The Italian actor was picked from relative obscurity to star in the hottest new Netflix drama, out on Friday

By Gillian Telling
December 11, 2014 05:40 PM
Marion Curtis/Startraks

He’s gorgeous. He’s absolutely charming. But where, exactly, did he come from?

Lorenzo Richelmy (pronounced Ree-kale-mee), 24, is the Italian actor who was picked from relative obscurity to star in the Weinstein-produced Marco Polo, to be released on Netflix Friday.

The 10-episode series is expected to be the new House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, in terms of people obsessively binge-watching, with Richelmy poised to become its next big breakout star.

The actor, who says he didn’t even speak English when he was chosen for the part of the famous explorer, had to quickly learn kung-fu, horseback riding and sword-fighting, which he’s now mastered after seven months of shooting on locations in Italy, Kazakhstan and Malaysia. So what are some other surprising things about Richelmy?

PEOPLE found out when he came to our New York offices for a visit.

1. His first acting job was with his mother.
I was four. I was the son of the main actress (who was actually my real mother), and I just had to get onstage and say, ‘Here’s the chicken!’ So yes, that was my first experience onstage!

2. He lives in Italy, not Los Angeles.
My hometown is called La Spezia. The name actually translates into ‘the spies,’ so it’s sort of perfect for Marco Polo. It’s in the north of Italy. But now I live in Rome.

3. He had his first kiss when he was 11 years old.
It was with my neighbor. It was in the yard in the front of my house, and she was so … grrroar! I was like this scared little boy!

4. He doesn’t relish all the attention he’s suddenly getting.
I don’t really like myself. I think that anybody who has to think too much about themselves doesn’t like themselves that much. It’s too much focus on me! I have people saying, ‘You know you’re beautiful.’ But no, I don’t.

5. He doesn’t like mean girls.
If you have even just a little bit of maliciousness in you, you’re out. That’s it for me. I look for everything in a woman, but I like her to be honest and self-assured. Someone who is easy with her look, and easy going.

Watch the Season 1 trailer for Marco Polo, out Friday:

BONUS Video! Check out Richelmy goofing off with the green screen at the PEOPLE TV offices: