JEFFERSON PARK — Actor Joe Farina's childhood home on La Porte Avenue near Sunnyside Avenue looks much the same as it did when he was growing up there, with a window air conditioner in the same side window and the bricks he helped lay still outlining the small garden in the front yard.
"You can leave the neighborhood, but the neighborhood never leaves you," Farina said, recalling football games that stretched over several lawns and all-day games of baseball in a nearby church parking lot that ended only when the street lights lit up at dusk.
Farina, 42, the son of famed Chicago actor Dennis Farina, who was best known for his tough-guy mobster and detective roles, is hoping to follow his father's footsteps. He scored his first starring role in "Strapped," an independently produced thriller released last month on YouTube, which the producers plan to submit to film festivals.
Joe Farina discusses his new movie and what it was like growing up in Jefferson Park with his cop-turned-actor father:
"Once the cameras are turned off, I want to come back to my family," said Joe Farina, who decided 10 years ago to pursue acting full time. "Jefferson Park is part of who I am and who I want to be."
Joe Farina now lives in the Far Northwest suburbs with his wife, Heather — an editor and writer — and 14-month-old daughter, Olivia. Dennis Farina, 69, died a year ago.
"He was more than just an actor," Joe Farina said. "He was my dad first. Just to hang out with him and have a few laughs, that was the most important thing."
Joe Farina said he caught the show biz bug from his father, who began acting after an 18-year career as a Chicago Police Department detective.
While Joe Farina attended grammar school at Our Lady of Victory, he tagged along with his father as he began nabbing bigger and bigger roles. Dennis Farina became famous not only for his shock of white hair and perfect mustache but also his indelible Chicago accent.
"He was a wonderful police officer who worked hard," Joe Farina said, in his own thick Chicago accent. "He was always courteous to people. He took that work ethic and applied it to being an actor. He's my favorite actor of all time."
Joe Farina's face lights up as he recalls performing with his improv troupe at Second City with his father in the audience.
"I could hear his distinctive laugh," said Joe Farina, who also had a small role on "Chicago Fire" as a cop. "It was just the best to know I was making him laugh."
While Joe Farina acknowledged that his last name opens doors that might otherwise remain closed to actors waiting for their big break, he said he plans to make his own mark.
Filming "Strapped" was not only hard work, but also a labor of love, Joe Farina said.
Joe Farina, who stars as a corrupt cop named Billy, spent more than half of the film's four-day shoot in a Hummer in a Chicago alley with a fake bomb around his neck.
"I was dirty and sweating," Joe Farina said, adding that he relished the challenge of acting with only his eyes and face with his movements restricted. "It was really an actors' dream."
The fact that his father was a police officer — and is perhaps best known for playing detective Joe Fontana on "Law & Order" — didn't stop him from taking on the role in the movie, which was filmed completely in Chicago with an all-Chicago cast and crew.
"It just kind of fit me," Joe Farina said of the role. "I thought it was a great role, one I could make my own."
But don't expect Joe Farina to trade Chicago for Los Angeles if he hits it big.
"Family is really important to me," Joe Farina said. "I want to be there for my daughter. My dad always came back home. He never let that celebrity stuff get in the way."