amNewYork, New York
In a potential blockbuster film loaded with NYC star power — from Jennifer Lopez to Cardi B — turn your attention to newcomer Mario Polit.
The actor, a Queens native, appears in the anticipated “Hustlers” flick as a detective who closes in on a high-profile scheme carried out by a group of city strippers (J. Lo, Cardi, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart).
And while Polit reps the NYPD on-screen, he’s actually a 20-year veteran of the FDNY.
“My passion is acting but my real job is a lieutenant. The FDNY, I always say, is like a big boys club, so the guys always joke with me [about it],” says Polit, 51, a lieutenant at FDNY Engine 268/Ladder 137 in Rockaway Park. “But now, with this role, the guys I’ve worked with for years are really excited for me.”
Polit spent five weeks earlier this year juggling his day job with his passion to bring the film’s Det. Hernandez to life. He balanced 24-hour shifts at the firehouse with shooting and traveling on days off to sets across Manhattan and Westchester.
“It was wonderful. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far as an actor,” Polit says of the role.
Though he’s spent two decades with the fire department, he’s spent nearly three pursuing a career in show business. He got his first role in “The Devil’s Own,” starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt, in 1997, and has appeared in guest and recurring spots on HBO’s “The Deuce,” Judd Apatow’s “Crashing” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
In the film, Polit, who lives in Long Beach, Long Island, helps bring down a group of Manhattan strippers who drug and steal from their wealthy clients in a revenge plot in the wake of the financial crisis. Polit spends much of his time on-screen alongside the Bronx’s J. Lo, who’s cast as Ramona, the plot leader.
The NYC-set movie is based on a true story and is adapted from New York Magazine’s 2015 print article, “The Hustlers at Scores,” which details a plot in which Ramona and her clan would drug their clients and run up high credit card bills.
“I remember reading about a guy who got charged $95,000 at Scores [strip club], so I was vaguely familiar with what was going on, but I didn’t know the extent of it before the movie,” Polit says. “The movie builds up that these women take a lot of money from stockbrokers, and it eventually comes to my character’s attention.”
Polit’s Det. Hernandez and his partner Det. Hunter (Paul A. Nielsen) investigate the case and (spoiler!) “bring everything down.”
Polit landed the role after nearly missing out on the chance to audition. The actor/firefighter was enjoying a family vacation in Florida when his agent sent him the casting call information — so he decided to film his own audition tape.
“I kind of didn’t want to do it,” Polit admits, though he’s grateful he did. With his 10-year-old daughter Mia Rose holding the camera and his wife of 13 years Tonya Jacobs standing in as a scene partner, Polit landed a callback that he hopes will change his career path.
“There’s a lot of visibility with this opportunity,” he says. The film has already racked up positive reviews (our reviewer gave it three stars out of four) and is generating Oscar buzz for Lopez.
Polit hopes the exposure leads to future roles and already has two projects in production, including an upcoming Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson movie set for 2020 release.
Though he’s looking to retire once hitting 25 years with the FDNY to pursue acting full time, his career with the department is marked by experiences both rewarding and memorable. He spent 10 months working Ground Zero search efforts following 9/11, spent 15 years at a firehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and was promoted to lieutenant in 2014 when he transferred to Queens.
“Being a fireman has allowed me to have a second job because of the flexibility of the schedule. A lot of firemen do,” he says. “I love being a fireman. Every fireman loves being a fireman.”
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