Casey Siemaszko in ‘Breaking In’: No Time to Play It Safe

When director Bill Forsyth was casting “Breaking In,” which opens Friday, he was having a tough time picking out an eccentric, likable actor to play Burt Reynold’s safe-cracking protege in the film. Forsyth had spent so much time staring at 8-by-10 photographs of hopeful young actors that their faces were turning into one glossy blur.

“They all started to look the same,” the Scottish director said.

So he and his casting director drove to the 18-screen Universal City Cinemas, bought a pair of tickets and began theater-hopping--spending five minutes in one theater, five minutes in the next--hoping to find a bright new face to star in their film.

“It’s quite an efficient way to work,” Forsyth said. “We sat down and watched a few minutes of ‘Biloxi Blues,’ and one of the soldiers in the barracks was kind of waving at me from the background.”


The soldier was Casey Siemaszko, a 28-year-old actor with a resume of hefty supporting roles--as a ‘50s high schooler in “Back to the Future,” a teen-age gangster in “Stand By Me,” a heroic soldier in “Gardens of Stone” and the cocky pugilist in “Young Guns.” He even had his own starring role, as a nerdy underdog in a showdown with a brutish bully in the stylish comedy “Three O’Clock High.”

Impressed, Forsyth set up an appointment with Siemaszko at the Chateau Marmont, where they met for the first time in the hotel’s garden. After spending a few minutes talking over the script, Forsyth excused himself to take a phone call.

“When I came back, Casey had climbed up this wall and was halfway up a tree, looking out over traffic,” Forsyth said, incredulously. “I never figured out if this was just a thing he did, or if he was showing me that he could climb walls because he knew the character had to do things like that.”

Siemaszko is not sure why he climbed the tree, or if he really did.

“I was really nervous, you know,” Siemaszko said recently during an interview in the garden of the Sunset Marquis, just down the Sunset Strip from the Chateau Marmont. “After reading the script, I knew that I wanted the part. Bill (Forsyth) left me alone in that garden, and I was like . . . ‘This is taking too long. I got to do something.’ ” He paused absently. “Apparently, I climbed a tree. I don’t even remember. I mean, I think I did.”

In “Breaking In,” Reynolds plays an aging pro who cracks safes for a living. Siemaszko breaks into houses only to read the mail, raid the refrigerator and maybe watch some TV. When the two go bump in the night on the same job, Reynolds cuts Siemaszko in on half his take, explaining, “I would rather have a partner than a witness.”

“Hopefully, this role will demonstrate that I’m capable of drawing out of myself to create totally different characters,” Siemaszko said. “That’s what my idea of acting is all about. It’s the ability to draw out of that little file inside of you, beef up certain aspects of yourself that aren’t there, and tone down certain aspects that come on too strong.”

Siemaszko has a working man’s sensibility about acting: “Work hard, persevere and everything will fall into place.” He says that simple work ethic is rooted in his Polish upbringing in the Northwest side of Chicago, where as a kid he would ride his bike to nearby Wrigley Field, shinny up a drain pipe and watch the Cubs.

“I’m a product of the Polish artistic community,” said Siemaszko, who speaks Polish fluently. “There are a number of professional artists who have been displaced from Poland for various political and economic reasons. The natural place for them to get rolling was in the Polish community because their language and culture was understood there. I grew up surrounded by some of Poland’s top artists.”

Siemaszko, who refined his skills with a college acting degree, made his performance debut when he was 5 on stage with The Kosciuszko Dancers, a folk-dancing group headed by his father, an instructor in Polish dance and culture. Growing up, Siemaszko acted in the Ref-Ren Theatre, a Polish community theater, and for a while sang with three girls in a quartet. “That was before my voice changed,” he said with a grin.

“But my first professional job was with the Illinois State Lottery. I promoted them on the fair circuit out on the corn and bean fields of Illinois. I juggled, played guitar, made balloon animals and said"--he barked out--" 'Lottery! Gotta’ get ya’ lottery tickets!’ I kind of liked saying that.”

Siemaszko, who reprises his role as one of Michael J. Fox’s buddies in the sequel to “Back to the Future,” hopes one day to land a role that will allow him to use up his whole bag of performing-arts tricks, which includes singing, dancing, clowning, juggling, riding a unicycle and playing several musical instruments. “I’m a jack of all trades and master of none,” he said. “But give me enough time and I can get any of them to performance level. I’d love to do Jimmy Cagney because he was able to show everything, from romance to street smarts.”

With “Breaking In,” Siemaszko added a new skill to his cache: the art of busting safes. One of the film’s technical advisers was a gentlemanly ex-safe cracker who instructed Reynolds and Siemaszko in the peculiarities of his trade.

“What is acting to me?” Siemaszko said, echoing the question put to him. “Therapy! Therapy!” He laughed and quieted down.

“It satisfies my curiosities. When I’m on the set I’m always asking questions. I don’t ever want to lose the part of me that is curious, the part of me that is a little boy.”