Director Martin Scorsese’s classic film “Goodfellas,” about New York City mobster Henry Hill and fellow gangsters stealing, selling drugs and whacking people off, is one of Italian-American actor Paul Sorvino’s most memorable roles in his portrayal of mob patriarch Paul Cicero.
Moviegoers watched “Goodfellas” during the 23rd Annual Florida Film Festival at the Enzian Theater before a question-and-answer session with Sorvino.
“I wanted to play in a Scorsese film more than I wanted to breathe my next breath,” said Sorvino.
Scorsese wanted Sorvino for the role of Paul Cicero but Sorvino had a hard time connecting with the character at first.
He wore a black cashmere coat and his father’s pinky ring and tried to look like a gangster during his reading with Scorsese, who he won over for the part.
After he was selected for the role, he still tried to find the character and his inner sense to portray the mobster at the time. Adjusting his tie in the hallway mirror, he jumped back and frightened himself because he saw Paul Cicero.
“I knew exactly what to do for the part and it was one of the easiest roles to play,” he said.
Sorvino also portrayed former mobster Joe Scoleri, who serves time in prison and returns home in the movie “Last I Heard,” which was one of the narrative feature films during this year’s Florida Film Festival. Sorvino received praise from fan Anthony Castelluci, who led the audience in saying “Hell yeah” during the question-and-answer session that followed “Goodfellas” on Saturday, April 12.
At age 75, he has played more than 160 roles during his career and has never done the same character twice. He studied with famous acting teacher Sanford Meisner and made his film debut in “Where’s Poppa?” in 1970. Meisner taught him the ropes.
“I learned that you think before and after when you’re playing a role,” he said. “My first acting teacher, Sanford Meisner, said a thinking actor is a stinking actor. The more intelligent you are, then the more difficult it is to be a really good actor because your intelligence gets in the way. You have to make sure your intelligence stays out and doesn’t take over.”
One of his best performances was his portrayal of deaf attorney Lowell Myers in the film “Dummy.”
“I created five different phases of deaf speech for my character,” he said. “It was a challenge and my favorite role to play.”
He also portrayed the Italian leader of the communist party Louis Fraina in “Reds,” and based the role on his grandfather.
Besides acting, Sorvino is an opera singer, bronze sculptor and painter. He created two lion sculptures for above designer Gianni Versace’s door in South Beach and a bronze sculpture of his granddaughter, Mattea Angel, releasing a dove for the Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s heart wing.
I had an opportunity to ask Sorvino about his attraction to authoritative roles during the question-and-answer session.
“Those roles always come towards me,” he said. “I have always been a wise ass and somebody that knew more than he was supposed to know. When I was a kid, I would say that I knew enough just to piss everyone off! Whatever the role may be, I give it all I got!”