This Is Rutherford
This is Frank and Natasha Licari
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
By Jennifer Ersalesi
With its proximity to NYC and its inclusivity, Rutherford is a desirable area for those who have chosen careers in the arts. Frank and Natasha Licari, both successful actors and musicians, chose to raise their son and put down roots in Rutherford while continuing their careers and pursuing other interests. This is Rutherford spoke to Frank and Natasha about the roads that led them to where they are today and why they love living in Rutherford.
TIR: Both of you decided at a young age that you were interested in music and the performing arts. When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in these areas?
FL: I knew that I wanted to go into performing from the age of 4 or 5. I started pursuing music at a very early age and by the age of 14, I had my own band and was performing regularly at school functions and across town. I was a class clown and comedian at a very early age, which got me into trouble. But this prompted my junior high English and drama teacher to start me in theater. I started in theater and play-writing at the age of 13 and won my first play competition at the age of 17. I received a scholarship to study acting in New York so I moved here from Canada on my 19th birthday. Six years later I became a Blue Man with the Blue Man Group and never looked back.
NL: My story has everything to do with fate. I started violin lessons at the age of 4 and dance lessons at around 7 years old. I knew in my heart, I would be on stage as an adult in some capacity. Several years later, a performing arts middle and high school was about to open, and was accepting applications for auditions. I was accepted for music and spent my middle school years there in the orchestra program, until I lost my violin on a day trip to the mall. I was fortunate enough to finish the school year training on my instructor's violin (which was made by a pupil of Stradivarius), but when his instrument was not available, I took on the double bass. I decided to try my luck and audition for theatre and with absolutely no training or experience, but a ton of preparation and drive, I was accepted and changed departments. From that point forward, I always felt grateful for knowing exactly what I wanted to be.
TIR: You are both actors, where did you study?
FL: I studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in NYC then went on to study privately and take workshops at the Neighborhood Playhouse, with instructors from The Second City, etc.
NL: I attended the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and received a BFA in acting. I’ve also taken conservatory programs with South Coast Repertory and British American Drama Academy located in Oxford, England. I was later an ongoing student in Burt Reynolds’ Master Acting class for many years.
TIR: Natasha, in addition to acting, you are also a violinist and dancer. Can you tell us more about those parts of your life?
NL: I studied dance as a child and all throughout my middle school and high school years. I split time living between Indiana, where I was born and South Florida, where I moved to at 11 years old. I would take an occasional trip to NYC where I would drop into classes at the Broadway Dance Center. As a teenager in Florida, I taught dance as a part time job at the studio where I had trained at.
When I graduated college with an acting degree, the former owners of the dance studio I grew up in and taught at, called and asked if I would like to move back and take over the studio. They wanted to retire and move back to Clifton, New Jersey. I passed on the opportunity, so the studio went up for sale, and my future husband purchased it and subsequently turned it into a full performing arts school with a theatre. A few years after we started dating, he sold the theatre and school, so that he could start performing again. This was one of many full circle moments that we’ve had.
On a separate note, I had the opportunity to combine my love of violin and theatre in a regional production of Opus, a play about a string quartet at the top of their field, but with a sudden need to replace a violinist.
TIR: Frank, in addition to acting, you are also a writer, producer and host. Can you tell us more about those parts of your life?
FL: Yes, as I had mentioned, I wrote and produced my first play in high school and won Ontario's Sears Drama Festival for best original play and then won my second play competition in NYC at the age of 20 for a play that I wrote and produced. I formed my own theater company in NYC and I ran that for 4 years producing published plays on theater row. Then in 2000, I decided to open my own theater and performing arts school in Florida. During that time, I produced and directed over 200 live productions of plays, music, comedy, dance and more. In 2013, I produced and directed the world tour for nine time Grammy Winner, Jose Feliciano. More recently, I’ve produced six films, one of which, Walt Before Mickey, can be seen on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes and two more films that are coming out in the winter of 2019. Currently, I’m the host of my own television show on PBS called On the Town which airs throughout the state of Florida and on various streaming services.
TIR: You both played roles in the movie, Walt Before Mickey. Was that the first time you had met one another?
FL: No, we met 2 years prior, doing a play together on stage called The Woman in Black for the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival. Natasha played a ghost that haunted me throughout the play. Now she’ll haunt me, in a good way, for the rest of my life (smiles). However, I co-wrote, co-produced, and cast most of the film and Natasha also helped in casting. She originally introduced me to the executive producers who hired me. I also played George Winkler in the movie. He was responsible for stealing all of Walt’s designers and Natasha played Edna Disney, Roy Disney’s wife.
TIR: Have you been involved in other films?
FL: Yes, I was in the films, Papa-Hemingway in Cuba, opposite Giovanni Ribisi, the film American Made opposite Tom Cruise, the film Boyfriend Killer, opposite Patrick Muldoon and Kate Yansi and tiny roles in seven other films ranging from The Devil’s Advocate starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves, Celebrity by Woody Allen, opposite Duffy, Melanie Griffith and Joe Mantegna and many other independent films including the award winning film Last Letters from Monte Rosa which is a World War II film where I got to play an Italian soldier and speak in Italian in the film.
NL: The majority of my experience has been in regional theatre. Stage over screen has been where I’ve focused my time. I have had some lead and supporting roles in quite a few independent films.
TIR: The two of you have also been seen on television. Where might we have seen you?
FL: Yes, I had a recurring role on USA’s Graceland opposite Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata. I also guest starred on various other network and cable TV shows including CBS’s Blue Bloods opposite Donnie Wahlberg, Netflix’s Bloodline and Jessica Jones, ABC’s Nashville, USA’s Burn Notice as well as The Resident on Fox.
NL: I've worked as a guest star on America’s Most Wanted, as well as a recurring role on the 90’s TV Show, Step by Step. Much of my television work consists of national commercials. Some of my national spots include: Coca Cola, Children’s Flonase, State Farm, Burger King, Budweiser and Honda.
TIR: What types of projects are the two of you involved in right now?
FL: I’m currently producing and directing two full length feature films on the lives of Vanilla Ice and one on Jose Feliciano. I also direct and produce corporate videos and commercials for various companies and have a celebrity cooking show that I produced and directed with Maneet Chauhan from Chopped which is awaiting to be picked up at Food Network. I’m also about to work opposite Chris Rock in the latest installment of the SAW movie franchise which I’ll be shooting in Toronto, Canada.
NL: I’m still auditioning through my agent in New York and working as a producer of cinematic weddings. My biggest role is mothering our 11 year old son, Tristan.
TIR: Would you like to share a little more about Tristan and your family?
FL: Tristan is an awesome kid with a bold personality who can make you laugh to tears but has one of the kindest and compassionate hearts any 11 year old could have. Thankfully, after moving to Rutherford, we’ve found an incredible support group of families and teachers. He enjoys skateboarding, bike riding, swimming, playing basketball, and hanging out with great friends that he’s made in town.
NL: And I’ll add that he has no interest in performing whatsoever! (laughs)
FL: We’re a very tight little family who enjoy going to the theater, watching movies, and exploring the outdoors. Tristan was born in Florida, which is where Natasha and I met so, as a family, we do enjoy the beach and the sun and get to Florida quite often. I’m originally from Canada which means I enjoy the warm weather even more!
TIR: When did you move to Rutherford? What brought you here?
FL: We moved to Rutherford in June of 2016 when I had an offer to partner in a film and TV production company located in Jersey City. Subsequently, Natasha began working there as well. We enjoy being so close to Manhattan and get into the city at least once a week. Also, as actors, it’s great to be back so close to Manhattan.
NL: We found Rutherford by way of Google. Keywords were and not in this order: "great school system", "short commute to NYC", "town with bus and train service to NYC", "family oriented, quiet, safe, cultured", and all within our comfort zone of pricing. And voila! Here we are.
TIR: The fine and performing arts are obviously an important part of your life and have been for some time. What advice can you lend to young people looking to pursue careers similar to yours?
FL: Coming from someone who has pursued it for most of my life, I would say it can be a very tough road to get started on but if you are passionately creative and you need the arts in your life like you need to breathe, then it’s worth pursuing to follow your passion and your dreams. However, if you’re getting into it solely for fame and fortune, then find another occupation to pursue.
NL: Train and develop a strong work ethic. Be prepared. Believe in yourself, make mistakes, and KEEP GOING.