If Juan Pablo Di Pace had his way this holiday season, he’d be sitting at an oversized table in Spain, eating a generous plate of Christmas pasta with his family.
But it’s been a big year. In addition to continuing in his role as Fernando on the hit Netflix series “Fuller House,” the Argentine-born entertainer won America’s heart competing on “Dancing With the Stars” (even if he didn’t win the Mirrorball Trophy).
The actor-singer-dancer is capping off the year with a stint on a different kind of stage, too, playing to his more thespian sensibilities. Oh, and did we mention he also recently released his second single, “Just a Feeling,” in the U.S.?
Di Pace’s star is definitely on the rise. We recently caught up with the super-busy talent, who filled us in on all things holiday — from the worst kind of gift you can give to the best songs for a Christmas album. Check out our Q & A below for the whole scoop.
Thanksgiving & Co: What is your favorite thing about the holiday season?
Juan Pablo Di Pace: My favorite thing right now is that I actually get to be in a show that’s very seasonal: ‘The Wonderful Winter of Oz.”
TG: This isn’t your standard stage show. What makes it unique?
JD: It’s an English tradition called the panto. Basically, you have very famous tales represented on stage with the characters that people love and the stories that people love, but with contemporary music inserted in the story. In this panto, we have music from Imagine Dragon, Toto and Journey.
It’s a great way to get kids involved in the theater very early on, because the panto has a very interactive quality. The kids can shout at the stage, and ooh and ah, or whatever they feel.
TG: You’re playing the Cowardly Lion. But heading into the new year, do you need more courage? Or would you rather have more heart or smarts?
JD: That’s a great question. You know what? Every year, I do a ritual with myself. I take one or two days out, and I kind of make a list of things I want to change for the next year. I take it very seriously [laughs]. It’s like learning a role: I sit down, I write all these lists, I’m in silence, and I try to disconnect from everything.
I think that courage is a wonderful quality to have in life. For me, courage is being bold. It’s being daring. In a way, I feel like I am that person, because I tend to jump into the unknown pretty often. Starting again in a new culture from scratch, five times — that takes courage. So, in a way, it’s something that I always carry with me. But I do think it’s funny that I get to play the Cowardly Lion this year, because courage this last year has almost become like my flag, my emblem.
Of course, heart is close… maybe it’s a close first. Maybe they’re right up there together [laughs]. Heart’s very, very important. You have to have heart in this world. Life is too short to not love everything you do and love the people you love.
TG: Aside from sporting a mane and following the yellow brick road, any other things you love about this time of year?
JD: I do love the holidays, because this is really when I actually spend time with my family. They live on the other side of the Atlantic; my parents are in Spain. My sisters, my brothers, they’re all in Spain or in the U.K. So for me, Christmas means, ‘”OK, take a flight and go home.”
This year I couldn’t do that. I’m doing [the panto] now and will probably celebrate with the cast of the show. And then I’ll get to go home for New Year’s. So, I will see them all! But I will see them after.
TG: Speaking of your family, your background is this sort of beautiful tapestry of multicultural experiences: born in Argentina, moved to Spain at 12, lived in London for 10 years, college in Italy. Have you carried any holiday traditions with you over the years? What traditions do you honor?
JD: We all take Christmas very seriously because we all make a point of being together. It doesn’t matter where in the world we are; we travel to be together. We sort of gather together always for Christmas.
This year wasn’t possible because, you know, the family’s getting bigger. This is the off year for us. We haven’t done this ever. We actually celebrated Christmas early this year, because my parents came out for the semifinals of “Dancing with the Stars,” and then my siblings followed [laughs]. We were all here. It was a really cool pre-Christmas get-together.
TG: Wow? Your first year missed? That’s impressive.
JD: We’re Italian; we’re very family-oriented. I grew up going to my grandmother’s house every Sunday for pasta, and that meant a family of 50 people and a long table. We would go there, and the children would be running around. This was every single Sunday. So, for us not to get together is kind of strange.
TG: We’ve spoken about figurative gifts like courage and heart. But what’s your feeling about literal gifts?
JD: I’ve come to a point where, even though I love giving gifts, I don’t really mind if I don’t receive anything. I feel like life is all so kind to me already, I’m filled with gifts every day.
TG: What would you say is the most meaningful gift you’ve ever given?
JD: I love the idea of preparing something for someone. I used to be the kid who spent all their savings on gifts — the expensive ones. I didn’t have the cash, but I loved to see my mom’s face when she opened this multi-DVD collection of her favorite telenovela back in the day. And I would have spent everything on that DVD box!
TG: You sound like a good gifter…
JD: I feel like the secret to gifts is you have to enter the other person’s mind a little, and their heart. It’s very easy to go to a store and just say, “OK, this will do.” The “this will do” gift is the worst. The worst! I’d rather not even give a gift instead of a “this will do” gift. You have to really think about what this person would like and maybe surprise them. Maybe it’s not what they think they like.
TG: Well, your fans are getting a fantastic gift this month, because “Fuller House” is back for season four! Describe a perfect holiday season for Fernando.
JD: Ooh, I think the perfect holiday for Fernando would be to take his family — Kimmy and Ramona — on the racing circuit with him [laughs]. He always talks about the racing circuit like it’s this faraway land that he has to go to. Sometimes it’s for, like, three months, and for him, it feels like 5,000 years.
So, I think he’d like to take Kimmy and Ramona on the racing circuit, wherever that is. Maybe Monte Carlo… all the beautiful places where they perform Formula 1.
TG: You have a knack for landing iconic roles, like Danny in an Italian production of “Grease,” Jesus Christ and, naturally, being on a nostalgic show like “Fuller House.” If you could have one Christmas wish, what would be the next iconic part you’d play?
JD: I’m obsessed with artists, so I would die to play a Renaissance painter. My favorite is Michelangelo, so to talk about the renaissance in Italy and the people creating those works of art that are a part of our culture now, and how their minds work, would be amazing.
TG: Although your acting career is oh-so-impressive, music is your first love. If you were going to release a holiday album, what favorite Christmas songs would make the cut?
JD: I really love “O Holy Night,” “Last Christmas” and “December Song” by George Michael, and of course, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
TG: You stay so busy that I’m not convinced you ever sleep. You’ve gotta be fueling your brain and body with some good stuff. What food makes it onto your holiday plate every year?
JD: It should be turkey and things like that, but because my family is Italian, we eat pasta at Christmas. My mom always makes a caviar and salmon pasta with crème. We also have a German dish with pineapple, grilled Camembert and strawberries.
TG: What are you most grateful for this year?
JD: This year has been incredible; I’m truly grateful for everything that’s happened. I’m grateful that my family is healthy. My mom had a rough year last year, and I’m grateful that she’s back in good health.
My resolutions for 2018 were very clear: I asked the universe to keep me constantly creative and to enjoy everything I do. Everything that happened in 2017 from my music to acting seems to have doubled in 2018. And now next year, I’ll be touring, which has always been something I wanted to do. I get paid for something I love doing, which not everyone has the fortune to do.
TG: If you could go back 10 years and send yourself one Twitter-length message, what would it say?
JD: Be more courageous. Don’t care what people think, because things will get awesome.
TG: What is your wish for the world in 2019?
JD: My wish for the world in 2019 is understanding and tolerance. If we manage to not be convinced that we are always right but always give the benefit of the doubt, in a big way and a small way — countries could do that, but also people could do that. I think that’s really important.