Mark DeCarlo has one simple rule in both his professional and personal life: "If it sounds like fun or if I think I'm going to have fun doing it, I'll do it."
And making "Mobsters and Mormons" was definitely fun. "This is probably going to sound like I'm out to promote the movie, but I had as good a time making this movie as anything I've been associated with during my career."
This from a man who once hosted his own dating show, "Studs," was one of the hosts of the short-lived "The X Show," and appeared in the much-loved sitcoms "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Of course, "Mobsters" does offer DeCarlo his first major starring role: Carmine "The Beans" Pasquale, a gangster who is arrested by the FBI during a sting operation. Rather than serve time, Carmine turns state's evidence against his former bosses, and, as part of the Witness Protection Program, he and his family are sent to Utah. He's given a new identity and is expected to fit in with his new Mormon neighbors.
"I prefer not to think of Carmine as a wise guy," DeCarlo said by phone from Southern California, where he's shooting another film. "To me, he's a midlevel management guy who's a little mad at his bosses for being passed over for a promotion he thinks he deserved. So he goes to work for the competition. And that sets up some really funny situations."
The 42-year-old veteran TV actor has spent the past few years looking for big-screen opportunities, so when his agent called him about Hollywood auditions for "Mobsters," he jumped at the chance. "I met with John (Moyer, the writer/director), and we got along famously. I guess I make a good first impression."
DeCarlo said he was unprepared for his first taste of Utah culture — a lengthy discussion of LDS Church beliefs with the driver who picked up DeCarlo at Salt Lake International Airport and drove him to Provo, where he stayed during the shoot.
"I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?' " DeCarlo said with a laugh. "But then I realized that I could work with this."
In fact, he has nothing but good things to say about the film's largely LDS cast and crew. "They were some of the nicest, hardest-working people I've had the pleasure to meet. I'd work with any of them again in a heartbeat."
Still, he did notice a few peculiarities in the Utah County communities where the film was shot, such as Springville. "Down there, most places close up shop around 8 p.m. and aren't open at all on Sundays. I was like, 'Hey, where did everybody go?' I felt like I was in a ghost town.
"It did give me a lot of time to work on my lines and really get to know my character, so that was good. I got some much-needed peace of mind and was able to get away from everything."
As an Italian-American, DeCarlo said he is mindful of portrayals of such characters in television and film. "A lousy actor can turn an Italian-American into a caricature rather than a character."
So he took his cues from HBO's mob-themed drama "The Sopranos." "I have such a great appreciation for what the cast of that show does. They're absolutely amazing."
DeCarlo currently hosts the Travel Channel's "Taste of America," and shooting the film required him to take a five-week break from his hosting duties. "That could have turned out badly, but everyone could see this was something I really wanted to do."
He also continues to provide a voice for the "Jimmy Neutron" cartoon series, as the title character's father, and did a voice for "Ant Bully," an animated theatrical comedy starring the voices of Nicolas Cage and Julia Roberts. "Evidently I'm better heard than seen," he joked.
In the meantime, "Taste of America" has been renewed for a second season. Upcoming episodes of the program were shot in New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss., and other areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"I can't even imagine what the people down there are going through," DeCarlo said. "I'm just sick to death about the whole thing. It's hard to think of a silly movie and television series while something like that is going on."