The titular group on Friends dated a staggering number of people over the course of the series, but one of the most memorable significant others arrived during the first season. In Season 1, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) dated Paolo, an Italian man she could barely communicate with, but whom she was charmed by nonetheless. Things obviously didn't work out in the long run for Rachel and Paolo, but Italian actor Cosimo Fusco, who played the character, did leave a lasting impression on American pop culture. And that's with just four episodes under his belt.
These days, Fusco is still acting and is still recognized for his TV role from nearly 30 years ago. "I can work in the most exquisite film, but the minute people find out I was Paolo, they're like, 'Oh my God!'" he told The Guardian. Read on to see what the 59-year-old actor looks like now, and discover what he's been up to.
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The show wasn't yet a hit when Fusco joined.
In 2019, The Guardian interviewed some of the secondary characters from Friends as part of an oral history of the series. Fusco shared that when he started filming Friends, none of the episodes had aired, so no one had any idea it would be a hit.
"When I taped my first episode, no one had seen it on TV yet," he said. "While we were filming, they announced the show had been commissioned for 12 episodes. Jennifer Aniston basically cried in my lap because nothing like that had ever happened to her before."
Fusco also shared that he wished he took more advantage of the show's popularity. "I have a little bit of regret; I feel like I could have capitalized more on the success of the show," he said. "I was having a divorce, and was distracted by my personal life. I didn't get a publicist, which I should have done."
He improvised a lot of his lines.
Fusco was surprised to be cast on Friends, because his English wasn't very good at the time. "But I was told not to speak any English," he explained on Today in 2019. "And I said, wow. 'Yeah, just say whatever you want in Italian.' I made up most of the Italian spoken by Paolo."
He also said of his character, "I had to be the little bit cheesy guy. The sweater tucked up in his pants. I would never dress like that, but I enjoyed it very much to play that character."
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One scene bothered him.
While Fusco enjoyed his time on Friends overall, there was one scene that made him uncomfortable. During a scene in which Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) gives Paolo a massage, he was directed to grab her butt.
"I had to be this greasy guy who was touching Phoebe's [expletive]. I had a problem with how it portrayed me, as if guys from Italy are like that," he told The Guardian. "What they wanted me to do was quite disrespectful. But I remember we were able to find a compromise, so I felt comfortable."
In the Today interview, Fusco also spoke about the scene and said he was "embarrassed" at first, but he and the producers "worked it out" and he and Kudrow were both fine with how it turned out.
Fusco is still acting.
Prior to Friends, Fusco was already acting, beginning with the 1988 Italian film Domino. After Friends, some of his other English-language appearances include Gone in 60 Seconds, Alias, Coco Chanel, Angels&Demons, and The Mentalist.
He has also acted regularly in Europe. Most recently, Fusco was in the 2020 Italian movie Non odiare (Thou Shalt Not Hate), the 2021 Spanish film Veneciafrenia, and the HBO España series 30 monedas (30 Coins).
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He's gotten to work with big directors.
In a 2021 interview with Vanity Fair España, Fusco shared that even though there were times he wasn't being cast, he feels lucky in his career, especially because of the directors he's gotten to work with.
"I have been lucky to hold out in that business," he said. "I have seen many colleagues who have lost hope because it is a job that is often very unrewarding. In my case I persisted and I have been able to work in France, the USA or Italy. This has given me the opportunity to change and do other things. And also to work with directors that I have always wanted. Like [Ridley] Scott, [Ron] Howard, [Dario] Argento… Mario Monicelli is a legend in the history of cinema. I am happy and happy to have achieved it."