MOTW: Struggles Lead to Success for Chazz Palminteri

Photo Credit: Savoy Pictures
April 25th, 2013

MOTW: Struggles Lead to Success for Chazz Palminteri

-- Most well known to fans as Chazz, actor and writer Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri was born on May 15, 1946, in the Bronx. Being a grandson of Sicilian immigrants, young Chazz led a difficult life. As a youngster growing up in the Bronx, Chazz learned many of the life lessons that later served him well in life. After graduating from Theodore Roosevelt High School, he began pursuing an acting career. In order to hone his craft, he studied at the Actor's Studio. Finding it difficult to break into acting, he supplemented his income by working as a bouncer at local nightclubs. During the early 1980s, Chazz appeared in a number of off-Broadway productions.

By 1986, he had decided to try his luck out West. Upon his arrival, he found he was particularly qualified for tough-talker roles. During this time, he landed parts as hard-nosed cops and slick attorneys in television shows such as "Matlock," "Wiseguy," and "Hill Street Blues." Among his first film roles was the part of a gangster in the Sylvester Stallone film "Oscar."

It was not until 1988 that Chazz received what became his big break when his one-man show "A Bronx Tale" premiered. He had originally penned the production after he was fired from a club when he refused to let a well-known agent enter. "A Bronx Tale" was directed by Jerry Zaksand and ran for eighteen weeks. Among the most impressive elements of this one-man show is the fact that Palminteri portrays the role of eighteen different characters. Actor Robert De Niro came to see the show when it ran at Playhouse 91.

De Niro, desiring an opportunity to make his directorial debut, saw ample potential in this project. After developing the concept into a big-screen version, De Niro co-starred in the film with Palminteri. For his part, Chazz portrayed the role of the gangster Sonny. When the film first premiered, although Chazz was still relatively unknown, he had refused to sell the rights to his production unless he was able to write the screen version and appear in the film. De Niro supported him fully. When the film version was released in 1993, it received strong reviews. In both the film and the play, Palminteri is depicted as having personally witnessed a murder as a child.

Palminteri went on to land a number of performances in dramatic films such as "Jade," "The Perez Family," and "Diabolique." Displaying the breadth of his talent, Chazz also appeared in comedic films including "Analyze This" and "Down to Earth."

Although Palminteri is often most well known for his performances in "The Usual Suspects" and "A Bronx Tale," he also made an appearance in a number of commercial advertisements, including one in which he portrays the role of a mob boss. Palminteri has also developed a career as a voice actor, lending his voice in a number of animated films, including "Hoodwinked." In 1994, Chazz received an Oscar nomination for his work in the Woody Allen film "Bullets Over Broadway." He portrayed the role of the hit man Runyonesque in the movie.

In 2004, Palminteri was given an "Indie Hero Award" for his achievements in film. The award was presented by the Method Fest Independent Film Festival. Palminteri's most recent appearances have included performances in "Running Scared" and "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints."

Palminteri has also made cameos on television, including a guest-starring role on the hit sitcom "Modern Family." He reprised his role on a subsequent episode one year later, in 2011. In the summer of 2010, Chazz also began to make regular appearances on the popular crime series "Rizzoli & Isles." In the series, Palminteri portrays the role of Frank Rizzoli, Sr.

While Palminteri has shown an interest in a wide array of performing arts, he has also made it clear that he is interested in other pursuits as well. In 2011, he opened his own restaurant in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore. The restaurant, Chazz: A Bronx Original, specializes in Italian food and coal-fired pizza.

Today, Palminteri makes his home in Bedford, New York. He has stated that he is a very devout Roman Catholic and is married to Gianna Ranaudo, an actress. The couple has two children. Their son Dante Lorezno was born in 1995. Daughter Gabriella Rose was born in 2001. A spirited New York Yankees fan, Chazz frequently calls in on a popular sports radio station.

Palminteri is next slated to appear in "Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father." He will portray the role of Paul Castellano.