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A Sweet Second Act

Portraying suave guys with a swagger has been Dennis Farina's regular beat since surrendering his police badge in Chicago.
Joel Drucker
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

There once was an actor who, knowing a script called for his character to be tortured, subjected himself to various forms of pain to prepare for the role. Upon hearing this, the colleague who would be inflicting the misery on the screen admonished him: "Dear boy, don't you understand? That's why we call it acting."

Actor Dennis Farina would heartily applaud this notion. Let others get themselves all worked up about "film." To Farina, they're strictly movies. In such varied works as Midnight Run, Get Shorty, Saving Private Ryan, Out of Sight, The Mod Squad and the upcoming Reindeer Games, the 55-year-old actor favors humble craft over affected art, straightforward communication over cryptic angst.

"Some people approach acting with all these things in their head, making it more complicated than it needs to be, way too cerebral," Farina says. "I don't want to know that an actor lived in a cave for 12 days so he could prepare for a part."

Like many of the characters he has portrayed, including the swinging detective on "Buddy Faro," a short-lived 1998 television series, Farina mixes charm, self-effacement and subtle bravado. It is a combination that makes this former Chicago cop and longtime robusto smoker the kind of friendly guy you'd swear you once met at a bar, on a plane, in a hotel lounge or in a golf clubhouse. And if you hadn't, you'd wish you had. "He says 'please' and 'thank you,'" says Peter Flaherty, who was the costume designer for "Faro." "They don't always do that."

Talking with Farina conjures up a world of intimate winks, soulful handshakes, well-earned street smarts and a patina of urban mystery. "The trick to acting," he says, "is to make it seem like you're not acting."

Viewed through Los Angeles' smoggy, paranoid lenses, Farina's take on acting appears a distant cousin to that age-old adage about the importance of sincerity: once you can fake it, you can do anything. Is his chumminess just another Hollywood implant? What's he really up to? What's the agenda behind the moustache?

And then, with one question, he unwraps the package.

"Care for a pop?" If you've grown up near the Atlantic or Pacific, you need one of those translation devices out of "Star Trek" to fathom the question. Pop what? Pop in the face? You mean like the one that wrecked the nose of the thwarted thug Ray "Bones" Barboni, Farina's hilarious character in Get Shorty?

But if you're from Farina's part of America, you know instantly what he means: "pop" is what Midwesterners call soda. It's a term that conjures up the region's simpler, unpretentious way of life.

Dennis Farina is a proud Midwesterner, born and raised in Chicago. His voice grows animated and grainy when he speaks of his native town. "My personality was formed by Chicago," Farina says. "It's very American, very straightforward. If you can't find it, or make it there, you won't make it anywhere. It's a very honest place."

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