Joseph Sikora grew up on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where he and his crew got into a fair bit of trouble over the years.
The Catholic school kid was on the giving and receiving end of a lot of punches. More than 100 stitches are sewn into his scalp — a souvenir from one of his many fights. He got shot at by gang bangers while engaging in his childhood hobby: graffiti. Dealt small amounts of marijuana.
When he wasn’t up to no good, he was acting — in local plays, TV shows and commercials.
All of that helped him land what he calls his biggest break yet: the role of brawling drug dealer Tommy Egan on “Power,” a drama set in both the glitzy and gritty worlds of New York City, where Sikora lives in Greenwich Village with his wife. (The couple got married in Chicago two years ago at Holy Name Cathedral, the same church where Sikora was baptized.)
Now a bona fide New Yorker, Sikora came back to his hometown Thursday to host a screening of early episodes of season two of “Power” at Landmark Century Theatres in Lakeview.
Before a Q&A with the audience, Sikora and I took a nearby walk past his first studio apartment. (“It was only $450 a month — can you believe it?!?”) We had dinner at Duke of Perth, where the starving artist and former bouncer at the now-shuttered Le Passage used to gorge on all-you-can-eat fish-and-chips.
“I love living in New York but Chicago will always have my heart,” said Sikora, whose parents live in Streeterville. “I always say to my wife, ‘Honey, I want a house on both coasts, New York and Chicago.’”
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Since Sikora has logged a lot of time in both cities, I asked how they compare in a few key areas. Here’s what he had to say:
“Chicago wins, hands down. There’s no New York pizza I’ve ever had that’s on the level of Chicago pizza — and I’m talking thin-crust here. The ones in New York I prefer are the real Italian-style pizza, like Keste on Bleecker. But my favorite of all time is in Chicago: Phil’s Pizza D’Oro on Milwaukee and Austin. I’ll have deep-dish when someone graduates from high school or is making their quinceanera. Most Chicagoans eat deep-dish once or twice a year. It’s not a weekly thing.”
“I have a lot of energy so I’m very suited to New York. I can exist for weeks at a time on three hours sleep a night. If I want to feel like I’m in Chicago, I just go to Queens. A good comparison to Chicago would be if you took all of Queens and added one-third of Manhattan and Long Island City, that would be Chicago. Queens has very nice parts. You have Forest Hills, which is very much like Norwood Park or Beverly, then you have South Jamaica, which is like Englewood. They’re very similar. Both have some nice-looking homes. The West Side is the most dangerous place I’ve ever been in my life. I’ll walk through the South Bronx at 3 in the morning before I would go to parts of Chicago and St. Louis after the sun goes down.”
“New York’s is way better. Chicago’s brutal. It’s hotter and colder. But there’s nothing like a Chicago spring. It’s the sexiest place in America in spring.”
“They’re both friendly for the most part. New York is a more mouthy town, a lot of posturing. In Chicago, people don’t say anything and then somebody punches you in the head. You say something about somebody’s girl in New York they’ll be like, ‘What did you say about my girl, man?’ In Chicago, somebody says something about your girl and a guy just picks up a glass and smashes it in your face. It’s action, immediately. That was hard coming to New York and having people yell at me. I’d get ready to fight and people would be like, ‘Dude, chill out! What’s your problem?’”
“Both are electric, but there’s no comparison in the world to Broadway. But there is something very special about theater in Chicago that’s recognized across the nation. It’s renowned for new plays, new works. People are just kind of ballsy and honest about their work here.” (Sikora is an ensemble member at Shattered Globe and has performed in five plays at the Goodman and Lookingglass. That would be 10 more than he’s done at Steppenwolf.) “I’ve auditioned for I think 12 or 13 plays at Steppenwolf and never got cast. They’re a little clique,” he said dimissively, half-joking. “Don’t let me in. I don’t care. One day you’ll come calling.”
“Power” airs at 8 p.m. Central/9 p.m. Eastern Saturday on Starz.