Cast and creatives come out for The Crusades

Sat. July 8, 2023 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

Bad Little Thing, Inc. presents a new film called The Crusades opening in early July of 2023.

The plot follows three young men at a private high school who embark on a wild weekend of adventure and drama. The Crusades' hidden truths are rooted in reality taken from the lives of the three creators, Leo Milano, who also produced and directed the project, along with co-writers Shaun Early and Jack Hussar. The trio all lived in the Illinois suburbs of Niles and Glenview then attended Notre Dame College Prep together while possibly mirroring some of their exploits within this highly charged script.

The feature film has Rudy Pankow playing the lead role of Leo Grecco and unfortunately was unable to attend the Chicago debut, but many of the cast and creatives were at the world premiere at AMC NewCity 14 on July 6, 2023. Some stopped to chat about their work on the red carpet in front of the theater.

Hussar and Early arrived early to kick off the festivities and give some behind-the-scenes information. Hussar stated that the first draft was only 10 pages long and written after high school over 10 years ago. Early said, “We were going to star in it originally and make a series, but it was too expensive. We made a movie instead with the great cast that is here today.”

Milano hopes that audiences will see the many obstacles inside a high school in The Crusades and how people can hopefully grow from it. He explained, “It was a challenge to just get the movie made. It took 12 years and it is a miracle we are here today!” This talented performer was a stand-in for Taylor Kinney on the NBC television series Chicago Fire for over 50 episodes and confessed on the carpet that he did indeed happily meet Lady Gaga during his stint on the show.

Milano had another important person to meet before that at Columbia College Chicago. Fellow producer Brent Madison began working together on The Crusades in 2018 before finding funding in 2021 to make the project come to life.

The cast took turns posing for flashing cameras and answered brief questions afterward like main star Khalil Everage, who portrayed the popular classmate Sean Murphy. He described Murphy as “funny, cool and a jock at the school. He balances life between his teammates and his girl. It's a good problem to have!” His favorite Netflix series Cobra Kai moment happened while watching John Kreese and Johnny Lawrence fight in the dojo. “The actors were all sitting there watching them and it was my first season. It was an honor to watch those two work.” He plans on shooting another season of Cobra Kai as soon as the writer's strike is settled and has new music coming out soon as well.

Juno Yang described Tony in The Crusades as “a shy person and a nerd. He gets pushed around a lot, but luckily he has his friends to stick up for him and they all pull for each other throughout the whole movie. This is a coming-of-age film that is about friendship in an all-boys high school. This is an experience that many people don't have so I hope people see how we navigate things in that environment.” Off camera, he said the cast had a genuine friendship together. “We keep in touch still and see each other often.”

Yang plans to keep auditioning in Los Angeles but his co-star Blake Dava is following a different career path and is currently attending law school. Dava played Pizzo in his first feature film. He joked, “I wouldn't call him a sidekick, but there's a Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King energy with the Pizzo and Tony characters.”

Dava recalled that “filming The Crusades was honestly a lot of fun with the cast. Because the movie is a comedy we had a good time and could shake it up. The writers were right there and they let me try different things out. There was a lot of playfulness that went on and I had a bottle smashed against my head at one point. It was sugar glass so it shattered easily!”

Australian actress Indiana Massara portrayed Jess and said, “She's strong-willed and always has a lot to say. Some people may not like her, but she has a good arc and I promise they will like her by the end of the film. She means well and was really fun to play.” Most recently, Massara directed, produced and starred in a YouTube series called Chicken Girls: College Years now in its second season. She explained, “This season was my first time to step behind the camera and there was a lot to do with the creative process. It looks like by the end of the year I will be filming another feature!”

Before posing for photos on the step and repeat Robert Drew said his character Gene is “an eccentric nerd and very vibrant. He loves cracking jokes!” He went on to say, “The Crusades crew are masters at what they do. It was definitely an educational experience and that helped me as an actor and a person.” He stated that he is studying real estate and would like to continue to act in the future.

Adam Shalzi portrays Riggs and comes from a rich background in Windy City theater and locally filmed television roles, recently appearing in Raven Theatre Chicago's Right to Be Forgotten.

Actor Philip Michael Toca arrived soon after Shalzi and spoke on his portrayal of Officer Kim in the film, “The officers in the town take the job a little too far sometimes, but it is for the overall good and safety of the young people. We had to tackle some of the kids in a party scene. It was intense because I don't do stunts, but it turned out phenomenal.”

Actor Greg Davis, Jr. played Dean Whitman and spoke more about the students, “I was just trying to keep these kids in line and run a tight ship at the school.” He was originally apprehensive when the director asked him to play such a young role, “I was a bad boy at that same age myself but Leo said that made me perfect for the part!”

Davis' outfit for the red carpet appearance was custom-made by an African designer and he stated that he owned eight variations of the same garment. More outstanding fashion came from Texas-born actress Ashley Nicole Williams, who portrayed Ryan in The Crusades and wore an unforgettable dress that evening from Aria.

Other female energy soon arrived with Hope Quattocki describing Caitlyn as “a super senior, who is carefree and a wild child. She is here for a good time, not a long time. One of my mottos with Caitlyn is when I am good I'm good, but when I'm bad I'm better!”

Anna Maiche who played the young high school teacher Emily Kerpial. Maiche mentioned, “My character can't help but be popular around all these boys. I teach Italian, but actually speak French and Spanish fluently. My sister speaks Italian so I went over the lines with her.”

Nephew of famous actor John Turturro, young Nicholas Turturro III worked with his father Nicholas Turturro who played Coach Krieger on the project. The younger Turturro joked, “I hired my dad to get him a job [laughs] and when I needed advice I would go to him. We are developing a pilot together that we are out pitching now.”

These two close relatives proudly stated that they styled their own clothing for the big event that night. When asked what the holidays are like at the Turturro family household, the elder member said, “It's great with both Italian and Filipino food served as a family affair. There's a lot of love around our house and not just for the holidays. Everyone comes over all the time throughout the year and it's always a party!”

As everyone settled into the screening a heartfelt video message from Pankow was projected on the screen since he was unable to attend in person due to filming requirements on the new season of Netflix's Outer Banks.

Following the first cinematic showing a private party ensued for many of the attendees to continue and end a night of celebration for special friends and family of the cast and crew.

The Crusades plays at Pickwick Theatre, 5 South Prospect Avenue, in Park Ridge, Illinois from July 7-12 and runs approximately an hour and a half.

Visit for more information about streaming the film on Amazon, Google and iTunes.