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Taking some mighty swings

Little-known producer Bob DeBrino is hustling to hit the big-time in Hollywood. One result of his sweat: signing controversial slugger Jose Canseco.

September 07, 2005|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Jose Canseco has decided he'd like to be Hollywood's newest action hero. For this latest post-baseball career move he didn't turn to those powerful, well-connected agents, like the Jeff Bergs of the world, who can make just about anyone a star.

Instead, he hired a little-known producer named Bob DeBrino as his personal manager.

In many ways, DeBrino, whose limited credits include a low-budget comedy, "Shut Up and Shoot!" about a crooked Hollywood producer, is the real story here. He has chased his Hollywood dream ever since he got his first taste of show business as a cop in New York working security on the set of "The Godfather."

Tall and lanky with a perpetual tan and a booming, impossible-to-ignore voice, the 54-year-old producer drives around town in a low-slung, fire engine red Corvette convertible, cellphone always at the ready.

He's got Canseco making the rounds of film studios, TV networks and production companies, complete with a demo tape that features the 6-foot-4 former slugger, a black belt in martial arts, deftly twirling a numchuck as a sultry woman in a nightgown lounges nearby. Another scene, shot with Canseco's 8-year-old daughter, Josie, is designed to showcase his more sensitive side.

The idea is to convince casting directors that Canseco, who retired in 2001 with 462 home runs, has the sculpted look, acting chops and martial-arts skills to transform him into the next Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Seagal or Van Damme.

Here's how the pitch sounds. "I'm only 41 and in great shape for my age," Canseco said. "I don't think I've lost a beat at all. Because of my physique and my look ... I fit in the natural action-hero role."

DeBrino, by contrast, would probably not be any casting director's choice for the role of Hollywood power player. Just two years ago, the 6-foot-3 DeBrino weighed 453 pounds. After prodding from his Hollywood pals, including Al Pacino's family, he underwent gastric-bypass surgery and has trimmed down to 202.

He's a former narc, who barely escaped the trade after his Bronx home was firebombed in 1975, possibly by traffickers. He got out unscathed.

His cousin, Angelo Prisco, a reputed mob figure, was paroled only last week from a New Jersey state prison after serving time for racketeering and arson. DeBrino and a film crew were there to record his release and have hopes of making a Gotti-like reality TV show starring Prisco and his family.

For a brief time this year, DeBrino was Tom Sizemore's personal manager as the actor continued to struggle with drug addiction and his conviction for beating up his ex-girlfriend, former "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss. "Seems like everybody that comes my way is controversial," said DeBrino.

When he first came to Hollywood, DeBrino readily admits, he wanted to become a producer so badly that he was overly aggressive, which turned people off.

"I made a lot of mistakes," DeBrino said. "I did stupid things. I barged into people's offices. Went in unannounced. Called them. Was extremely overaggressive, boisterous. I hope people forgive me for my mistakes. I was just a stupid, dumb ox that was going around with my own version about what Hollywood was. I must have scared half the people out here.

"I chased [Nick Nolte] for years," he added. "I remember I went up to his house and threw a script over a wall once." He now regrets doing that.

"I'm not Steven Spielberg or Tom Hanks where I can pick up a phone and I can be in a film [instantly] or say, 'Hey, I'm coming out, get ready for me.' Every meeting, every phone call that I get is work. And it's just the system."

Even today, DeBrino's style remains in-your-face. While driving through Beverly Hills one recent afternoon, DeBrino spotted producer and former TriStar Pictures studio chief Mike Medavoy eating at an outside table.

DeBrino bounded from the SUV, dodged traffic as he ran across the street and, standing in front of Medavoy, threw open his jacket to show off how much weight he had lost, as startled diners looked on.

Over the years, DeBrino has optioned the film rights to many promising literary works but found it an uphill battle to get the projects made. There was a book titled "Trump Tower," which he couldn't get cast. There was an option that ran out on another book called "Rough Magic" about troubled poet Sylvia Plath that never got off the ground. (Someone else made a movie about Plath with Gwyneth Paltrow last year.) And he had high hopes for a TV police drama called "NYPD Confidential," until "NYPD Blue" came along.

He has a six-month option on the film rights to Canseco's book, "Juiced," which, while roundly trashed by critics, still managed to rock major league baseball with its accounts of steroid use among some of the game's top players, including Canseco himself. The book is being shopped to various studios.

"He has good instincts," said producer Edward Pressman, who once worked with DeBrino in trying to develop a film based on a book called "The Vatican Connection."

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