A year ago a naturally funny guy named Jimmy Barone lay in bed awaiting the amputation of his second leg and thinking his life might be over.
Today, the double amputee and retired Yale gym employee is hanging out with some of the funniest people in Hollywood. And he’s awaiting the release of a new Adam Sandler movie co-starring Chris Rock — and featuring ... a wisecracking Jimmy Barone, in the first role of what looks like an exciting new second career.
The Netflix movie, a wedding farce, is titled The Week Of. It is scheduled for release in 2018.
In the film, Sandler’s and Rock’s characters’ kids tie the inter-racial knot. And the 57-year-old Barone is made up as Sandler’s oldest living relative, 87-year-old Uncle Seymour Lustig, a legless World War Two hero up from Florida for the nuptials.
Or is he a World War Two hero?
The chintzy Sandler character tries to parley Seymour’s disability into a reduced price for the wedding party.
You’ll have to see the movie, to be released in 2018, to learn more.
While the send-up of misers and aged Jewish snowbirds may not change your life, it sure has changed the life of Jimmy Barone, who worked at Yale for 23 years before retiring in 2015. He started out at Yale installing phones computer circuits for 14 years. He moved in 2006 to Payne-Whitney Gym, where he worked the front desk and helped with day-to-day operations, delighting coworkers and patrons alike with his storytelling and sense of humor. That all ended when he got sick and had his amputations.
Now fortune has smiled on Barone, setting him on a second career in acting.
As he awaits the film’s release, he is doing interviews, setting up a website, and getting glossies and other items to his new and first-ever agent.
Barone was eager to talk about his experiences, especially how an utterly surprising new chapter of his life has begun after such a major loss.
In April of this year, the seventh month of physical therapy at the Gaylord Specialty Healthcare facility in Wallingford, the Gaylord staff received an email from a casting company looking for double amputees to audition for the upcoming comedy.
“I used to joke around a lot” with everyone at Gaylord, Barone said during an interview at his studio apartment. The staff therefore knew who should apply.
“‘Call Jim Barone’” they said.
When the casting company got back, Barone was asked to audition through recording four lines of dialogue from a scene where Sandler meets Uncle Seymour at the airport: “I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go now. I’m 87. My prostrate is big as a watermelon.” Then, in the scene Sandler wheels his uncle into the bathroom, for more hilarity.
Barone aced the audition and made the first cut. He learned later, it had been a nationwide search.
When Sandler saw the audition tape, he reportedly exclaimed, “That’s him! That’s Uncle Seymour.”
However, the film’s producer, Robert Smigel, was skeptical because the character is 30 years older than Barone.
So getting the gig would turn on how he’d look in the extensive make-up to achieve the look of Uncle Seymour. A car was sent from Manhattan for a follow-up audition.
Barone submitted to a long make-up process and then the audition. Then four days went by. Then came an email asking him to call, which he did.
“Do you want the part?” he was asked.
“Did you ask me to sit down?” Barone responded.
The rest is comedy history. Or will be.
Barone said his character Seymour is continually getting hit in the head and needing to go to the bathroom. And of course he gets carried a lot. Now and then he’s dropped into a pit. That’s why Seymour has both a dummy fashioned to look like Barone and a human double—Bryan Anderson, an actor who lost both legs and a hand in Iraq. Anderson is—believe it or not—Barone’s stunt double.
Barone and Anderson talked openly about their disabilities, and bonded, one of the most moving parts of the filming experience, Barone recalled. He also enjoyed learning how a film gets made.
Barone worked five weeks on the set on locations on Long Island and at airports and was extremely well paid, he said, not only in the form of Hollywood-style bucks, but in the company of guys like Sandler, Chris Rock, and Steve Buscemi, who also plays a family member.
“They think I’m a war hero [in the film]. I hit my head a lot, I pee. They invite me to throw the opening pitch of Little League game,” Barone recalled of several scenes in which he appears, as if they were already becoming part of a kind of comedy routine.
“I say, ‘I don’t do stand up. I do sit down,’” he said.
Between scenes on the set, Barone often stayed in character so much that he broke up the crew and extras.
He recalled one occasion where he and Chris Rock were trying to amuse, charm, maybe even flirt with one of the actors during a lull in the filming. “You have beautiful legs,” Barone recalled telling the actress. He paused, then added: “So do I, but they’re in a landfill somewhere.”
The self-deprecating humor might seem a natural given his double amputee situation, but Barone’s daughter Alicia said her father has always been a very comic guy.
Sandler and director and co-writer Rober Smigel took him out to dinner during the shoot, Barone recalled, a treat that other actors noticed. Smigel, who has been with Sandler on several films, told Barone that no one has made Sandler laugh as much as Barone has.
And Sandler called Barone after the film wrapped up just to see how he’s doing.
Future plans? The casting company that originally put out the call to Gaylord has put him in touch with an agent. When “The Week Of<\em>
opens, Jim Barone the actor will be ready.