Years ago around 4 a.m., Paul Sorvino and his friend Jon Hair sat in the actor's dining room, where the Goodfellas star served an opinion.
"Paul said, 'I think two of the best sculptors in America are sitting at this table,' " Hair, 66, recalled. "And I would say the same thing back to him."
Yes, an actor whose characters might be fitted for cement shoes actually works in bronze and clay. Sorvino is a respected sculptor who recently presented a bust of baseball legend Jackie Robinson in New York's Times Square. Visit his website, paulsorvino.com, to view examples of his work, vaguely Rodin in its figurative impressions.
"He's good," Hair said. "If he had more time to devote to it he could be a tremendous sculptor."
These longtime friends will reunite Thursday in St. Petersburg, when Sorvino attends the opening of Hair's workspace and display studio in his childhood hometown, adding to his locations in Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C.
During his visit, Sorvino will also attend the 11th annual Sunscreen Film Festival, at Saturday's 6 p.m. screening of Detours, a road trip dramedy in which he plays a small role.
But make no mistake — helping Hair is the main reason Sorvino's here.
"Jon said, 'Can you make it?' I said, 'Sure.' So, that was that," Sorvino, 77, said by telephone from Los Angeles. "I like to support artists who are sincere and talented, who have good rules for themselves and their work."
Hair's website, jonhair.com, features dozens of his commissioned works, from U.S. Olympic Committee and university monuments to desktop figures and busts. Shanghai and Beijing hired Hair to create signature sculptures for their cities. His St. Petersburg gallery includes nearly 100 clay masters and bronze sculptures. Currently he's working on a sculpture of children's television star Fred Rogers, and a piece for a South Carolina university he isn't allowed to announce yet.
The artists met nearly 15 years ago in Los Angeles, at a foundry where Hair created clay molds for shaping figures.
"He was working on a project and wanted my input on it," Hair said. "We hit it off and stayed friends ever since."
Sculpting is their bond, and for Sorvino, much more than an avocation.
"We don't do this because we like to do it; we do this because we have to do it," the actor said. "It's something we are compelled to do, and it's a great joy to do it.
"Sculpture is not a hobby for anybody because it's an expensive thing to produce. A painter can get $10 worth of materials and make something he can sell. A sculptor, if he's a bronze sculptor, even with something very small, he's into thousands (of dollars).
"Real, professional artists like me or like Jon, we do it to make a living."
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.