As an actor, writer and director, Chazz Palminteri has been working steadily since the late 1980s. Starring in his one-man show, A Bronx Tale, turned out to be his big break as Robert De Niro helped develop it into a film in the early 1990s. Since then, Chazz has been seen in a mix of hit dramas and comedies, including The Usual Suspects, Mulholland Falls, Analyze This, and Bullets Over Broadway. The New York native has also worked steadily in television, portraying Shorty on Modern Family and Angelo Gallo on Blue Bloods in recent years.
2016 was also a big year for Chazz off-screen. A Bronx Tale returned to Broadway as a musical, now doing eight shows a week at the Longacre Theatre. Chazz Palminteri’s Ristorante Italiano opened cross-town on the East Side in partnership with the owners of Empire Steak House. In addition, Chazz became the 50th inductee into the Ride Of Fame.
Immediately after his Ride Of Fame induction, Chazz spoke to Downtown about his past, present and future. Chazz can be visited online at www.chazzpalminteri.net and followed on Twitter via @ChazzPalminteri.
Congratulations on your Ride Of Fame induction. How did that go for you?
Chazz Palminteri: Oh, that was great…Sometimes you get great awards but this is really special to me because my dad, my father was a bus driver. He would’ve gotten a real kick out of that, me having my own bus with the name on it, you know?
How did this induction came about? Did you know somebody, or they reached out?
CP: They reached out to me. They said, “You know what, you’re a real New Yorker, born and raised here.” I’ve been on Broadway, I do my work here, everything is New York to me. So they asked me if I was interested. I said I’d be honored, that’s cool, I would love to do it.
A Bronx Tale is obviously a testament to your being a long-time New Yorker and that’s play has been done in different incarnations over the years. How would you describe the play’s evolution?
CP: Well, when I did the one man show, people loved it and thought it would make a great movie. Then Bob De Niro saw it and that’s how the movie got made. But we always talked about it being a musical because of the themes. It has these bigger than life operatic themes like love and hate, and father/son…I always thought that if you can get that to song, and capture that feeling, it will be pretty incredible. Tommy Mottola was the one who really said, “Look we gotta make this thing happen,” and Tommy Mottola was really the one who put this whole show on his back and made it happen. Then we got Alan Menken, eight-time Academy Award winner, to do the music, and Glenn Slater, three time Tony nominee, to do the lyrics, and Tony nominee — I think three time — Sergio Trujillo to do the choreography, Bob De Niro and Jerry Zaks co-directing…It’s a pretty astounding group of people we put together and it really truly came out great. Right now it’s a hit show and people are just clamoring it, coming to the theater. It was a New York Times Critic’s Pick, so I’m very excited.
Do you have a favorite song within the musical?
CP: A bunch of them. I think “The Choices”…It is the final song.
You’re often associated with music. I remember a Beach Boys tribute show that you hosted on TNT a decade or so ago. Was that one of your favorite groups?
CP: Oh, I love The Beach Boys. I love the harmonies…I just thought they were great and people realize how great they are now even now.
Were you ever in a band?
CP: I started out as a singer, I was in a band for 10 years, I was the lead singer and travelled all over and I loved it. But my real love was always acting and writing…I was studying, I got into The Actor’s Studio, I worked very hard, and things worked out pretty well for me.
When you were a touring singer, what were some of the venues you performed at in New York City?
CP: In New York City it was mostly the clubs, some of the hotels. I remember the Sheraton Hotel in the city, but it was mostly the clubs, we were a cover band. Then we performed down the [Jersey] Shore, in Seaside Heights I remember. It was great, really great, had fun.
Another thing that you’re kind of known for is your calling into WFAN as “Chazz from Bedford.” How did that start?
CP: Well, you know what I’m a really diehard Yankees fan and I love to listen to sports radio…I’ll listen and listen, and at times you know I get upset when they would say something that was wrong, or putting down the Yankees, and I’m pretty very knowledgeable in sports. So one day I said, “This is bullshit, I’m calling up, I called up and that’s how it started.”
Is sport your main interest outside of acting and writing?
CP: It’s one of them, and also I’m very spiritual. I’m very much into psychology. I’ve always felt that if I didn’t become an actor or writer I would have been a psychologist.
Wow. Is that something you started in school or just you picked up on your own?
CP: I didn’t study it in school no, I was always interested in the human mind, you know. I would read about Sigmund Feud and I would read Carl Jung and also probably 25 years ago I started really learning a lot about Rudolf Steiner. I just love philosophy — Homer and Aristotle…I don’t know, it is something that always fascinated me.
Does that ever help with getting into character? You know, learning who it is that you are going to be portraying…
CP: I think it helps you there to do that, but I think it helps me more as a writer, Darren, because I got to know human nature and what people are about.
I assume another hobby of yours is food, given that you have got Ristorante Italiano. Have you always been interested in cooking as well?
CP: Yeah, I’ve always loved to cook. I’m okay…My wife’s a great cook, my mother-in-law’s a great cook, but I can cook certain things really well. I can make a great sauce and chicken parmigiana and eggplant parmigiana, certain things I can cook very well. We travel, we have a house in Italy, so my wife and I and the kids, all these years we’ve been traveling to Italy and we came up with a lot of recipes that we found. So when I had a chance to open up my own restaurant about a year ago, I did it with Jack Sinanaj, who owns Empire Steak House. We’re partners and we opened up Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano and I’m telling you, Darren, the restaurant is incredible.
It’s doing fabulous and it’s amazing because my restaurant’s on 48th Street and my play is on 48th Street. One is on the West Side, one is on the East Side…I am at the restaurant having dinner, some people see me before the show, and then after the show I take some of the stars to my restaurant to have dinner and people see me…So it’s really an amazing time I am having right now.
It definitely sounds like it. So given all the success you’ve had, is there anything you haven’t accomplished that you are still hoping to in the professional sense?
CP: I would like to do a TV series where I play a priest. I don’t know, it’s in my head, I want to play a priest — the street priest — and I want to do a series on that. I think that would be great, a great series.
That’s quite different from your character Shorty from Modern Family. Do you find that the character Shorty turned you on to a new fanbase?
CP: Absolutely, I think that’s a very good question, yes. All these kids I see, a lot of these young kids I see, they go, “Hey, Shorty, we love you on Modern Family.” It’s a lot of fun, I enjoy that.
Other than your own restaurant do you have a favorite restaurant in New York City?
CP: You know what, it would be really nice if you mentioned that I always go back to my old neighborhood in the Bronx. I go to Roberto’s Restaurant, and it’s amazing, Darren, but the stores that I grew up with there was Gino’s Pastry [Shop]…I go to Borgatti’s Raviolis, Mike’s Deli, and Madonia Bakery. If you come to see the show, those are the four stores in my set, so it is pretty amazing.
That’s amazing, So finally, Chazz, any last words for the kids?
CP: I would say a very important thing is the choices you make will shape your life forever, so be really cognizant of the choices that you make in life. Stay away from drugs and alcohol and try to be the best you can be, because any choice you make definitely has an action for it, so make the right choices. The saddest thing alive is wasted talent and that’s what I’d like to leave you with.