Q&A: Antonio Restivo
You play with fire? You get burned. Or so Mama taught. You also earn a good living. Excite crowds. Delight children. Occasionally swallow a fireball (whoopsie). And find your life’s calling—as Antonio Restivo did. Portraying the boo-hissable Mordred the Evil Fire Wizard in the sword-and-slay spectacle Tournament of Kings at Excalibur, the amiable Restivo was drawn to his fiery profession like—excuse the expression—a moth to the flame, as he explained recently to Las Vegas Magazine’s Steve Bornfeld.
To be blunt—what’s the deal with you and fire?
It’s so pretty. I could never be a fireman because when we get to the burning building, I would stop everybody and say, “Let’s just look at it for one more minute.” Fire is living, breathing, you can see it moving and creating this beauty right in front of you that you can’t control. It’s unpredictable. If you take away the element that gives it oxygen, like any living, breathing thing, you can kill it. It’s got this power to it.
Did this fascination begin in childhood?
I was 8 years old and playing at my best friend’s house in New York. (Several friends) built this fort in their backyard, way in the woods. I said to my friend Chazz, “What would happen if your fort got attacked?” He said, “It would never get attacked.” And I said, “Oh?” and I lit a match and burned down 6 acres of property. And here’s the kicker: The mom threw me in the car, was obviously mad, and called the fire department. When everything settled and the fire was out, she drove me back to my house. She started to yell at my mother. My mom looked at her and said, “Well, where were you? Why weren’t you watching the children? Did you give him the match? He didn’t get it from me.” Then she said to me, “Did anyone get hurt?” “No.” “Did you get hurt?” “No.” “OK, go outside and play.”
How did you escape punishment for burning down 6 acres?
It’s strange but I’ve never gotten into trouble with fire. Kids would hang out with me and I was the kid who had matches or a lighter in my pocket; I’m probably the reason they invented childproof lighters. To the world, I apologize. I would light things on fire and walk away while the other kids enjoyed it. Then an adult would come along and someone else would get in trouble. Never me. I either had to figure out how to use it as a career or I would be in jail.
What did you parents think of your profession?
My parents loved it. The first time they came to Vegas and saw one of my live shows, Bite at the Stratosphere, I did a fight scene and a guy hit my chest with a staff and my chest caught fire. At that moment my mom jumped up and ran up onstage to help me because my chest was on fire. My dad grabbed her and said, “I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, give it a minute.” I thought, how great would it have been if she had made the stage? Maybe not for the show.
What is the most dangerous aspect of what you do in Tournament of Kings?
My first entrance, that fireball that comes from my hand, that prop is strapped to my back. For my personal safety, that’s the one I’m most cautious of because if there were to be some sort of incident you can’t get out of it or away from it. You have to wait until it’s done and work on the healing from that point onward. That backpack is the most meticulously cared-for—checking for leaks, making sure everything is tight and clean. If that goes bad, that will be a very bad thing.
So that’s never happened?
I wish I could say that. One time it backfired on me and my chest and face caught fire. I finished the scene and went backstage and they doused me with a fire extinguisher. Then I did a second show, and a third show I was contracted to do at another hotel, and after that I went and bathed my face in aloe.
Do those incidents make you think twice about doing this?
I feel like I have a great relationship with fire because I’ve been working with it for so long and I have a great respect for it. And there’s a safety aspect to what I do. You could look over my body and see one scar that I have from fire on my entire body and I’ve caught fire several times. Only one visible scar.
It’s on my arm. There’s a trident that I use when I charge another character, that three-pronged fork in my hand. I use it to do the scene where I light a hand torch and take the fire from the hand torch on my hand and light the trident, so I would catch my hand on fire intentionally and light the trident on fire. But I ran the trident across my arm and a piece of metal hit my arm the wrong way and gave me a third degree burn and took off the skin. I watched it happen. The lucky thing for me is that the fire is so hot at that point that it kind of kills the nerves, so there’s no pain involved. But my skin looked like the outer layer of a roasted marshmallow. It charred it. I just looked at it and thought, “Oh. That’s gonna suck.” But the show doesn’t stop. You just continue going.
Any other mishaps?
I swallowed a fireball and had a hole in my esophagus where I would take a sip of water and it would float to the top of my head. The scar tissue has healed it up, but when it first happened, I did 24 hours without speaking, because everything I would try, my voice would make this raspy sound. I’d go to the ER and they’d ask what happened and I’d say I swallowed a fireball. And they’d go, “Come on, what really happened?” They don’t believe you at first.
What kind of protective clothing do you wear?
Any all-natural fibers are the most protective fibers you can wear. Cotton, silks, leather. You don’t want to wear anything with a mixed blend because that will stick to your body so my full costume is all leather, and it probably weighs about 45 pounds.
What do you tell children when they are awed by your skills?
I always tell kids to not do this at home. I’ve done a bunch of schools, at career days, and I never lie to children. I always tell them the stories of what I’ve done. It took me years to become a professional, and yes, I’ve been burned, and badly. I’m very meticulous about fire safety because I don’t want anyone to get hurt. It’s a dangerous element that I intentionally incorporate into my life. I take as much safety as I possibly can. But the show will not stop until the curtain call.
Do you enjoy playing the villain?
I love it. I’ve been the villain my entire professional career—except for being the third tree from the left in school. In everything after that, I’ve always been the bad guy because when I was 13 years old I was 6-feet-2 and had a beard. I’ve been shaving since I was 10 years old. I was always bigger than everybody else so I have always been the bad guy. I never appreciated it until I got older. But everybody secretly roots for the villain—it’s a great character. Even when you hate the villain, you love him,. because I’ve created this emotion where you hate me so much you’re loving it. The only thing that trips me up is when I’m in the show and being my evil Mordred self and a 2-year-old kid is standing on the table and looks at me and smiles and waves. They look past the evil character because they don’t know good from evil at that point, and maybe they just see me for who I am. And for a moment I break character and I kinda wave back and then think, “Wait, I have to get back to being evil.”
So no child has ever been frightened by your portrayal?
One time. There’s a part where I get up on these stairs, I look at the crowd and have my fire trident in my hand and I’m making evil gestures. This one little girl jumped into her dad’s lap and started crying because she was really terrified. After the show, I had to run out there to meet her and tell her it was OK. She was 6 years old. I didn’t want her to have nightmares about this evil villain.
You’ve been doing this your entire adult life, but are there ever moments when you think it’s too dangerous to continue?
I got a burned a couple of months ago and I posted it on Facebook and in that comment, I said, “Thank God it wasn’t a paper cut because those things really hurt.” If you work with paper all day, that’s going to happen. This is my chosen profession, so you don’t have to ask me if I’m OK. I’m fine, it’s just what I do.