11/19/1990 at 01:00 AM EST
Just a joke, sure, but it could have given even a seasoned actor the sweats: "Don't mess up, kid," Robert De Niro advised Christopher Serrone on the set of GoodFellas. In fact the just-turned-13 novice handily won over cast and critics as the young "wiseguy," Henry Hill (Ray Liotta plays adult Henry), in Martin Scorsese's slice-of-mob-life film. But the ultimate accolade came from De Niro himself. "He said, 'You remind me of myself as a kid,' " recalls Christopher, now 14. "Then he gave me a big hug and a kiss. That's normal for Italians. We kiss a lot."
Despite his ethnic and regional authenticity, the Queens, N.Y., native never really thought he had a chance at the role. "Winning a World Series game and booking a movie were like impossible dreams for me," says the genial six-footer, whose high school pals in Flushing dubbed him "the white Darryl Strawberry." Next hurdle: dating. "I like tall girls," he says. "And wide eyes that talk." But Serrone's father, Anthony, an engineer, and mother Cathy, a former bookkeeper, have brought him up to be a true good fella. "I haven't seen any change in him," says Cathy. Of course Hollywood might spoil Christopher yet: He has signed with the powerhouse agency ICM. "Next I'd like to do a feel-good movie, not a drop-dead movie," he says. Still, he's torn. "I lead a double life," he admits. "I'm fighting pimples and I'm an actor."