Production started on Little Italy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 18, 2017. You couldn’t shoot a movie entitled Little Italy unless you shot at least part of it in Toronto’s original and historic district of the same name. So, over the next 27 days, production would shoot all over downtown Toronto with a special emphasis on shooting in Toronto’s Little Italy. Production made use of numerous homes, streets and locations in the neighborhood to the delight of children and families. On one occasion, when production was shooting on Clinton Street one Saturday evening, several children (and adults) were overheard remarking who cool it was to have “Anakin Skywalker” aka, Hayden Christensen on the corner of their street! Indeed, production took all of the rich character and history of Toronto’s Little Italy and proudly displayed it in Little Italy.
A huge portion of Little Italy takes place in a pizzeria and thankfully the producers decided to re-create a pizzeria in Little Italy instead of on a soundstage in a distant warehouse. Pizza Napoli and then Vince’s Pizzeria and Sal’s Pizzeria sets where re-created in a vacant storefront right on College Street. Production did such an amazing job recreating an old school pizzeria that on a few occasions, confused pedestrians thought it was an actual pizzeria. And it was great to see Danny Aiello once again behind the counter at a pizzeria as it harkens back to his Oscar nominated performance as “Sal” in Spike Lee’s ground-breaking Do the Right Thing.
The production was able to access many iconic locations. The local Starbucks for one, provided a critical and comical setting for the romance of grandparents, Carlo (Danny Aiello) and Franca (Andrea Martin). The Little Italy team would like to extend a very special thanks to Starbucks for generously offering us one of their busiest locations along with the use of their globally popular brand name. Another location that was written into the script as one of the old couple’s covert meeting points was the Metropolitan United Church in the downtown core. The largest church in downtown Toronto, Metropolitan United has a long history of worship dating back to 1872.
Outside of Little Italy, the producers also made use of several amazing locations including the historic Distillery District which was used re-create the famous Chin Radio Little Italy street festival. The Distillery District, which is located 10 minutes east of downtown core, proved to be the perfect location with its cobblestoned streets giving the scenes an authentic feel.
Another iconic location to be utilized in Little Italy was Christie Pits, which spans a full city block, for the hilarious soccer scenes between (Nikki) Emma Roberts and (Leo) Hayden Christensen. The location serves double duty for their childhood soccer games and then their present rivalry which takes place during a heavy rain shower. Equally amazing is that scenes were being shot in a small portion of the park while many Torontonians were out enjoying the splendor of their urban oasis.
Shooting in Toronto had many benefits including landing Hayden Christensen for the coveted role of “Leo.” While Hayden was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, he spent his formative years just north of Toronto and still has plenty of family there. Hayden relished the opportunity to work so close to home again (the last time was Jumper in 2008). In fact, while shooting scenes at the Distillery District, Hayden’s family all came by to visit.
Director Donald Petrie is best known for directing many hit comedies including Grumpy Old Men, Miss Congeniality, the fan favourite, Mystic Pizza and now, two generations of Roberts women. In was in Mystic Pizza that Petrie directed a young Julia Roberts who is Emma Roberts’ aunt. As Emma and her on-screen family in Little Italy also work in a pizzeria, Petrie decided to pay homage to Mystic Pizza and Julia Roberts by having Emma wear a replicate t-shirt (“A Slice of Heaven”) in Little Italy that Julia wore in Mystic Pizza. Emma relished the opportunity to pay homage to her Aunt Julia and the t-shirt was a coveted shot by the many paparazzi on the edge of set.
As one would image, the most important props in movie set in a pizzeria are the pies themselves. For the many scenes that involved pizza, the props department was close by making the pizza. For a scene that involved several takes, it was not uncommon to have 10 pies made just to looks like they just came out of the oven. And once the pies played their scene, they were passed along to cast and crew to eat. Needless to say, few were left hungry on these days.
Much like an extended Italian family, there was quite family feeling on-set. Starting with lead creative producer Vinay Virmani, his dad producer and entrepreneur Ajay Virmani, all who visited set remarked how pleasant and enjoyable it was. This family feeling extended to cast. Visiting cast members were taken under the wings of local actors and shown the many offerings that Toronto had to offer. And the producers had many of their friends casually show up. One-day, Toronto Raptor point guard Kyle Lowry arrived at the pizzeria set on College Street and nearly caused a riot with a crush of fans plus cast and crew wanting to meet him. On another occasion, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman came by to lend his support to Vinay. Once again, he was mobbed by fans. Not only did athletes enjoy visiting set but Little Italy had politicians visiting, like the Ontario’s Minister of Culture, Tourism and Sport, Eleanor McMahon. A huge film buff and close friend of Virmani’s, Minister McMahon came by and spent the better part of an afternoon and evening meeting cast, crew and viewing action.
Watch the “Little Italy” trailer here: