On Saturday, former Canton resident Bruno Gunn will be on a local stage, hosting the celebration of an area social-service agency. But the crowds seeing him then may pale next to those seeing him in November, when he appears in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The event at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Canton Civic Center marks Pathway Caring for Children’s 40th anniversary. It is billed as An Evening With Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, featuring the couple whose adoption of eventual football star Michael Oher was the inspiration for the Sandra Bullock movie The Blind Side.
Gunn has not met the Tuohys but was honored to join in the celebration of Pathway (www.pathwaycfc.org), a private nonprofit offering adoption services, especially for children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned.
“This is my first experience with Pathway, and I’m thoroughly impressed with the way they run their organization as well as admiring the great work they are doing,” Gunn said by email. “Every child no matter who they are or where they came from deserves to be loved, cherished and encouraged. … I have some friends who recently adopted a beautiful baby and have watched the experience complete their family.”
Gunn, 44, has been acting for about 15 years. Born Bruno Gioiello, Gunn will play the combatant Brutus in Catching Fire, the second movie based on Suzanne Collins’ series of novels set in a future society that pits players from different regions against each other in a to-the-death battle of wits and skill. The first movie made more than $400 million in the U.S. in 2012 and further propelled the career of actress Jennifer Lawrence, a recent Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook.
Gunn has done comedy, including Bad Teacher, lots of independent films and TV shows like True Blood and Sons of Anarchy, often as what VH1.com’s Halle Kiefer dubbed “menacing middle-aged hunks.” He is the first to admit that the parts aren’t always big or especially memorable.
“I’m either the guy breaking into your house, or arresting the guy breaking into your house, or trying to track down the guy breaking into your house,” he said in a telephone conversation, though he is proud of all his performances. And they led him to Catching Fire.
“I have journeyed a long time and this by far is the biggest thing I’ve worked on,” he said. “I’ve had a load of TV credits and some strong film credits. But this is a whole different animal. You’re involved in a massive franchise. … (True Blood and Sons) have amazing fan bases, and large fan bases. But (with Hunger Games) I have people reaching out to me from all over the world — India, Poland, Germany, Brazil, Japan. It’s amazing.”
And that sense of doing something important was evident when the movie was made a year ago, he said. “Everyone there knew how special this whole thing is. We all knew how lucky we were. Everybody was focused. Everyone was a pro. They brought their A game.”
Only Gunn did not set out to be an actor. The son of Italian-born parents, Fausto and Dora Gioiello, young Bruno was mainly interested in sports: wrestling, football, baseball.
Much later, he said, “I was an ad executive on Madison Avenue, New York City. And I looked around and was, like, I don’t know if this is what I want to do for the next 15, 20 years of my life. I had a friend who suggested taking an acting class.
“I thought, me? I’m from Ohio! I can hit a ball real far. I was an athlete. [Acting] was all foreign to me.” But he tried the class. Something clicked. He started taking more classes, falling so in love with acting that he was fired from his advertising job.
“I never looked back,” he said. He spent two years “really studying the craft,” and worked in the traditional struggling-actor jobs — waiting tables and bartending included — before diving full time into the search for work. His first big break came in Woody Allen’s Celebrity in 1999; he changed his name about two years ago because “my real name has a load of vowels in it. It’s difficult to pronounce, and you want something that no one has to think about.”
But some people have. In fact, Kiefer thought “his name looks like it could have been directly lifted from any page of the Hunger Games series. We mean, Bruno Gunn? Suzanne Collins herself couldn’t have picked out a better stage name for a man playing such a brutal competitor.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.