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Pants On Fire

Acting is Joey "Pants" Pantoliano's first love, but as the VP of L.A.'s Grand Havana Room, cigars run a close second.
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

(continued from page 2)

Pantoliano, 43, is more muscular and taller than he seems on-screen. He has made a livelihood out of playing the "psycho," or the "buddy," as he did in The Fugitive, the 1993 film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in which Pantoliano delivered most of the humor. He is now starring in the just-released Bound, with Jennifer Tilly, who played the aspiring-but-incompetent actress in Bullets Over Broadway, and Gina Gershon, the brunette in Showgirls. Pantoliano is excited about this movie; it's his first leading role. "At least in a movie that's any good and done by a major studio," he says.

"It's a film noir with a twist," he says earnestly. "Jennifer plays my lover of five years. I'm a money launderer for the mob, the Chicago Mafia, and Gina is a small-time felon who's just been released from prison who gets a job as a janitor in our building. Jennifer and Gina become immediately attracted to each other and the next thing you know they're banging each other. Instead of a guy and a girl, it's the two girls against the guy."

Pantoliano's character in Bound does not smoke cigars, and in The Fugitive, Jones does the honors. But in many of his movies, Pantoliano has taken special delight in combining work with pleasure.

"You know, I'd do a movie, I'd call Davidoff and say, 'Listen, I'm doing a movie, I wanna smoke your cigars in the movie.' Like when I did Steal Big, Steal Little [a 1995 film with Andy Garcia that did not do boffo box office], I smoked all of the Fuente cigars." Pantoliano loves the Fuente family and their Dominican cigars--the Fuentes and a friend sent him six boxes of Don Carlos cigars as a wedding present in 1994--but he is diverse enough in his tastes to spread around the exposure on the big screen. And he's not reluctant to get free cigars.

"It just so happened I smoked cigars in Bad Boys because I was smoking between the shots," Pantoliano says of the 1995 movie set in Miami. "We were rehearsing the scene and the director said, 'Gee, it'd be great if you'd smoke that cigar. I'd love to see Captain Howard smoke cigars in this.' I said, 'Well, I only got two of these and we got three weeks of shooting.' So I called Ernie." Ernie is Ernesto Perez-Carillo of Miami's El Credito Cigars, the makers of La Gloria Cubana and El Rico Habano. "I say, 'Ernie, I'm smoking a robusto Rico Habano. You got a coupla boxes we can put in the movie?' He says, 'Hell yeah!'" Pantoliano's funniest scene in the film (in which he plays the typical cop in charge who screams a lot) is when he is shooting free throws over the backboard while chewing out two police officers. All the while the robusto is in his hand or mouth.

For "EZ Streets," a pilot he shot earlier this year in Chicago for CBS, he chose Don Carlos No. IIIs. "It's very gritty," Pantoliano says of the pilot, which has been picked up and will debut this fall on Wednesday nights. "For television, this is a very tough show."

It's a warm spring day in Chicago and Pantoliano is walking to a men's shop on Michigan Avenue to pick up a tuxedo Donna Karan sent him for the Oscars. Pantoliano is what is commonly known as a "character actor," a term he does not dispute, but one he chooses to define for himself.

"In Hollywood, most young actors and movie stars construct the character to them, violating the cardinal rule of acting," he says. "In Hollywood, a character actor is the guy who supports the leading man. My definition of a character actor is a guy who creates a role. I think any good actor, man or woman, is a character actor. I mean, obviously Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro and Gene Hackman and, you know, Paul Muni and Luther Adler and Spencer Tracy, these were all great actors. I think Harrison Ford is one of the great character actors of our time, even though he's a leading man. I think Jeff Bridges is a great character actor. These guys are real actors!" Pantoliano's voice rises. "These are the guys that I emulate. These are the guys that I wanna grow up to be. These are the roles that I want to play," Pantoliano says, adding that Montgomery Clift is his favorite actor of all time.

"People label me a 'character actor' because I'm the third guy through the door. I'm the guy supporting the movie stars," he continues. "So, in my mind, I'm just a fuckin' actor. In the buyer's mind, I'm a character actor."

Pantoliano plays an Irish gangster in "EZ Streets," and for the pilot, he prepares in the makeup trailer by shaving his head with an electric razor, then gluing and taping on a red wig while waiting for the dye on his eyebrows to dry. His banter with the women doing makeup and hair is constant. The transformation is finished after he changes out of jeans and T-shirt into a dark-blue ensemble covered with a black trenchcoat, ever so stylishly accented by the biggest Versace blue paisley scarf likely ever seen by the residents of the poor South Chicago neighborhood where the scene is about to be shot. The two-tone blue-and-white shoes on his feet complete the look.

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