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 before a question-and-answer session with Sorvino. He said “he wanted to play in a Scorsese film more than he wanted to breathe his next breath.” Scorsese wanted Sorvino for the Paul Cicero role but Sorvino had a hard time connecting with the character originally.
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. He was still trying to find his character and his inner sense for the role. Adjusting his tie in the hallway mirror, he jumped back and frightened himself because he found Paul Cisero. He said, “he knew exactly what to do for the part and it was one of the easiest roles to play.”
Sorvino also portrayed former mobster Joe Scoleri who served 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 Q&A 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,” said Sorvino. “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 Dummy. Sorvino said, “I created five different phases of deaf speech for my character. It was a challenge and my favorite role to play.”
He also played 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 and professional bronze sculptor and painter. He created two lion sculptures 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. “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!”