Cassavetes was born in New York City, the son of actress Gena Rowlands and Greek-American actor and film director John Cassavetes. As a child, he appeared in two of his father's films: Husbands (1970) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974). After spending so much of his youth surrounded by the film industry, Cassavetes initially decided he did not want to go into the field. He instead attended Syracuse University on a basketball scholarship. His athletic career was effectively ended by an injury, and he decided to rethink his aspirations, ultimately deciding to attend his parents' alma mater, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.