South Philly’s Dominic Costa showing his range on screen

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

It takes a pretty good acting performance to believe Dominic Costa can be a bad guy on the big screen.

The South Philly native is enjoying a blossoming acting career, which sometimes calls for portraying an undesirable character in a movie. It’s all part of the learning process of channeling different emotions and bringing them to life. Costa can be quite convincing.

“Playing the villain can sometimes be fun,” Costa said. “One thing about being an actor is exploring all the different parts of humanity. To explore that type of evil can be fun because you know it’s not real. But people sometimes need to see that representation of what it can be like, and what can happen in real life in neighborhoods they aren’t used to.”

Costa, 36, has played several tough supporting roles, which included a spot as a drug dealer in the movie Sno Babies, which was directed by fellow South Philadelphian Bridget Smith and was released earlier this year. Costa’s character does some uncomfortable things on camera to truly portray a villain in a movie that was meant to be uncomfortable to viewers. Sno Babies explores opioid addiction, and Costa does his part in portraying some of the harsh encounters that occur when teenagers get mixed up with drugs.

“It’s uncomfortable to watch and you see yourself and you think, ‘I hope no one thinks I’m like that in real life’,” Costa said with a laugh. “I look like such a horrible person. But it was a great experience and it was a great artistic project for people to witness all the dark parts of humanity.”

Costa certainly isn’t typecast, however. His long list of accomplishments on his IMDB page show his range of characters in movies, short films and television shows. A South Philadelphia High School graduate who grew up at locations near 7th and Morris streets and 10th and Moyamensing Avenue, Costa originally broke into entertainment on a few independent labels as a freestyle rapper known as Iotis and performed at places like the Trocadero Theatre on Arch Street. But as he reached his late 20s, he decided to push more into the acting field and leave music behind, although he still writes lyrics occasionally.

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“Rapping is a young man’s game,” Costa said. “Once you start hitting 30, there aren’t as many opportunities because of the audience. They tend to want to listen to someone their own age. I grew out of it but I always wanted to be an actor. I’ve dabbled in both but fell in love with acting and that was the thing I was more driven to do.”

He caught the acting bug from his college friend Michael Godio, who produced a short student film called Two for a Dollar while at Temple University. It played at the former Pearl Theatre on Broad Street, which is now AMC Broadstreet 7. The film was about two homeless brothers who have to rely on each other to manage a valet position and survive the streets of Philadelphia.

“Maybe it was fate,” Costa said. “But it was a perfect opportunity, and he gave me the lead role in his short film and I fell in love with it. When he released the film and played it at the Pearl movie theater and I saw it come to life, I thought to myself that I really want to do this the rest of my life.”

So far, so good.

Costa has found a steady stream of acting gigs and consistently travels to New York for auditions from his home in Girard Estate. He has trained at Stella Adler Studio of Acting in Manhattan and The Actor’s Lab in Philadelphia, along with working with several private coaches in the U.S. and the U.K.

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“I’ve been pretty successful achieving things artistically and people giving me respect and liking my work, which is awesome,” Costa said. “It would be cool to get the money to go with that, obviously. That’s probably the hardest part, to try to make a living off of it. Most of us don’t do it for the money but you do want to be able to make a living doing what you love.”

Next up is a bigger role in Bridget Smith’s new movie Finding Christmas, which is being shot in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey and will be released in 2021. It’s said to follow the life of a 17-year-old gamer who takes a treacherous journey to learn the meaning of Christmas, sacrifice and true love.

Costa won’t be playing a drug dealer, and finds himself in a bit kinder of a light. But that might be in the eye of the beholder, according to Costa, who didn’t want to spoil the plot. Regardless, he’s happy to have a stronger role in the upcoming film.

“It’s funny because I feel like my character is a good guy, but probably not,” Costa said, laughing. “But I’ll be one of the main supporting roles, so that’s exciting.”

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