Flagler Palm Coast High School graduate Frank Acierno is a tennis coach and an actor. So when he auditioned for the role of a tennis coach in the movie “Never Give Up,” he thought he might have a pretty good chance.
“In the audition, I had to describe topspin and backspin, which I thought was so funny because that's what I do all day,” he said.
Acierno, who is from Flagler Beach, got the role.
“Never Give Up” tells the true story of Brad Minns, who lost his hearing at age 3. At 20, Minns won the gold medal in men’s singles tennis at the 1985 Deaf World Games. Minns came back from match point down in the third set to win in the fifth set of a five-hour match.
Acierno, 34, plays tennis coach Jim Davis, who inspired the 7-year-old Minns to become a tennis player.
“He believed in Brad before Brad believed in himself,” Acierno said. “He took this frail, little kid who had a massive hearing device and not a lot of self esteem, and made him into the most positive type of monster on the tennis court you can imagine.”
Minns couldn’t hear the sound of the ball, so Davis taught him how to make up for what you can’t hear with what you can see, Acierno said, focusing on the seams of the ball and how to use all the spins.
The movie opened in about 700 theaters nationally — including Epic Theatres in Palm Coast — at the end of August in time for National Deaf Awareness Month in September. It played for about two weeks. It is expected to be picked up by Prime Video, Acierno said.
Acierno’s costume for the role included a bushy mustache, which was an exaggerated version of Davis’ mustache.
Minns was on the set, Acierno said. When they spoke while Acierno was in costume, Minns had trouble understanding because the mustache covered Acierno's lip.
“He was like, ‘dude, I don’t know what you’re saying,’ which was kind of funny,” Acierno said. “It was a bit of a challenge because the kid (child actor Thomas Parobek) had to play deaf, and I had to really emphasize what I was doing with my mouth, so that he could even see my lips.”
TENNIS PLAYER, COACH, ACTOR
Acierno played tennis in high school and at Florida Gulf Coast University. At FPC, he and Max Watson won the district doubles title in 2007 and went on to win the doubles championship in the state’s Class 4A non-team tournament.
Acierno is currently a tennis coach at the Interlachen Country Club in Winter Park. He also still competes.
“I actually won a national tournament in April that I've been trying to win for seven years,” he said. “So I'm going to continue to compete in the national age division probably for the rest of my life, as well as acting. That’s my plan. I'm going to act and be in tennis for the rest of my life.”
Acierno began acting about 11 years ago after he started taking acting lessons on a lark. He was playing tennis one day with a friend who invited him to his acting class, taught by accomplished character actor Gary Grubbs.
“I just was going to acting class and really became obsessed with it, and over the course of a year or two Gary pulled a number of us aside and said, ‘You guys are ready for representation.’ And so the next thing we know we're in the New Orleans area, and we’re live auditioning for ‘NCIS New Orleans,’ ‘Preacher,’ TV shows, big movies,” Acierno said.
Acierno moved to Atlanta to concentrate on his acting career. During COVID, when filming paused, he moved back to Florida. He has appeared in several independent and short films, including the short comedy “Monsters Anonymous,” which won several short film awards. In the past year, he has filmed three national television commercials.
His part in “Never Give Up” is his most notable role to date, he said. He realized that the movie’s message of perseverance can be applied to his own acting career.
Even just booking a movie called ‘Never Give Up’ meant a lot to me. It describes my career in a lot of ways. Then when it ended up being a movie about tennis, the whole thing was very symbolic.”
— FRANK ACIERNO
“Even just booking a movie called ‘Never Give Up’ meant a lot to me,” he said. “It describes my career in a lot of ways. Then when it ended up being a movie about tennis, the whole thing was very symbolic.”
He said he didn’t know a lot of the other actors in the movie who weren’t in his scenes. At the premiere, he discovered several of them are actually deaf.
“To listen to them talk about how they weren’t having a lot of success in the industry and say they were ready to quit acting, and this movie re-inspired them, it shed light on what it's like to be deaf in a hearing world,” Acierno said. “I’m a big fan of the movie, because I think it has a really important message. We all have reasons why we can't do something. We all have reasons why we can't chase our dreams. So I think rather than making everything as safe as possible, the brutal honesty is all there: We're going to double down, work harder, be stronger. I think that encourages other people to do the same.”