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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 5)

The agent who had advised Pantoliano to turn down the TV series now told him that the weird-waiter gig had to end and, to his credit, loaned him $10,000 to live on. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner loaned him the money he needed to pay his taxes that year. Pantoliano has come a long way since those days.

"My responsibility is to my family first and my career second. Fortunately, God has been very good to me and I have a good career and a nice family." This is Pantoliano's second marriage; he and his wife, actress-model Nancy Sheppard, have 10-year-old Melody, Sheppard's daughter from her first marriage, and four-year-old Daniella, the couple's child together, living with them. Pantoliano likes to say that he is "the biggest baby of all" and that he still "needs to work at being responsible."

"I think everybody would agree," Sheppard says with a laugh. "He's a big kid. He is always fooling around and kidding with the kids. He's the first one to get into wrestling matches with the kids and tickle fights and things like that. Also, he has a short attention span. We'll be at a dinner party and he thinks nothing of going over to the couch and falling asleep if he's done. Very much like a child would do. But he's a lot of fun. He just loves to have fun. He loves to tell jokes. He's usually the center of attention at functions that we go to. He's just a big kid."

Sheppard adds that Pantoliano is a great family man who benefits from being away on acting jobs because "it definitely gives him a retreat if he needs it," although, she adds, "he loves the kids and he doesn't get tired of them then."

Pantoliano also has a teenage son, Marco, who lives with his first wife in Seattle and spends summers with his father in Los Angeles. It was an incident involving Marco that changed Pantoliano's drinking habits.

"I've always loved wine," he says, "and wine was my downfall. I went to a party a couple of years ago and I got drunk. My son was really upset with me. He called me a drunk. I realized how badly I was hurting him and I said, 'Fuck this. I'm not gonna do this to my kid.'" Pantoliano, who says he used to be a "happy drunk," now generally drinks mineral water when he goes out. "It got to a point where it was getting the best of me, so I stopped."

T he essence of the Joey Pants persona--life is fun--is seen in action in Chicago. There he is a big star. Blackhawks owner Peter Wertz leaves him hockey tickets at the hotel and invites him to brunch before a Sunday game. When in town, Pantoliano tries to make it to all of the Bulls' battles. He gets special prices at some of the city's jewelry dealers. So many of his movies have been set in Chicago that the city has basically adopted him, and one group, the Chicago Historical Film Society, made him an honorary member last year.

"They brought me to Chicago," Pantoliano says proudly. "Everybody thinks I'm from Chicago. It's funny."

After a Thursday night out at the Chicago clubs, Pantoliano has breakfast at a coffee shop near his hotel. The waitress asks if he wants "the usual." He nods and she brings a large bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon, bananas, skim milk and, uniquely, poached egg whites on the bottom. After breakfast, Pantoliano passes up a run along the lake because it is too cold; instead, he's off to visit his friend and cigar guru, Joe Howe, who runs Jack Schwartz Importers, a tobacco shop next door to the stress unit of a cardiac hospital and across the street from the Chicago Board of Trade. Pantoliano met Howe while filming the 1994 comedy Baby's Day Out. During their down time, Pantoliano and co-stars Brian Haley and Joe Mantegna would tour the city's tobacconists.

"Joey Pants!" the cry goes up from the staff. It's not that he is special here; everyone who is known at the shop is greeted as enthusiastically (as well as bade farewell with, "We love you!"). Pantoliano is comfortable here. He walks into the humidor and picks out a Davidoff for a morning smoke. Howe is explaining that today is "jacket day" at the store--meaning the staff wears jackets similar to those of the traders across the street--but that for some customers it's always "super high-pressure sales" day. This amuses Pantoliano. Howe proceeds to ask one of the traders how much money he has in his pocket.


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