By Ian Spelling
Chazz Palminteri doesn’t feel underappreciated by Hollywood. Typecast as a tough guy, as a villain? That’s a whole other matter.
“I agree that I’m pigeonholed,” said the actor, who’s played variations on the theme in everything from “A Bronx Tale”, “Bullets over Broadway” and “Usual Suspects” to “Boss of Bosses”, “Analyze This” and his current release, “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.” “That’s why I wanted to do ‘A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints’. I’ve played many different characters on stage for many years, characters I’ve never had a chance to play on screen. In this film, my character is tough, but he’s also vulnerable, weak human being.”
Palminteri, a tall, fit man who speaks in hushed, soothing tones, settles onto a couch in a suite at the Regency Hotel to chat up “Guide”, writer-director Dito Montiel’s portrait of life on the streets of Astoria, Queens, in the mid-1980s. Robert Downey, Jr. plays Dito, a L.A.-based writer who returns home to see his ailing father, Monty (Palminteri). Dito’s visit sparks recollections of old friends, ex-lovers, and the trials and tribulations that made him who he is now.
Monty comes across as an embittered man who loves his family, but can’t express his feelings. Palminteri, who grew up in Manhattan and still lives in the area (“I have to be close to the Yankees,” he said, “close to the Knicks and Rangers.”), notes that he didn’t draw on his relationship with his own father—a bus driver from the Bronx—in playing Monty.
“My dad was totally the opposite,” he said. “I was blessed with a great father who loved me and showed his love. He encouraged me to leave the neighborhood, encouraged me to travel and do whatever I wanted.
“So I never really dealt with a Monty. A few of the fathers of my friends were like that, just so narrow-minded, and it was hard for them to show love to their children. And they had a tough life because of that.”
In addition to the challenge of playing Monty, Palminteri points out that he committed to “Guide” because he’s committed to indie films. In fact, he’s doing more and more of them, with “Poolhall Junkies” and “Running Scared” among his more recent credits. And so he felt compelled to help first-timer Montiel realize his dream of putting “Guide” on the screen. He wasn’t the only one; other major names include Dianne Wiest and Rosario Dawson.
“They’ve been trying to make this movie for five years,” Palminteri said. “It’s their story. It’s their first one. It’s an independent. Usually, these things are made because of love and honesty, and that’s why I think it’s important to do these kinds of movies. Actors like myself work for less and get a piece of the movie if we can.
“The filmmaker’s vision has to get out there. Sometimes, with big-budget movies, elements, stories are put together. They’re made for different reasons, which is fine. But sometimes you’ve got to make something that’s just real to the bone.”
The “Guide” cast also includes two fast-rising young talents, 20-year-old Shia LaBeouf and 26-year-old Channing Tatum. Palminteri, who didn’t taste stardom until his early 40s, when he starred in “A Bronx Tale”, “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Usual Suspects”, admits there’s much he wishes he knew about life, acting and stardom when he was as young as LaBeouf and Channing.
“Oh God, so many things,” he said. “I was incapable of being a star at that age. I hope Shia and Channing can handle it and keep it together. I wish I had discipline I have now, then. I was too wild. I might’ve been successful sooner, and I think I would’ve been ready for it. But that’s OK.
“This was my path I had to travel,” Palminteri added. “I had to meet the saints I had to meet.”