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Westchester Native Plays Pivotal Role With John Travolta In Movie 'Gotti'

Chris Kerson, a native of Larchmont, left, playing Willie Boy Johnson in a courtroom scene with John Travolta in the new movie, "Gotti." Photo Credit: Contributed/ Brian Douglas
Westchester native Chris Kerson, right, with John Travolta iat Cannes 2018, where "Gotti" was first screened in May. Kerson was able to see the film as it was edited with credits, music and titles for the first time, a thrill for a working actor. Photo Credit: Provided

The long awaited film “Gotti” that premiered at Cannes 2018 hit theaters in June and features an actor from Westchester.

Iona Prep graduate Chris Kerson, who grew up in Larchmont, plays the real-life childhood friend of John Gotti. He became an informant for the prosecution and was subsequently shot to death. This is a lead-featured role and Kerson, a method actor who studied with Al Pacino’s producing partner, the late Charles Laughton, shot his scenes with John Travolta in Cincinnati and in New York City.

Spoiler alert: One of Travolta's best lines in the film comes during one of Kerson's (Willie Boy Johnson) courtroom scenes, which can be previewed by clicking here.

Kerson said his childhood acting experiences played a huge part in his current successes:  "I was continually the lead or a lead in plays at Iona Grammar School and Iona Prep of New Rochelle while growing up in Larchmont."

Kerson told Daily Voice that Travolta "asked me when we did our courtroom scene if I was a child actor because of how effortless I made an emotional scene and dropped right into the work with him. John made me realize that being a child actor probably helped shape the talent that I now have in my professional life. John Travolta was a child actor, too."

Kerson also spent summers sailing at the Larchmont Yacht Club and playing tennis. Later, through high school, he was very involved in the martial arts in the Sound Shore area.

"I trained and taught martial arts in Larchmont where I was surrounded by police officers, prison guards, blue collar and white collar professionals who became my good friends despite my young age. The discipline of the martial arts carried over to my preparations when I became an actor," Kerson said.

Kerson said his mother lived in Larchmont for 45 years: "Larchmont was my home again for 16 or 17 years while I did a ton of stage off-Broadway, studied and trained in New York and did a lot of noticed independent films. I was living in Larchmont when I booked a role to appear in all eight episodes of season two of the hit HBO drama, 'True Detective.' Kerson lived in Los Angeles while the season was being filmed and upon completion, returned to New York City where he now lives.

Kerson added: “I researched all my roles at the Larchmont Library with the help of Liam Haggerty. I would call Liam all the time and described often dark subject matter and he would pull up videos, books, and such that I could use for my research. He helped me immensely. Some of best friends and even spiritual mentors still live in the neighboring Westchester towns.”

Kerson also felt privileged to produce a film with seasoned actors, directors and producers: "I felt John Travolta was the most generous actor I ever worked with despite being this iconic movie star. He did everything possible to really collaborate on our scenes and was genuinely very appreciative of how I worked with him. He gave me great insight into what I brought to the role as an actor and what my attributes were. He went out of his way to always include me in the whole 'Gotti' experience as a colleague. He is truly a very gracious man."

On "True Detective," Kerson portrayed the mesmerizing character "Nails," a survivor of a brutal nail gun attack and loyal company man, to "Frank Semyon" played by Vince Vaughn. He is most recognized for his starring role in Sean Kirkpatrick's independent feature film "Cost of a Soul.} Since 2008, Chris has been a lead in 24 films including Thomas Kim's "The Ride" which was named by Martin Scorsese as the best short film of that year. He played a pivotal supporting role as the villainous drug supplier, Saveno in the New York feature "Broadway's Finest."  Kerson also is a lead and an antagonist in Independent Spirit Nominee Tim McCann's "Zero in the System."

To help him get into the role, Kerson also convinced actor-producer Kelly Preston (Travolta's wife) to ask the head makeup artist to tattoo the words "True Love" on his knuckles, like the real-life Johnson.

So if you want to beat the heat this weekend by escaping into a movie, you won't be disappointed by Kerson's performances. In another courtroom scene, his betrayal of John Gotti Sr. is revealed. The Larchmont native performed some of the finest scenes in the newly-released movie.

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