Interview: Chazz Palminteri, The Flawed Father Of 'Mighty Fine', Talks Characters Past & Present
When one thinks of on-screen tough guys, nobody does it better then Academy Award Nominee Chazz Palminteri. But the famed writer and talented actor who brought pizzazz to such films as "A Bronx Tale," "The Usual Suspects" and "Bullets Over Broadway" is adding another standout role to his already impressive list – troubled father. In the new film set in the 1970's "Mighty Fine" (out May 25 from Adopt Films) Palminteri plays Joe Fine, a charismatic father and family man who also has an angry side that threatens the happiness of his home. Also starring the lovely Andie MacDowell and featuring some memorable voice-over work by the captivating Janeane Garofolo, "Mighty Fine" is a dark but ultimately optimistic tale taken from the personal experiences of writer/director Debbie Goodstein-Rosenfeld. We’re taking time this week to celebrate the arrival of "Mighty Fine" with a little one-on-one chat with the man himself Chazz Palminteri, who talks candidly about his troubled character, working with Andie MacDowell and also delves into past work questions for fans who need to know. (That would be me!) So show some respect – here’s the amazing...
Your character is a guy people both love and hate – how difficult was it to walk the line with Joe?
Chazz Palminteri: Well, I never worry if people love me or hate me in a movie, I just worry that they understand me, you know? That’s important to me. Debbie wrote the script, it was loosely based on her dad, so I asked her a lot of questions. Also I did a lot of research into people who were manic-depressives and on a lot of medications and I spoke to a doctor. So I tried to portray the character as truthfully as I could.
Since the film feels so deeply personal, did Debbie ever go into some her own experiences to help you build the character?
CP: Absolutely - I asked Debbie about her dad. How he did this, how he did that. And what he would do in different situations and that was helpful.
It seems there’s a real need to be the man of the house for Joe - to be the breadwinner. Do you think that was more a sign of those times?
CP: I think maybe more then, but a man always likes to feel like he’s the breadwinner a lot of times. It’s just something that’s inbred in us – you want to give the best to your wife and your children. And when he couldn’t do that anymore it really took its toll on him, especially with a manic depressive person. It’s pretty easy to be happy when things are going great, but when things are going bad that’s when you have to use your mental health to help cope with situations and he couldn’t do it.
There’s a nice family dynamic with Andie MacDowell and the girls in the film – was there an instant chemistry between you all?
CP: I think so. I think we had an instant connection and I think we all knew our work really well when we first got there. We sat and we talked and we had a great chemistry between all of us.
I see you were also on board as Executive Producer, so what made you want to go head first into "Mighty Fine?"
CP: Because I really liked the story and I really liked the script. An Executive Producer is involved in the casting, where the money is being spent and how many days shooting and the script, so I wanted a say in all that.
Past Work - You wrote the amazing one-man show "A Bronx Tale," but at what point did Robert De Niro show interest in directing it and what was the whole experience like for you?
CP: Wow. I’ll try to make it as condensed as possible. (Laughs) After I did the play, my whole life changed. Every writer, director, producer, agent wanted to sign me, every actor wanted to play Sonny and every director wanted to do the movie version of it. But they basically didn’t want me - they wanted to put a star in the role. So they tried to buy my play and I refused. They offered me two hundred and fifty thousand dollars – I had two hundred dollars in the bank – and I said no. Then they offered me half a million dollars and I said no. Then another three weeks went by and they offered me a million dollars and I said no again. About a week later Robert De Niro saw the show, came backstage and said, ‘Hey, you’d be great as Sonny. You should write the screenplay because it was about your life – I want to direct it and play your father.’ And he goes, ‘If you shake my hand that’s the way it’ll be.’ And I shook his hand and that’s the way it was.
Two pieces from that film I’ve always wanted to ask – do you truly believe the whole car door thing is a true test of selfishness and for Chazz is it better to be loved or feared?
CP: Well, the first question absolutely. If a girl doesn’t open the door for you that says a little something about her character and that’s why I put it in there. We used to talk about it all the time. Obviously it’s become this legendary thing where I meet so many people and they tell me, ‘Oh, I open the car door for my husband!’ – that’s been going on for years! And as far as being loved or feared, you know if you’re a normal person, Chazz Palminteri would rather be loved, but Sonny LoSpecchio would rather be feared.
Did you know after reading the script and meeting with Bryan Singer that "The Usual Suspects" was gonna be something special?
CP: I read the script and I thought it was just so different. I’d never read a script like that – so many changes in time. And then when I met the director he was just so passionate about the project and the way he said he was gonna shoot it. He had never really directed a big movie before, but you could just see in his eyes and there’s something to be said about passion – Brian Singer had a lot of passion. I’m happy I took the movie.
Your work in "Bullets Over Broadway" was so rich – what was it like working with Woody Allen at the time and specifically what was his process like as a director?
CP: Basically he just lets you do it – he doesn’t talk to you. He just says, ‘You’re perfect for the part, you know how to do it, go do it.’ That’s it. In fact when Woody starts talking to you, that’s not a good thing – that means you could be on your way to be fired! But he just lets you go.
About "Faithful" with Cher and Ryan O’Neal, what was it like turning that from a play into a film?
CP: Faithful was a very successful play and just thought it was really interesting. A wise guy sent to kill a woman who is about to commit suicide and how she didn’t care about her life and she turned the tables on him. It’s a great concept and it worked out really well.
How about "The Dukes" with Robert Davi – was that a lot of fun to make?
CP: That was great. That was Robert’s pet project - he always wanted to make that movie. He directed it and did a terrific job and I enjoyed playing that character with him.
You also played a very goofy role in the awesome "A Night at The Roxbury" – any apprehension on your part in taking such an over the top part?
CP: No, you just got to dive right in. He was this Lebanese guy who thought he was a Brooklyn wiseguy. It was a fun character and being with Will Farrell and Chris Kattan, I just had a ball doing it. So many people have seen that movie that I walk down the street and I have people looking at me and yelling going, ‘Hey, did you grab my ass?!” It’s pretty funny.
And finally, what’s next for you?
CP: I just wrote a new play for Broadway, it’s called Human and I’m very excited about it. It just got optioned and I hope to be doing that soon. Also I have a ten-year-old daughter and I did this movie called "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure" and it’s coming out on Memorial Day.
"MIGHTY FINE" HITS SELECT THEATERS MAY 25 FROM ADOPT FILMS.