When Chazz Palminteri appeared opposite Robert De Niro in 1993's A Bronx Tale, his IMDB credits showed a series of TV spots and only three movie roles. De Niro, on the other hand, transcended the notion of a career that could be summed up in a mere IMDB listing. Nonetheless, Palminteri's performance enveloped the screen and suspended us in disbelief where it seemed he was the one carrying all the credits and acclaim. The confidence to pull off such a feat was obvious but what it took to actually put himself in that position... Well, as they say in the Bronx -
Long struggling as an actor/bouncer/whatever he did what he needed to get by. His original one man 1989 show was getting the attention of everyone, and offers that reached a high of one million dollars. But none stipulated his demand that he write and star in the screen version.
"The hardest to turn down was the first one," he says of the original $250,000 offer.
After that, he says they all just became numbers and putting aside the temptation to accept wasn't much more complicated.
"I guess I had faith in myself," he says.
He also credits his faith in God and the handy, self-assured guardian angel that rests on his shoulder, which certainly seemed present when he learned that De Niro would be attending his L.A. production.
"I wasn't nervous, I just did what I did," says Palminteri.
Afterwards De Niro came backstage and gave it to him straight. "You can write the screenplay, play Sonny and I'll play your father," Palminteri recalls.
Of course, the real tale began when he was a kid growing up on the gangster laden streets of the Bronx.
"It was part of everyday life," he says.
But he doesn't romanticize over the omnipresence of these parasites. "They live off the sweat of others - it's nothing to be proud of," he says.
A realization not everyone in the neighborhood came to. He was not among the unlearned.
"I never wanted to be a gangster. I had a dream that my parents said not to waste my talent," says the Westchester based actor.
Something that he believes can be traced back to the old country. "When I went back I found out my great grandfather was a storyteller and a poet. He held court in the square so what I got maybe came from him," says Palminteri.
A century later, the young Palminteri didn't lose anything in translation on the Bronx's version of the village square.
"Ever since I was 10, I wanted to be an actor. I would imitate what I would see in the movies on the street corner," he says.
The future aside, he also did what he could to not let the rest of the street go to waste.
"Yeah, you used to try to hit three sewers. That was pretty tough to do but when you do it, it's pretty exciting," he says of what constituted a homerun in stickball.
And like every Italian family that made the Bronx their home, sauce on Sunday was an automatic - even if his mother did try to occasionally slide something else passed the family on the Sabbath
"We'd all sit there and look at her," he says.
The message received, Mom would ultimately relent. "I'll put on the water," he recalls the words in which she would capitulate.
But to clarify, the end result was never something called sauce and pasta.
"Well, the right way to say it is macaroni and gravy of course, but I do understand that people call it sauce and pasta," he says.
As it turns out, he can note that discrepancy better than most. "In the play, I had gravy but a lot of people didn't know what I was talking about so I had to change it to sauce," he says.
Ironically, it was a miscommunication that led him to start putting the Bronx to paper. Mistakenly not letting the famed agent Swifty Lazar into his own party, Palminteri lost his job as a doorman.
"I just said, that's it, and I started writing A Bronx tale," he says.
After 10 minutes on the keyboard, he claims 90 minutes of his one man show was clearly envisioned.
"I borrowed money off my friend, I produced it and my life changed," he says.
Otherwise, encompassing the borough inside the confines of a man effort may seem extreme, but this also has its roots in simplicity.
"I was unknown, and if somebody was going to be recognized - I was the only one of the stage," he explains.
Obviously secure in the loneliness, the decision to go one man yielded something just as important. "It's like I did the whole movie on stage. That's why when people saw it, they could see the movie," he says. "That's why I was offered all that money."
All in all, he did actually witness a murder over a parking spot, dated a black girl when such a thing was unheard of in his neighborhood and had four of his friends blow up in a car. On the other hand, he did not go down on the street to help the cops ID the murderer and never was in that car with his friends.
Still, he harbors no guilt over all the relationships that probably succumbed to the door test that Sonny advised young "C" to subject his girlfriend too. But at this point, the matter is moot.
"It's a little harder today with the electronic buttons," he joked.
Twenty years later, he's brought the one man production back and is getting the acclaim of audiences and critics on the Las Vegas strip. But he hasn't forgotten us back here on the east coast. "I'm doing one night only," he says of the show coming up at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester on June 1st.
Beyond that, he has plans in the works to one up A Bronx Tale as a musical.
"It's like Romeo and Juliet and Guys and Dolls smashed to together," he says.
Admittedly a challenge, but his father's words on not wasting talent is something he continues to hear and will likely play its part in pulling off this latest feat. At the same time, he hasn't held off in sharing the wisdom with his kids - even if they have to tell him to give it a rest at times.
Successful in their own right as performers, he's circular in his persistence
"I tell them, you'll say that to your kids," he says.
And he's as confident in that as anything.
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