EVERY now and then an actor comes along that makes you pause and pay attention to their performance. Makes you sit up straighter and take notice, possibly even gives you cause to rewind a few frames just to watch them do or say something again. Francesco Antonio is one such actor.

The talented young Canadian is currently enjoying global success in the YouTube Originals action comedy, Wayne.

YouTube Originals made its mark last year with Cobra Kai, the acclaimed follow-up to the 1984 film Karate Kid. But this year, while all eyes have been on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu’s latest releases, YouTube has delivered streaming gold.

Wayne follows its reluctant hero, played by Mark McKenna, as he travels on a dirt bike from Boston to Florida with his new friend Del (Ciara Bravo), to take back his dead father’s 1979 gold Trans-Am that was 'stolen' by his mother (Michaela Watkins) and her boyfriend (Kirk Ward). Antonio plays his foul-mouthed, grill-wearing, toothpick-chewing, alligator-carrying, stepbrother, Reggie.

Evening Times:

(Francesco Antonio as Reggie in Wayne)

It’s a performance that draws you in from the first moment you see him on screen. There’s a glint of danger in his dark, piercing gaze that’s not all down to the glare from the gold grill covering his upper teeth. But it’s impossible not to love Reggie for being as bad as he is (and boy is he bad), but that’s all down to Antonio’s portrayal. He wears this character like a favourite jacket, inhabits it with his entire being and delivers a performance that leaves you wanting to see more of this acting chameleon.

“Reggie is a dark, nasty character, but he’s just a kid. He’s a product of his environment and as you watch the show it becomes clear why he has no limits,” Antonio explains before quickly adding: “That’s why he’s the perfect match for Wayne, because Wayne has no limits.”

While Reggie is uncouth, violent, vulgar and downright nasty, the young man playing him is anything but. For someone that graduated from Toronto’s prestigious York University less than two years ago, he’s already stepping along the path to stardom with aplomb. So much so that his talents and rising fame have been recognised by his peers and he was recently invited back to the school along with other notable alumni, to speak to drama students.

Away from the role of Reggie, Francesco Antonio oozes self-effacing charm, intelligence, charisma, wit and a contagious passion for filmmaking. Put simply, he’s a man with a plan, and that plan is to succeed. He’s an actor driven by a desire to make each role uniquely his own. His onscreen presence is striking, his performances captivating and his enthusiasm never-ending. In short, he’s a star and one that is rapidly rising.

When asked about the part of Reggie, who appears in six of the 10 episodes, Antonio says he knew straight away he wanted the part. After reading a scene for the pilot he instantly felt a connection with the character on the page: “It opened on these two animals having intercourse and Reggie is sitting enjoying it and right away I thought, I need a toothpick, I don’t know why, but I needed a toothpick to play this character.”

Not only did he get the toothpick, but he used it for his audition, which turned out to be the beginning of a creative collaboration with the executive producers of Wayne; Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of Deadpool and Zombieland fame, Greg Coolidge (Ride Along) and Kirk Ward, not to mention the creator and writer, Shawn Simmons.

“This character just came out so organically and was so raw. They wrote a beautiful part for me and I contributed a lot to Reggie’s character, I gave them a lot to think about and he ended up a different character from what they were thinking of and I also helped with the storyline as I was doing a lot of improv because I was just so into the role,” Antonio says in a voice laced with enthusiasm for the collaborative production process.

“They [the writers and producers] were great support and great to work with and the whole cast was just amazing. It was such a great experience.”

And YouTube viewers think so too. The pilot episode of Wayne has now been watched more than 12.3 million times around the world. Surely enough to merit a second season?

“I don’t know anything, but I would hope there would be a season two, three, four and five,” Antonio confesses, unable to keep the smile out of his voice.

The 30-minute episodes are packed with punchy one-liners, poignant moments as we slowly begin to understand why Wayne is the way he is – think Robin Hood meets Dirty Harry, profanity and punches. Lots of them. But don’t be dissuaded by the violence, Wayne is effortlessly watchable, with outstanding performances by a cast that clearly had a lot of fun making it. A must-see for 2019 and worthy of a weekend binge-watch. And if that hasn’t persuaded you, there’s a baby alligator named Peanut Butter.

Evening Times:

(Pilot premiere of Wayme at Tribeca)

Although Francesco Antonio would be keen to reprise his role as Reggie and see Wayne renewed for a few more seasons, he’s also been busy working on other projects with three or four set to air this year.

He’s just finished filming a small-screen remake of the movie, What We Do In The Shadows, which originally starred Jermaine Clement of Flight Of The ConChords fame. Clement, who directed and produced the 2014 comedy-horror flick is also involved in the FX television production and Antonio had the pleasure of working personally with him on the project.

Antonio also put in a memorable performance on the popular crime drama, Bad Blood, starring alongside Kim Coates, which will hopefully air on Netflix for viewers in the UK this year and his versatile vocal talents have been put through the animation test in the TV series, Bakugan: Battle Planet.

Francesco Antonio is a truly unique actor and his understanding of the audience and the functions of a set come from his experiences in front and behind the camera. His first starring role in the short film, Addiction (2018), won awards in festivals worldwide, and to date, he has earned six nominations and three awards for his work - in less than a year.

He received nominations in Spain for Best Actor at the Barcelona Planet Film Festival for Addiction which also earned him an Honourable Mention in Los Angeles for Best Actor and Best Indie Film from the Los Angeles Film Awards. Most recently, he received four nominations and was the recipient of the G.I.F.T.E.D Award from the Action On Film Festival in Las Vegas.

Antonio was also nominated in the Hollywood Dreamz International Film Festival in Las Vegas for Best Actor for Addiction and Best Young Performer for his role in The Joke Thief (2018), receiving the prestigious, Lewis Mitchell Award for Acting for Addiction.

Evening Times:

(Francesco Antonio as Luke in Love, Sarah with Pedro Miguel Arce as Sal)

The Toronto-native appeared with acting alumni including Franco Nero, Danny Aiello, and Giancarlo Giannini in The Neighbourhood (2017) and is currently working on the short film, Love, Sarah, written by Johanna Jacome and directed by Laura Nordin.

Antonio plays Luke Greer, a young man whose life has taken a negative turn after the sudden death of his mother. When Luke meets Sarah Mitchell (Diana Cofini), a young woman with an overwhelmingly positive attitude, he is reminded of his mother and through Luke and Sarah's relationship, Luke's perspective on life begins to change. The film is set to appear at film festivals worldwide in 2019.

Francesco Antonio is destined for bigger things and unafraid to take on smaller roles to cultivate his craft and stretch his abilities.

“I love this industry, this is my calling,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’ve had a lot of help along the way, I want to help people now, and in the future. I want to be able to use my talents, my passions and my successes to do that. That’s important to me.”

Wayne is currently airing on YouTube Premium.

Follow Francesco Antonio on Twitter @TheFranAntonio and on Instagram HERE