Franky G plays it tough and tender as ex-con going straight

Thursday, January 13, 2005

NEW YORK -- Seems like people are always chasing Jonny Calvo. Or punching him. Or otherwise being a pain.

But Jonny -- brawny and street-smart -- can fend for himself, while obliging his need to help others who can't.

It's all part of his high-stakes juggling act on "Jonny Zero," a fast-paced action show with heart and even a measure of comedy (check out Jonny brawling in a lobster costume). It premieres 8 p.m. Friday on Fox.

"He's just a guy that helps people through his connections, through his sources that cops can't get to, y'understand?" says Franky G, whose muscular performance makes you understand. "But from the pressures of the FBI and the organized-crime guys, you don't know what direction he's gonna take."

Those colliding pressures shed light on Jonny's dilemma, and so does his nickname: Here's a guy starting over from nothing.

Back on New York's mean streets and on parole after four years in the slammer for manslaughter, he wants to go straight, get a regular job, and reunite with his estranged son and parents. But the crime boss Jonny used to work for as an enforcer wants him back on duty, while the feds have ways to strong-arm him into serving them as an informant.

Along for the ride is Jonny's white-boy rapster sidekick Random, played by a gifted young actor named (now pay attention) GQ.

"I heard GQ was on, I said, 'The magazine? Whaddaya talking about?"' says Franky G, as amused as anyone by this alphabet-soup casting.

GQ could emerge on "Jonny Zero" as a breakout star.

Macho, but soft

An even riper prospect is Franky G, who's letter-perfect as Jonny.

"He's not just this macho-type guy, he has a soft side," says Franky over coffee in a Manhattan pub. "He's a tough guy, but he's got emotions. I'm not that person in real life. But knowing from the streets, and coming from the streets, I can give it the right flavor." Not to mention qualify himself as TV's newest heartthrob.

Born Frank Gonzalez, the 40ish New York native has already won acclaim in such films as "The Italian Job," where he appeared with Mark Wahlberg, and "Confidence," which starred Dustin Hoffman and Edward Burns.

His first film was "Manito," a low-budget drama that won a special jury prize for its ensemble cast at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

But also part of Franky's story is his checkered career apart from acting: Among other things, he has been a furniture mover, a construction worker, a club bouncer and a competitive bodybuilder who, at his peak, could squat 510 pounds.

He still lifts weights, which is obvious -- at least, to most observers.

"You know what's so funny," he says, "I go to the gym yesterday and a guy asked me, 'You ever worked out before?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'You kidding me?"' Franky cracks up.

The middle of seven children born to working-class parents in Brooklyn, he recalls "trials and tribulations like every family has, but we took care of each other, and it just came out the right way."

His own way was circuitous. After studying criminal law investigation at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, he pursued his first love, football, as a running back for the Long Island Tomahawks, a semiprofessional team. But a knee injury ended that dream.

Then, after years of trying to make it as an actor, he returned to school to be a computer technician.

"My mind was set on it," Franky says, "and I went to the classes, a six-month course. Then the acting bug came back again.

"But after I did 'Manito,' I didn't want to do acting anymore. They were editing it, the director called me and said, 'You got to see this, it's great, blah, blah, blah.' I said, 'Call me when you're done.' Then I call my girlfriend and said, 'I'm thinking about quitting. It's time for me to move on.'

"She said, 'What, are you crazy!'

"In the real world," he explains, "you need to get some work, get a job, do what you gotta do, pay your bills. That's how I felt. I took things one day at a time, but there were times it disturbed me -- yes, it did. I think we all go through that. But then everything started falling into play."

Franky still lives in the Flushing section of Queens, where his family moved when he was growing up. In a sense, "Jonny Zero," filmed on location in New York, came to him.

The moral is clear, he gratefully observes: "You gotta be patient, I guess."


On the Net:

http://www.fox.com


EDITOR'S NOTE -- Frazier Moore can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org

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