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John Turturro Biography


Home > Actors > T > Turturro, John > Biography


Birth Name: John Turturro
Born: 02/28/1957
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA


Turturro was born on Feb. 28, 1957 in Queens, NY. His father, Nicholas, was a carpenter and construction worker, and his mother, Katherine, was a singer who performed in a jazz band with her brothers. Moving from Hollis to Rosedale, Turturro he grew up watching boxing and old movies on television, and was inspired by Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Zorro. In a lively, extroverted household full of mom's singing and dad's storytelling about his Sicilian homeland, Turturro developed a talent for impersonations, including Edward G. Robinson and James Bond, and even tried his hand writing skits for neighborhood parties. Turturro graduated from high school and pursued drama at the State University of New York in New Paltz, then received his master's from the prestigious drama department at Yale. Turturro took to bartending, working construction with his dad and even teaching history to make ends meet while honing his craft. It was only a matter of time until the young actor landed his first break.

Already with some professional work on his resume, including a credit as "Guy at Table" in "Raging Bull" (1980), Turturro returned to New York in 1983 and immediately landed the title role in playwright John Patrick Shanley's "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" - a part that earned the actor an OBIE Award for Best Performance in 1984. That same year, Turturro made his Broadway debut in "Death of a Salesman," which soon led to notable appearances on the big screen. After playing the shiny-suited emcee at The Magic Club in the Madonna vehicle "Desperately Seeking Susan" (1985), he had memorable roles in "Hannah and her Sisters" and "Gun Ho" (both 1986). Hollywood took note and cast him in small parts in "To Live and Die in L.A." (1985) and "The Color of Money" (1986). But it wasn't until Shanley wrote a part a specifically for Turturro in "Five Corners" (1987) that audiences were exposed to the actor's dark intensity en masse. His haunting portrayal of a complex and dangerous ex-con earned him a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award. Meanwhile, young director Spike Lee admired his performance and cast Turturro as the volatile, racist pizza-maker Pino in "Do the Right Thing" (1989), then again as a nightclub owner in "Mo' Better Blues" (1990).

Also in 1990, Turturro began an association with another top name in independent filmmaking - the Coen Brothers. Joel Coen was first exposed Turturro's work at Yale, where the writer-director had attended the performances of his future wife Frances McDormand, who was also a student the time. As he and brother Ethan began building a legacy of highly stylized and eccentric films, Turturro would prove to be an important ingredient with his chameleon-like ability to inhabit unusual characters. He amused audiences as the cocky, sniveling and ultimately double-crossing Jewish gangster in the Coen's excellent Irish mob yarn, "Miller's Crossing" (1990). He then made a more indelible impression with his starring turn in "Barton Fink" (1991), playing the titular character, an idealistic playwright lured to 1940s Hollywood by an oafish studio head (Michael Lerner) promising fame and riches. After locking himself into a seedy hotel to churn out a wrestling picture, Fink suffers an intense writer's block that causes his surroundings to turn into a surreal and ultimately hellish nightmare. Turturro's comically meek performance earned the actor a Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

In short order, Turturro earned a reputation for his ability to adapt his physique, walk and mannerisms in creating unusual characters, and for the wide range of roles he selected for artistic value. After casting him as the irascible Pino in "Do the Right Thing," Spike Lee allowed Turturro to showcase his range in playing Paulie Carbone, a kind-hearted kid from Brooklyn who sees people regardless of race in "Jungle Fever" (1991). Turturro rounded out a busy 1991 with a return to the stage, receiving critical praise for his performance as Arturo Ui, a ruthless Chicago mobster looking to corner the cauliflower market, in Bertolt Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui." During the filming of "Barton Fink," Turturro began writing - he figured in order to play a writer, he ought to be writing something - and made his writing and directing debut with "Mac" (1992), a 1950s tale starring Turturro and his brother Nicholas as Italian-American carpenters. Though not a hit by any stretch of the imagination, "Mac" - which was inspired by the life of his late father - earned Turturro the Camera d'Or at Cannes and an Independent Spirit Award for its sincere depiction of blue-collar life.

After a supporting role in Peter Weir's "Fearless" (1993), Turturro enjoyed one of his highest-profile roles to date, playing Herb Stempel, the hot-headed sore loser forced to take a dive in the underrated "Quiz Show" (1994). Turturro was honored with nominations from the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild. He enjoyed a meaty domestic role in Diane Keaton's "Unstrung Heroes" (1995), then scored with critics as a rigid man who rediscovers spontaneity and joy in Tom DiCillo's "Box of Moonlight" (1996). Though many moviegoers still associated him with the rage of earlier characters, both parts worked to dispel the notion of his volcanic persona. Turturro then threw himself into his portrayal of Italian writer and Holocaust-survivor Primo Levi in "The Truce" (1997), losing 30 pounds to capture the bird-like frailty of the Auschwitz survivor. His awkward shyness and vigilant gaze effectively reflected the inner life of a man slowly emerging from his desensitized existence to rediscover the joys of life.

In 1998, Turturro appeared in the Classic Stage Company production of "Waiting for Godot" before unveiling his sophomore directing effort, "Illuminata," at Cannes. Another labor of love, the film provided an affectionate look at a tightly knit, turn-of-the-century theatrical troupe, both onstage and behind the scenes. It boasted a fine ensemble of New York stage veterans including Christopher Walken as a flamboyantly gay critic and Susan Sarandon as a beautiful, aging, amoral diva. He followed up with a pair of Spike Lee Joints, first playing Bible-thumping coach Billy Sunday in the basketball drama "He Got Game" (1998), then voicing Harvey the Black Dog, who speaks to Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz (Michael Badalucco), in "The Summer of Sam" (1999). In one of the smaller but most memorable roles of his career, Turturro appeared in the Coen Brothers cult classic "The Big Lebowski" (1999), making an unsettling impression as local bowling champ, Jesus, with his purple socks, hair net, pelvic gyrations and a penchant for licking bowling balls. By this time a bona fide in-demand actor, he appeared in Tim Robbins' "Cradle Will Rock" (1999) and the uncharacteristically commercial "Rounders" (1998) before the new century, which catapulted Turturro into a dizzying schedule of broader films, more directing and the new frontier of television.

Both Turturro and the Coen Brothers hit unexpected success with "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000), co-starring George Clooney and Tim Blake Nelson as fleeing convicts in the 1930's treatment of Homer's Odyssey. He made the festival circuit with "The Man Who Cried" (2000), in which he played a famed opera singer opposite Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci and Cate Blanchett. He followed up an intensive performance as an eccentric but genius chess Grand Master in "The Luzhin Defense" (2001) before appearing in character roles in a string of uncharacteristically commercial films, including "Mr. Deeds" (2002), "Collateral Damage" (2002) and "Anger Management" (2003). He reunited with Spike Lee to play a mafioso who indulges in long, tedious Don Corleone impressions in the comedy "She Hate Me" (2004), reneging on his longtime refusal to play Italian crime family members. In 2004, he costarred with Depp in the Stephen King thriller "The Secret Window," then directed his third feature "Romance and Cigarettes." Turturro also penned the musical comedy starring James Gandolfini and Kate Winslet, which suffered from a series of release setbacks, eventually hitting European theaters in 2006, though plans for a U.S. release remained in doubt.

After decades spent avoiding the small screen in large part, Turturro made a rare foray into television in 2004, playing Tony Shaloub's agoraphobic brother, Ambrose, in USA's detective comedy "Monk," earning an Emmy award his first go-round. Following a turn as Matt Damon's assistant in "The Good Shepherd" (2006) and an outing into action territory with Michael Bay's summer blockbuster "Transformers" (2007), Turturro returned to television in the ESPN mini-series "Bronx is Burning." He played New York Yankees manager Billy Martin in an eight-part series chronicling the Bronx Bombers during their tumultuous summer season in 1977. After briefly appearing in Spike Lee's World War II epic, "Miracle at St. Anna" (2008), Turturro delivered a comedic twist on Palestinian terrorism in "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" (2008), before playing Bruce Willis' paranoid agent in Barry Levinson's Hollywood satire, "What Just Happened?" (2008), which followed the trials and tribulations of an aging producer whose life and career are seemingly sputtering to an end.