Chazz Palminteri on A Bronx Tale: "The Greatest One Man Show" Robert DeNiro Ever Saw
What a cool guy.
Courtesy of Chazz Palminteri
"If you love the movie, you'll love the show even more. There's a very visual feeling to the show." Chazz Palminteri explained about his one man play A Bronx Tale coming to Seminole Casino Coconut Creek on February 26.
He originally started performing the stage version of in 1990. Robert DeNiro then directed the 1993 movie adaptation which featured Palminteri as Sonny the wiseguy who seduces the working class teenage protagonist into the world of the mafia.
Palminteri has written several other screen and stage plays as well as starred in classic films like The Usual Suspects and Bullets Over Broadway. But A Bronx Tale keeps pulling him back in. He's performed it in Los Angeles, on Broadway, and won show of the year in Las Vegas. He also just recently finished writing a book for a musical version of the play. But the play is where his heart really is.
During an interview with Palminteri, he spoke about why he started writing, the challenges of putting on a one man production, and how he turned down a million dollars to let someone else act in and write the movie version.
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New Times: What first inspired you to become an actor?
Chazz Palminteri: It's something I always wanted to do. When I was 10 or 11 years old, my mother would take me to a lot of movies and I just looked at the screen and said I want to do that. I was a drama major in college, and I started studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio. There was something inside my body that said I could do this and I realized I was good at it.
When did you start writing?
I would always write. I'd write poetry. Music when I was a singer in a band. Then one day, this whole incident happened. I was an actor in L.A., and I ran out of money, and I was working as a doorman. One day I didn't let this one man in the building because he was very rude to me. That man happened to be Swifty Lazar who was the biggest agent in the world at that time. I got fired just like he said he would. He told the boss, and I got fired. I went home and was really frustrated and I didn't know what to do and said, "You know what, if they won't give me a great part, I'll write one myself."
I went to the drug store with five pads of yellow paper, and said I'll write about this killing I saw when I was a kid. I started writing about that and my relationship with my father and the wise guys.
As a struggling actor, you turned down a million dollar offer to sell and walk away from A Bronx Tale. What were you thinking?
After the play came out, boom, the reviews were over the top. Everybody was coming to see it and they offered me $250,000 for the rights to make a movie. I said great but naïve as I was, I said, "I want to play Sonny and write the screenplay." They said, "Oh God no." I was kind of disappointed but I went back to doing the show.
The offers kept getting bigger. Every writer, director, studio head kept seeing it. It was a phenomenon. They couldn't believe I turned down a million, but two weeks, later Robert DeNiro walked into the theater came backstage and said, "This is the greatest one man show I ever saw." He said, "That was a movie. I want to do this as a real movie. I know you want to play Sonny and write the screenplay. Absolutely. You'd be great at it." We shook hands and that's how the movie happened.
Did the movie adaptation of A Bronx Tale change your one man show rendition of it?
No. I'm telling you... You haven't seen the one man show? You'll see. I did the movie on stage. You'll see.
Was there a sense of fulfillment first seeing your play on the screen?
The real great fulfillment was the one man show when that thing hit because I came from nowhere to somewhere. By the time of the movie, I was already on my way. But the movie was a highlight because it was my life, my father, my mother, it was my family.
Are you still writing?
I just wrote a book for the musical of A Bronx Tale. I wrote two other plays. One that I hope to get to Broadway. I co-wrote a TV series called Unorganized Crime with Kenny D'Aquila. I write a lot and enjoy it very much. When I'm really in the writing mode, I wake up in the morning and write four hours. I don't like writing at night. I can do it, but it just don't feel right.
As a writer are there specific lessons you've learned acting from other's scripts?
I enjoy reading other people's scripts. I go to colleges and I do lectures on writing and acting workshops; you can't teach people to be creative. People ask me how to write a screenplay. I can't tell you what to write, I can tell you the blocks. The first act, the first 30 pages, you get your main character up a tree. The second act you get him higher. The third act you get him down. That's a screenplay.
What are the challenges of a one man show as opposed to sharing the stage with other actors?
It's the hardest thing in the world. A one man play? The hardest. A lot of them are bad. The reason why is they are very hard to do. Many are self-serving and not entertaining. John Leguizamo and Billy Crystal do some good ones. The story has to be solid. It's not a stand-up. What made my show different is I did a linear story that went all the way through.
Any memories you can share about one of your most beloved movies, The Usual Suspects?
I remember reading the script and going, "What is going on here?" I was so fascinated. I was like either this is going to be unbelievable or nobody is going to know what's going on. It all depends on the director. When I met with Bryan Singer who was a kid at the time, he was so passionate about it and the writing was so wonderful, I'll take a ride with this kid and see what happens. I'm glad I did. It was one of those things with a great director, a great script, and a great cast came together at the same time.
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