Former bouncer, running back and electronic-poker technician Franky G. had zero films to his credit when he auditioned to play an ex-con in Manito (opening Friday in select cities). And that was a good thing. What helped the 40-year-old Brooklyn native deliver a buzz-worthy performance was real life experience — not to mention a body that won't quit!

"I had a friend of mine who is similar to Junior," he tells TV Guide Online. "He's now a born-again Christian with a wife and a kid and lives in Queens. He showed me some of the Bronx areas where he dealt drugs. He did five years in prison. When I read this script, I thought of him a lot."

Franky guesses his years as a semi-pro football player have given him an edge (and that chiseled physique) in his new career. "The roughness of [football] disciplined me a lot," he explains.

Not that Hollywood has been especially rough on him since Manito won the Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. "After we showed at Sundance, to make a long story short, I went to L.A. for four days," he says. "I had a meeting with director James Foley for Confidence... [My agent] took a tape of Manito to Lion's Gate, and they loved it and signed me the next day."

Soon after, he got the part of Wrench in The Italian Job and a rookie detective in the upcoming Wonderland, the story of fallen porn star John Holmes. Franky rattles off this series of events as if his success were inevitable, but it almost never was. "After I finished filming Manito, I didn't want to act anymore," he sighs. "I went back to a trade school and was studying computer systems. I wanted to get my certification and make some real money."