Coney Island goes Hollywood: ‘Gravesend’ season three kicks off filming with Shaq and star-studded cast

Basketball great Shaquille O’Neal was seen filming season three of the Amazon Prime show ‘Gravesend’ in Coney Island this week, with show creator and star William DeMeo.
Photos by Arthur de Gaeta

Time to break out the popcorn!

Brooklyn’s biggest and baddest mafia family is back in a big way as filming for the third season of “Gravesend” gets underway in Coney Island with a larger-than-life guest star.

The popular Amazon Prime show, written and directed by lead actor William DeMeo, centers on the historic south Brooklyn neighborhood during the 1980s and tells the story of its central character Benny Zerletta, a self-described mafia “soldier.”

When the show’s third season was announced late last year, DeMeo teased exciting additions to “Gravesend’s” ever-growing cast — a promise he’s already delivered on. He took to the People’s Playground this week to kick off filming for the show’s latest installment, with a special guest star at his side: basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal.

The Gravesend native was introduced to O’Neal by his good friend, Steve Martorano, the owner of Cafe Martorano’s in Fort Lauderdale. He was pleased to learn the 7’1″ sports great is a fan of a good old-fashioned mob drama.

“We love Shaq and we got to know Shaq as a person. Shaq loves this genre — ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘A Bronx Tale,’ ‘The Godfather’ and we were able to write a role for him,” DeMeo said. “We had a character for someone who aligns with Benny Z,  my character, and from these characters we made Mustafa, Shaq’s character. Together, they kind of do business.”

Basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal seen filming scenes for season three of ‘Gravesend’ in Coney Island.

O’Neal is just one of many big names on the “Gravesend” cast list, which includes film icons like Talia Shire, Fran Drescher, Joseph D’Onofrio, Chazz Palminteri, Vincent Pastore, Andrew “Dice” Clay and Mario Cantone, among others.

DeMeo’s son Cristian, who appears in the show as Sammy Taramino and is credited as an executive producer, said this season shows more facets of the borough.

“I mean it’s truly amazing because we have one of the best guys I’ve ever met, Shaquille O’Neal, on set today for the first time and we have [“Mr. New York City” Bodybuilding champion] Peter Gaudio and we’re showing a different side of Brooklyn,” Cristian said, adding that filming the show transports him to another time period — the one his father grew up in.

“For those that watch the first two seasons, we are really taking it to another level. Gravesend is about community, it’s about family, it’s about the 80s and I think that’s what I love the most,” he said. “I’m a young guy but I feel like I’m snapping my fingers and going back to the 80s and living through this and it’s just amazing. It feels really good.”

In addition to an incredible lineup of actors, DeMeo teased that season three will have a dramatic increase in confrontations, especially following the surprise ending of season two.

“Our cast is growing and our storyline is growing and if you watch season two, how we left off with Charlie coming home from prison, [season three] picks up with what happens with Charlie now that the king is home,” he said. “It takes you through it and just builds and builds and builds every episode to a point where you have Chazz Palminteri’s character, Cesar Tremaldo, on one end and Charlie on the other end.”

gravesend stars
‘Gravesend’ stars William DeMeo and Cristian DeMeo with producer Michele Frantzeskos celebrating the premiere of season two of the local crime drama in July, 2023.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

Since the series’ release during the pandemic in 2020, its increasing following has been a standout for Hollywood. In spite of the show’s relatively small cast and crew, and modest budget, the DeMeo family believes they have been able to put a once relatively unknown part of Brooklyn on the map in a big way.

“It’s an independent show, which really is almost impossible to do, because a lot of the shows that people watch, they’re backed by networks or big studios like Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu,” Cristian said. “but with our show it’s an independent show. It’s awesome. It’s a smaller team but we’re just grateful and blessed to have all the people that have tuned in and all the people that want more.”

And it’s certainly come a long way.

We started off with four episodes and now we’re on our third season and it’s just sticking around, it’s insane,” Cristian added.

Looking toward the future of “Gravesend,” DeMeo said he hopes fans will continue to show support for the neighborhood he grew up in.

“The neighborhood and the show mean equally the same to me. I made the show because of what the neighborhood meant to me to begin with,” the star said. “Growing up in Brooklyn, I felt it was a very special place and I wanted to tell stories about what it was like to grow up here. That time period of the 80s, growing up how everyone knew each other and everyone looked out for each other, I wanted to tell those stories.”