PETER ONORATI is a face you will recognize in both Film & TV. With well over 100 screen and television acting credits and serving on the board of SAG (Screen Actors Guild), over the past 25 years Peter has become respected and ensconced in the Hollywood scene. He has had roles in Goodfellas, Postcards from the Edge, Rocketman, and starring roles in TV’s Cop Rock, Civil Wars with Mariel Hemmingway, roles in CSI, NCIS and now How to Get Away with Murder—View his long list of credits.
JEANETTE COLLINS is a producer and Emmy Award nominated screenwriter who works with HBO, Warner Brothers, Disney, and Sony Pictures—to name a few. She started out writing for In Living Color and moved on to writing and producing for shows such as Suddenly Susan, Big Love, Dirt and Drop Dead Diva.
Together they have lived and breathed Hollywood for more than 25 years. Imagine, two successful people working in Hollywood, raising a family, nurturing their marriage. It seems they are doing it all, and successfully at that. Feminine Collective columnist, and long time friend of Peter’s, Bert Woodson picked their brains to share some insight on how they juggle work, family, and a relationship.
When I first met Peter I was living in St. Croix in the mid-’80’s. Our mutual friend Brett had a 72’ foot Grand Banks trawler and invited us to do a little yachting. We cruised from St. Croix to Buck Island. We ate and partied way too much and belly-laughed the entire day. The jokes never stopped. We all took turns. At the time, Peter was the Director of Marketing and Research for McCalls magazine and doing Improvisation and stand-up comedy for fun on the side. So, of course, his material and delivery were a hell of a lot better than ours, but all in good fun. Peter received his MBA from Farleigh Dickinson University while working for Ford Motor Company and upon presenting his Master’s Thesis to McCall’s magazine he was offered a job there. Having a bit of a twisted sense of humor and a love of the absurd, he became one half of a Hasidic Siamese twin comedy act in stand up and discovered his love of the stage. His acting career took off shortly after leaving his job at McCall’s in 1986. He began in NYC with roles in commercials and landed his first big job on TV in the last season of Kate and Allie. Before leaving NYC for LA, Peter landed a small role in his first big movie, Goodfellas. He and his lovely wife Jeanette picked up and headed for LA to raise a family and hopefully support one. His acting career took off shortly after that. In Los Angeles, he began with roles in commercials, then he started to be recognized in shopping malls. With his wife Jeanette Collins’ encouragement, he decided to give a shot at acting full time. The rest is history.
So, fast forward about 30 years … I had been in touch with Peter for a few years via Facebook. I called to see if he had time to meet for a beer. He said “just to come to the house for drinks and a nibble.”
We arrived at a beautiful, sprawling, gated property. The home is Spanish-influenced architecture, built in the 1920’s. It’s a real family home. Nothing ostentatious or over the top. It’s lived in and comfortable. They raised their three boys, Sebastiano (Sonny), and twins Francesco (Frankie), and Giancarlo (Charlie) there.
What strikes me about Pete and Jeanette is that they are normal. No typical Hollywood affectations. They are warm and gracious. Two of the boys were in and out, and everyone had things to do and on a schedule. Pete’s dad was preparing for a trip back to New Jersey. Even though Jeanette was cooking dinner for the family, they still carved out the time to be hospitable. These are great people. They took us back to a cool tree-covered patio (Peter built the furniture), where we were able to talk.
Q: How have you and Jeanette stayed so grounded in the middle of the Hollywood thing? It’s pretty remarkable.
PETER: I think since Jeanette is a writer/producer that she has been able to point out when I’m acting like an Actor Asshole, while I have the same advantage in pointing out that the very same body part characterizes producers from time to time … but mostly it has been my sons who have kept life real for both of us … We never did the Hollywood thing with assistants, etc., and we both come from fairly humble beginnings and know the value of saving time, money and a relationship. I can remember when I started with one of the BIG agencies, they kept telling me you have to show up here or there. You have to show yourself … but I had young kids whose Mom was working, and I just needed to be around. I told them “Hey, Harrison Ford doesn’t go to all these things … he lives in Wyoming.” To which they responded, “You’re NOT Harrison Ford.” To which I responded, “Well, when Harrison Ford was ME he still didn’t do this shit.” I remember coming home one day excited that I had been nominated in the TV guide contest for Sexiest Man in TV … I showed Jeanette the magazine and she said “Yeah, wipe the baby’s ass … ok?”
JEANETTE: Children always give you the greatest perspective in your life. That and having a life outside of the one you have with your partner. When work and family intersect as often as possible, it makes people terrifically lucky. We’ve been blessed with that throughout a lot of our careers.
Q: Ok, Pete, I have to ask … How did the Playgirl cover come about? Were you the centerfold?
PETER: They asked me if I wanted to do a centerfold, but I declined saying, “I don’t want to lose the small fan base I already have.” It was the first time I hired a publicist. I was apprehensive about spending the extra dough for a publicist, but she got me an invite to the Playboy Mansion for Sandra Bernhard’s party, and I wanted to see the place before it became passé (maybe it already was). Anyway J (Jeanette) and I attended and were astounded by the place. The next day the publicist called and said that “as the dessert for my Playboy meal,” she got me the cover of Playgirl. (Dubious I know but kind of cool just the same for the son of a stone mason from Jersey). So I flew back to NYC and met with the editor and the photographer who happened to be the famous Bob Gruen (who took the famous shot of John Lennon in the ‘New York City’ T- shirt). This guy actually had John and Yoko on the demon dialer of his phone … I showed him my favorite places in the village, and we did the photo shoot in his studio there as well as a couple exterior locations. The upshot was that many of my friends including one of our mutual buddies, (Charlie Ross) called me and said “Fuck you … everybody thinks I’m gay because I bought the copy of Playgirl with you on the cover” The cover is kind of Goofy, but the article’s okay and the experience was FANTASTIC.
JEANETTE: He’s a bit of an exhibitionist, so of course it was FANTASTIC.
Q: You were also named one of the sexiest TV lawyers in 20 years in People Magazine. What makes a man sexy? I can use some help …
PETER: In TV and film as in life, you’re only as sexy as the women who are attracted to you. In mathematic terms, the quality of one’s desirability can be expressed as an exponential function of those of who desire him. My stock started to rise right away when the producers of Kate and Allie wrote an episode for me where I dated Susan St. James … then in Cop Rock the beautiful Terry Austin (famous for Jill in Knott’s Landing) played my love interest. Then things sort of sky-rocketed for a NY minute when Mariel Hemingway, considered not only beautiful but American Royalty, was written to be interested in me in Civil Wars… But, in terms of reality… I remember learning something important about sexiness and desirability years ago after my fiancée (my High School Sweetheart) broke off our engagement. Sad but true. It was then that I discovered something. I was in my mid 20’s and quite despondent but promised myself that I would continue to date anyway. Since I didn’t have a lot of dating experience and since I was stung by this breakup, I wanted to try something different. So I set out NOT TO GET LAID. Yup, that’s right. I went on dates and through conversation tried to find the best parts of the person I was dating, while trying to show them the best parts of me, so that I could take from their best and hopefully add that to my personality and basically LEARN SOMETHING. The result was that I had more offers to get laid than I ever had when I went out on a date with that goal in mind … Epiphany … yup. I realized that “sexy” was not what I’d read or seen on TV … SHIT. Time wasted.
JEANETTE: You know how it’s said that actors are full of shit? I don’t think this is an exception. Peter is one of the most available, sweet and engaging people I’ve ever met. He is unusual in the fact that he appeals to women, men and gay men. Gay women just think he’s ‘dreamy.’ I don’t know if that counts as appealing. He’s bullshitting when he says he doesn’t know if he’s sexy.
Q: What are you up to these days? I know you’ve been staying busy. Recent and future roles? Upcoming writing projects?
PETER: Last year, I just finished going back to work for my big boss and mentor Steven Bochco as a regular character on his new show Murder in the First and did a LOT of guest starring. Over the years to stay sane in the face of less work, (although I’m not complaining), I have begun to write. I stumbled on another basic tenet (for me at least) of life. We are here to create. I have some phenomenal people on board with a couple of scripts I have written. I will be pitching those scripts to the networks. HOWEVER, I hope to get another series … to help me finish paying off my sons’ college tuitions and to be able to get an apartment somewhere in Italy or the Caribbean to spend some time thinking about how sexy I might have been if I’d just gotten that face lift.
JEANETTE: I just finished working on the HBO show called, “Getting On,” and moved to a Disney Channel show called, “I Didn’t Do It.” I will be going back to the HBO show in July. It’s creative whiplash.
Q: What was your favorite all-time role? Any stand-out people (good or bad)?
PETER: Tough to say which is my favorite, but I CAN say that my favorites always came from the jobs that my reps were hesitant about me doing … for instance … I never had more fun or received more respect than when I did three or so eps [episodes] of Walker Texas Ranger… I never would get to do what I did in a film called Shelter. (I played a Greek Mobster, who spoke Greek and English with a Greek accent.) Being a lead in TV HAS to be a favorite though. I’ve had only a few. But, it’s a dual-edged sword. Sometimes the show becomes YOUR responsibility as the lead, and you have NO control over its success.
Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen on a set?
PETER: The guys in the Bochco organization played some incredibly intense practical jokes on each other. I was part of one against Billy Finkelstein (creator of Civil Wars and my character in Cop Rock) that I hated being a part of … too much to talk about on that one.
Q: Advice on marriage and parenthood?
PETER: Realize that you can learn from everybody …Your wife … Your kids … Your kids friends … and hopefully, if you didn’t get to marry the “Love of your Life,” you married the person you could LOVE for the rest of your life.