By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Chazz Palminteri is grateful but thinks the career achievement award he'll accept tonight at the Gasparilla International Film Festival is a bit premature.
"I always think my best work is yet to come," Palminteri, 59, says during a telephone chat. The Oscar nominee's past year proves he's trying hard, and not always in the movies.
Last November, Palminteri, 59, opened Chazz: A Bronx Original restaurant in Baltimore, earning raves for its pizza and veal meatballs. Meanwhile, he took his signature one-man show A Bronx Tale to Las Vegas and got named best show on the strip, while shopping a new play to Broadway and polishing the book for a musical version of A Bronx Tale.
Call tonight's tribute a half-career celebration — for great performances in such films as Bullets Over Broadway, The Usual Suspects and, of course, A Bronx Tale — after a holdout defining Palminteri's artistic integrity as much as anything.
Palminteri recounts digging in his heels with Hollywood, what aspiring filmmakers can learn from that, and missing his hair, in these interview excerpts:
You famously said no to Hollywood unless you got the deal you wanted for A Bronx Tale.
Look, I had $200 in the bank, and the first offer I got was $250,000. I said I have to write the screenplay and I have to play Sonny. They said "No," and I said, "Okay, we're not doing it." After I turned down the $250,000, the rest was easy. That was the hardest to turn down.
Then it went to $500,000 and then to a million dollars. I still refused to do it, and then a week later Robert De Niro walked into the theater, saw the show, came to me and said: You write the script, you'll be Sonny and I'll direct.
You have to realize that everyone in Hollywood wanted it at the time. . . . People were approaching me in bathrooms and restaurants, saying: "I'll write you out a check right now." In my heart I knew somehow somebody would step up, you know?
What do you tell filmmakers asking your advice?
To be in this business you have to get used to hearing the word "no," to be disappointed and not let that word bother you. . . . Just keep persevering. I always say: Try to be the best at what you do, and be well-liked. If you have that combination it's pretty hard to fail at anything.
A Bronx Tale is unusual for Las Vegas entertainment — no showgirls or singing, just you playing 18 characters.
You're absolutely correct. People said this worked on Broadway but it'll never work in Vegas. But I was so convinced I just said, "I'm sorry, the story's too good." I was so confident. Then it was voted best show of 2011 by the Las Vegas Journal. I've been back; this is the fifth time now and it works. (The audience) is absolutely quiet, like a theater piece. It's amazing. I don't brag about anything I ever did, but this whole thing is just so unique.
Speaking of unique: What is Razamachazz?
Oh, that was the band I was in, in the '70s, playing Top 40 stuff, some disco. We had a very big following. I had wild hair, very long. Wish I still had it.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.