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Bronx born actress on the rise in Hollywood

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Lights, camera, action: A Bronx-born star is born, making a name for herself in Hollywood.

Growing up in the Pelham Gardens section of the Bronx, Nicole Zeoli knew by age 11 she wanted to see her name in lights.

After performing in the lead role of “Sandy” in P.S. 71’s production of “Grease,” she was hooked.

“I guess you could say I was always a performer,” Zeoli said. “My cousins and I would put on ‘plays’ for my grandparents, and even from a very young age I knew this was something I wanted to do forever.

“The real spark hit in my P.S. 71 6th grade production of ‘Grease. That will always stick out in my mind as the first time I knew acting was something more than just fun, it was something that I always wanted to be part of my life. Nothing made me feel like being on that stage did.”

Zeoli continued working on her craft through high school, but really focused on it while studying theatre at Bronxville Concordia College as well as New York Film Academy and Carnegie Hall.

After graduating, Zeoli began her theater career in small theaters in and around New York, including leading roles in productions of John Patrick Shanley’s “Italian American Reconcilia­tion” and “A Dreamer Examines His Pillow.”

Zeoli soon decided it was time to make her way to Hollywood.

“I literally went to LA for a week, came home and said ‘Ma, it’s now or never! I’m moving to LA!’” she said. “After she stopped crying, she eventually helped me with the big move.”

In the five years since, she has appeared on shows such as the TNT series “Trust Me” alongside Eric McCormack and Tom Kavanaugh, as well as on the Starz series “Gravity”.

In February, Zeoli appeared in the Valentine’s Day episode of “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS.

More recently, she wrapped production on the Fox original Netflix Series “The Ropes” written and directed by Vin Diesel, loosely based on his life as a New York club bouncer.

Although the producers decided to take a different route with the part she auditioned for, she was offered a different part.

“After a few rehearsal’s with Mr. Diesel and his production team, they were so impressed with my work ethic and what I brought to the character, he decided to write a completely new role in the script for me, making the character she created in rehearsal a larger and more integral part of the show,” she said. “Until this day it remains one my fondest working experiences. Working with Vin Diesel has taught me invaluable insight into this business I will treasure forever.”

Although Zeoli is in California, she still has very strong connections to the Bronx .

“I bring my Bronx background into everything I do in this town, I’m so proud of it. Once I say I am from the Bronx, you immediately get ‘street cred’ out here,” she joked. “A lot of this town is about tenacity, integrity and loyalty. These are all things I’ve learned by growing up in the Bronx. Street smarts give you an extra edge out here. The roles I get tend to be tough, smart and edgy.”

Zeoli’s parents, Linda and Richard Zeoli, were long time concession stand operators at Orchard Beach, where she spent many summer working.

Zeoli said if she could do it all over again, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“You know, it’s funny, I really believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be at exactly the right time,” she said. “Sure, there is part of me that wishes I would have pursued this as a young child, but then I wouldn’t have had all the amazing experiences I had growing up the way I did in the Bronx.”

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at ksanchez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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