“Hollywood” Nick Pagani Talks Lending Vintage Cars to Movie Sets

Including a scarring 50 Cent experience that left the repair-shop owner with nightmares for months.

“Hollywood” Nick Pagani’s New Rochelle repair shop, Ace Auto, is home to not only 80 vintage cars but about as many interesting tales of Tinseltown.

Pagani has been serving up amazing vintage vehicles for movie sets and locations for three full decades and has logged 40 films to date, beginning with Robin Williams’ Seize the Day in 1986. Naturally, Pagani has accumulated many anecdotes in that time, so we thought we’d collect some of our own juicy tidbits from this genial and entertaining local boy, who assured us that despite the anecdotes he chose to share, most of them “you couldn’t even print.”

Having a Blast 

“Across the Universe and Revolutionary Road were the most fun projects for me. ATU because it was a musical, and we were on it beginning to end, up close and personal. We listened to Joe Cocker sing ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ from 10 feet away. Revolutionary Road was a dark film, but we had the run of the place. We sat around in lawn chairs.”

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A(+) Listers

“I got very friendly with Michael Douglas, a very nice guy — and he could drive circles around most guys! So can Leo [DiCaprio]. Nathan Lane was a total riot, and Richard Gere was such a gentleman. Kathy Bates was also very sweet — and believe me, not all stars are.”

On Matt Damon

“Some stars are just beyond nice, and Matt is one of them. When we were making The Bourne Ultimatum, some of the crew bought him a Yankees onesie for his new baby as a gag gift. Matt is a notorious Red Sox fan, so he turned and said, ‘I can’t put this on my kid! Nick, do you know anyone with a child who is a Yankees fan?’ I said yes, so he gave it to me. He’s really funny and smart, but he’s also one of the nicest big stars you’ll ever meet.”

On Philip Seymour Hoffman

We did Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. I was driving a cab; he was bumming cigarettes, and we were talking. People would come up to him and ask for autographs. At one point, he turned to me and said, ‘You know, Nick, this is the kind of business where you feel like an animal in a cage. It’s not what everybody thinks it is.’ He was really sad about it; he had no privacy.”

Behind the Lens

“A lot of these people are standoffish, but not Ron Howard. He was just one of the guys. He ate lunch with the whole crew every day… couldn’t meet a nicer guy. The Coen brothers were a total a blast. I met with them every day, and we’d have breakfast together and just talk about what was going on with the movie. We had a meeting once, and there weren’t enough chairs, so Joel [Coen], I think it was, stands up and insists I take his chair. Meanwhile, these guys are like legends, and one of them is offering to stand, in his own meeting, so that I could sit down!”

War Stories

“Without a doubt, the worst experience I ever had making a movie was Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Oh, God, it was a horror show. It was the summertime; it was hot; it was humid; we were in the worst section of the Bronx. We didn’t know if we were hearing fireworks or gunshots in the background. First day of filming, we’re over near Yankeee Stadium, and everyone comes out to see 50 Cent, who’s throwing $1 bills into the air, like he’s a bigshot, and it starts what amounts to a feeding frenzy in a shark tank. A [crewmember] got knocked down and broke his ankle. They were doing drug deals in cars where we were shooting. I was like: ‘What the hell are we doing here?’

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“Months later, I’d wake up in a cold sweat, thinking: Do I have to be on set? It took me months [to get over that experience]; I had, like, PTSD. I swear. I’ve still never seen that movie. I refuse.”

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