Local martial artist Eric Kovaleski to star alongside ‘Sopranos’ actors
A Dickson City martial artist is fulfilling a lifelong aspiration by landing a role in a feature film.
Tang soo do grandmaster Eric Kovaleski will play the part of mafia hit man Luca Fajioli in the upcoming movie “Made In Chinatown.” Filming is scheduled to begin in July in New York and Philadelphia, and Kovaleski will showcase his acting chops alongside martial arts icon James Lew and “The Sopranos” co-stars Tony Sirico and Vincent Pastore.
Training under his father, grandmaster Robert Kovaleski, since age 3, Kovaleski developed his martial arts skills early and began teaching before he was a teenager. He now operates Mater Kovaleski’s Karate USA on Main Street in Dickson City, a dojo in which his family has taught since 1994.
The seventh-degree black belt’s early experiences in that school — namely, watching his father train with then-Northeastern Pennsylvania resident, martial artist and action-film cult hero Cynthia Rothrock — endowed him with a penchant for not only tang soo do but also martial arts movies.
“Ever since I was a kid, I would see Cynthia Rothrock and Bruce Lee and Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris, and I always wanted to fight on film,” Kovaleski said. “That was always my dream.”
That dream was realized in 2015 when Kovaleski played a “beach bully” in Rothrock’s film “Martial Arts Kid.”
“She ended up kicking my ass in that film,” Kovaleski said of his on-camera work with Rothrock, whose work in over 60 films and grandmaster status gives her the nickname the “Queen of Martial Arts.”
Since then, Kovaleski has compiled a modest but legitimate acting resume and trained with award-winning stunt coordinator and director Art Camacho.
“I had a special coach,” Kovaleski said of Camacho. “I met him in 2002 or 2003, and learned stunt work, reactions, falls and choreography from him.”
Camacho, whose credits include projects starring Armand Assante, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Seagal, will be directing “Made In Chinatown.”
“I’ve done seven movies previously, but this is the biggest part I’ve had,” Kovaleski said.
The plot revolves around the character Vinny Chow, portrayed by Alfred Hsing.
“He grows up in Chinatown, on the other side of the road, but he sees all these Italians in the mafia, and he grows up wanting to be a tough guy, a wiseguy,” Kovaleski said. “He tries to fit in with the Italians.”
Enter Sirico, best known for playing Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtiere in Emmy-winning series “The Sopranos” and Pastore, who portrayed Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on the same show.
“Tony Sirico is the main boss, Al Capella,” Kovaleski said. “Vinny Pastore, he’s a boss as well. I’m a wiseguy hit man … and I work directly under Al Capella. (The film) has all sorts of action, fight scenes and comedy. It’s a great script.”
In addition to his impending work with television mafia royalty, Kovaleski is excited to work with Hwang Jang Lee, who portrayed the villain in now-classic Jackie Chan films “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master.”
“He’s been my instructor since 2005, but this is our first time working in a film together,” Kovaleski said.
Lew, another credit to the cast, has worked with John Carpenter on “Big Trouble in Little China,” shared on- and off-camera time with everyone from Let Li and Jean-Claude Van Damme to Mel Gibson and Madonna, and more recently took home an Emmy for his 2016 work on Netflix series “Luke Cage.”
Acting and doing stunt work in such reputable company is something Kovaleski is not taking lightly. The actor said his martial arts background has prepared him for some aspects of his film career, but he realizes he has a lot to learn.
“Action comes easy to me, but I have to put the same amount of work into my lines and my acting as I do with my martial arts career.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.