Joseph Peter Pantoliano is an accomplished character actor, well-known for his portrayals in films like ‘Risky Business’ and ‘The Fugitive,’ and television series ‘The Sopranos.’ Pantoliano has often played shady roles in his career of over four decades on various platforms, including films, television, and stage productions. As a child, he suffered from severe dyslexia, which affected his studies. However, he exhibited good talent in acting from an early age and later resolved to take up acting as a career. After high school, he relocated to New York and attended HB Studio. He performed in the travelling stage production of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.’ He then played several roles in both television and films before garnering fame portraying a ruthless pimp ‘Guido’ in the 1983 film ‘Risky Business.’ What followed was an array of other notable on-screen productions, including films like ‘Midnight Run,’ ‘The Fugitive,’ ‘U.S. Marshals,’ the Bad Boys franchise, ‘Memento,’ and ‘The Matrix’ among many others; as well as TV series like ‘The Fanelli Boys,’ ‘Beethoven’ (voice role) and ‘The Sopranos.’ The latter won him a Primetime Emmy Award.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on September 12, 1951, in Hoboken, New Jersey, US, to first-generation Italian-Americans Dominic “Monk” Pantoliano and Mary (née Centrella). His father was a hearse driver and factory foreman, while his mother was a bookie and seamstress. His parents parted ways (although never divorced officially) when Pantoliano was 12 years old.
He studied at the Cliffside Park High School, but fared badly in studies due to severe dyslexia. Nevertheless, he showed talent in acting from an early age and after noticing such talent his stepfather motivated him to endeavour into theatres.
Following high school, he relocated to New York, where he attended HB Studio and studied acting with actors Herbert Berghof and John Lehne. During his four-year tenure at the HB Studio, he sustained himself by working as a waiter, while giving auditions. He also performed as Billy Bibbit in the touring production of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.’
After his stint in New York, he moved to Hollywood to pursue acting in films and television.
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His early on-screen pursuits includes films like ‘Road Movie’ (1974), ‘For Pete's Sake’ (1974), ‘The Idolmaker’ (1980) and ‘Monsignor’ (1982); and TV productions like ‘McNamara's Band’ (1977) and ‘Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story’ (1980), series ‘Free Country’ (1978) and miniseries ‘From Here to Eternity’ (1979).
He landed up with his big break playing the hard-hearted pimp ‘Guido’ in Paul Brickman’s directorial debut ‘Risky Business,’ an American romantic comedy film starring Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay. This 1983 film became a blockbuster hit grossing $63.5 million at the box-office and shot Pantoliano to fame garnering him widespread popularity.
He furthered his fame playing the negative role of Francis Fratelli in the 1985 adventure comedy film ‘The Goonies,’ which slowly evolved as a cult film.
The biographical film ‘La Bamba,’ based on the life and career of American singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ritchie Valens, saw Pantoliano essaying the character of American musician, producer and Del-Fi Records owner, Bob Keane, while actor Lou Diamond Phillips played Valens. The film released on July 24, 1987, and became a blockbuster hit, earning a Golden Globe nomination.
The 1988 action comedy film ‘Midnight Run’ starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin featured Pantoliano in the role of the foul-mouthed, double-crossing bail bondsman Eddie Moscone.
He essayed the main role of Dominic Fanelli in the American sitcom ‘The Fanelli Boys’ that aired on NBC for 19 episodes from September 8, 1990, to February 16, 1991.
The 1993 film ‘The Fugitive’ featured him in the role of Deputy U.S. Marshal Cosmo Renfro and garnered a whopping $368.9 million at box-office. This thriller also starred Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. The latter won an Oscar as ‘Best Supporting Actor.’
His next notable film was the Martin Lawrence and Will Smith starrer American buddy cop action comedy ‘Bad Boys’ that released on April 7, 1995 and grossed $141.4 million at box-office. He played Captain Howard in the film and reprised the role in its sequel ‘Bad Boys II’ (2003) that also became huge commercial success.
He reprised the role of Deputy U.S. Marshal Cosmo Renfro in the spin-off of ‘The Fugitive’ titled ‘U.S. Marshals.’ He starred with the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, and Robert Downey Jr. among others in the1998 film that grossed $102.4 million at box-office.
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His next notable film was the 1999 sci-fi action flick ‘The Matrix’ where he starred as Cypher along with Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and Carrie-Anne Moss. The film was a major critical and commercial success with worldwide box-office collection of US$463.5 million. The film won four ‘Academy Awards.’
He starred as "Teddy" James Edward Gammell along with Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss in the Christopher Nolan directed American neo-noir psychological thriller film ‘Memento.’ The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 5, 2000, and became a critical and commercial success. It was among the best films of the 2000s.
Between 2001 and 2004, he appeared in the role of Ralph Cifaretto in 21 episodes of the popular American crime drama television series ‘The Sopranos’ that aired on HBO for six seasons from January 10, 1999, to June 10, 2007. His spectacular performance as Ralph won him the ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series’ in 2003.
He featured in the two-character Broadway play ‘Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune’ in 2003 in place of Stanley Tucci.
Pantoliano’s other notable works are ‘Cats & Dogs’ (voice role, 2001), ‘Daredevil’ (2003) and ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief’ (2010); and TV series like ‘Beethoven’ (voice role, 1994) and ‘The Lionhearts’ (voice role, 1998) among others.
His upcoming film ‘Happy Anniversary,’ a comedy, is scheduled for a March 30, 2018 release by Netflix.
He was married to Morgan Kester from March 31, 1979 to February 23, 1984. He got married for a second time to former model Nancy Sheppard on February 18, 1994. He has six children.
He declared on the National Alliance on Mental Illness blog on October 9, 2007, that for the past decade he has been a victim of clinical depression, which was, however, formally diagnosed quite late. He mentions that the 2006 drama film ‘Canvas,’ where he starred as John Marino, aided him in his fight with depression.
He created ‘No Kidding, Me Too!,’ a non-profit organization to bring together the members of showbiz for educating public on mental illness. He is also coming up with the documentary titled ‘No Kidding, Me Too!.’
He wrote two memoirs titled ‘Asylum: Hollywood Tales From My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery and Being My Mother’s Son’ and ‘Who’s Sorry Now: The True Story of a Stand-Up Guy.’