Salvatore Angelo "Sal" Caparza (born August 20, 1958) is an American actor, screenwriter, producer and philanthropist. He is best known for his role as Nicky Girardi in An American's Story, although he has starred in numerous films, typically collaborating with director Al Gore on a variety of projects. While he has appeared in a variety of mob roles due to his Italian heritage, typecasting thanks to the Girardi character and his stereotypically Italian appearance, Caparza's acting resume includes a variety of comedies, dramas and action films over a thirty-year career.
Salvatore Angelo Caparza was born in 1958 to Luigi Caparza (b. 1925), an Italian immigrant, and Susan Flores (b. 1927). His maternal grandmother was Italian, and his maternal grandfather Cuban. Caparza identifies himself as an Italian-American, claiming that he cannot speak a word of Spanish and has no connection or contact to his Cuban side of the family. The Caparzas grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and his uncle Angelo Caparza (1922-2000) was involved in the local Truttino crime family. Caparza has often stated that his uncle was his inspiration for his later mob roles.
Caparza attended and graduated from Newark Central High School, which had a strong Italian presence. He admits that many of his friends joined their fathers' crews out of high school, and he attended the school during its infamous 1975 school shooting where the sons of two different Mafia members attacked one another in a hallway. Caparza was active in theater while in high school.
After high school, Caparza moved to Los Angeles in 1977, citing boredom and the desire to meet blonde women in California. He was arrested for vagrancy twice while taking acting classes in between shifts at a diner before he was cast as a young Mafia enforcer on the TV show Velasco in 1978.
Caparza's big break came in 1982 when he was cast as Mark Brucia in the teen comedy Son of the Mob, where he played the good-natured and straight-laced son of a mobster trying to accommodate his unusual upbringing with a normal suburban high school. The film was an enormous success and led to his casting in several TV commercials and TV shows playing a variety of roles.
He made an enormous breakthrough in 1985, however, when he was cast over Alec Baldwin as Nicky Girardi in An American's Story. Director George Deacon said he was impressed by Caparza's screen test, where he felt he channeled the sociopathic energy needed for the role to a tee. Caparza had in fact not wanted to go to the audition, but was convinced to attend by a friend. The role netted the virtual unknown widespread acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor due to his portrayal of the psychotic, vengeful and sadistic killer and helped launch his career into stratospheric levels.
Caparza is a lifelong practicing Roman Catholic and has donated millions of dollars to various Catholic Church-sponsored programs, including hefty donations to Jesuit colleges in the United States, Canada and Alaska. Caparza has been married to his wife Julia (b. 1962) since 1986, and they have four children; Anthony (b. 1988), Dominic (b. 1990), Maria (b. 1992) and Nicky (b. 1993). Caparza is an extremely private person and prefers to avoid interviews for fears of tabloid exploitation. He speaks fluent Italian and has travelled to Italy on numerous occasions. His ancestors hail from Tuscany, around Florence.