s a good role for him,” she said of her son. “It was exciting when we got a call back from the casting director and we got word Chase was booked.”

In the film, Albie is best friends with Anthony, another Staten Island teen trying to find his place in the world. The two, along with another friend, represent a trio of average teenagers who are “not nerdy, but also not cool,” Vacnin said, describing the movie as a “coming-of-age drama” in which the teens journey through Staten Island, encountering diverse obstacles on their “quest.”

“Once Upon a Time in Staten Island” will take place in the 1980s, with a backdrop of the theatrical release of the movie “Rocky III.”

Vacnin said he believes that his New York public school experiences give him an edge over other young actors. “I love that I understand being in a public school,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be bullied or to be made fun of. I can take that and manipulate it for my craft.” He has not met a single young actor who did not attend private school, he added.

His co-stars experienced Vacnin’s “New Yorker, do-this-now, get-this-done” efficient demeanor on set, which Vacnin said most do not expect. “It’s a lot for them to handle,” he said.

Once the film is released and he graduates from Kennedy in 2020, Vacnin’s goal is to expand his acting portfolio. “I only envision myself being an actor,” he said. “This is my plan. There is no Plan B.”

He’s already experienced a bit of acting fame: “There was a little girl that came up to me and said, ‘Can I take a picture with you?’” he said, laughing. “She was holding onto my leg and wouldn’t let go.”