Appearing in all three of Martin Scorsese's masterpieces - RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS and CASINO - would surely suffice, at least for the artistic quotient of any resume, yet the suave and commanding presence of Frank Vincent as Tony Soprano's arch-nemesis Phil Leotardo on HBO's THE SOPRANOS may very well be his most beloved role to date. Yet, how to even choose? In addition to those four simply masterful entities, Mr. Vincent has also appeared in films for a wide array of highly notable directors, including: Spike Lee on DO THE RIGHT THING and JUNGLE FEVER; Brian DePalma on WISE GUYS; James Mangold on COP LAND; and the recently deceased Sidney Lumet on the 1996 crime thriller NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN. In addition to a thorough discussion of his past roles, new and old - plus, what it was like to act as acting coach to Nas, Method Man and DMX on Hype Williams's BELLY - we also get down to brass nuts and bolts about his riveting new crime thriller, Beverly Ridge Pictures' CHICAGO OVERCOAT, available this week for purchase, download and rental on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and more. Further information about CHICAGO OVERCOAT can be found at BeverlyRidgePictures.com. In CHICAGO OVERCOAT, co-starring Stacy Keach, Armand Assante, Kathrine Narducci, Mike Starr and THE DARK KNIGHT'S Danny Goldring in a pivotal role, Mr. Vincent portrays perhaps his most rich and complex character to date and his powerful performance is something to cherish, cheer - and, surely, cower at; in fear. Filmed entirely on location all over Chicago, the film is a perfect capsule of a gritty and tough world where nothing and no one is quite how he - or she - seems. OVERCOAT contains the role of a lifetime and Mr. Vincent wrings every last bead of sweat, tear and drop of blood out of the deeply affecting story by newcomers John W. Bosher and Brian Cauntner. After all, who does badass boss better than Mr. Vincent? As it turns out, he's also a hell of a nice guy, to boot! Now, to quote Billy Batts in GOODFELLAS, "Go home and get your shine box!" but, first, enjoy his colorful comments on CHICAGO OVERCOAT and much, much more!
Spit, Polish & Shine
PC: So many of your films take place in the Big Apple, so how do you compare it to Chicago where your new film CHICAGO OVERCOAT is set? Who's tougher? Who's dirtier? Who's realer?
FV: Well, actually, I found Chicago to be very delightful. I was never there before I did this project and it was a real delight to be there. The people have a different point of view than the New Yorkers - the New Yorkers are a little tougher and a little grimier, I think; and, Chicago - because of that Midwestern influence - isn't as much [like that]. The restaurants are great. We had great weather when we were there and we really had a good time in Chicago.
PC: How did you get involved with CHICAGO OVERCOAT? How did you first experience the script?
FV: It was a simple process. It was sent to my agent - they got my representation from IMDB - and they sent the script. They sent it to me, and I read it and loved it, and we wrote back to them and we got in touch with them and we made a deal - and, that's how it was done. That's what we did.
PC: Was all the voiceover narration written into the script?
FV: No. That was put in after. The voice-over stuff was put in after we shot the whole movie.
PC: That really made the movie all click, to me - some truly great lines, especially the last one!
FV: Yup! Yup.
PC: Tell me about re-teaming with Kathrine Narducci, your SOPRANOS co-star.
FV: Well, Kathy and I knew each other. We knew each other from THE SOPRANOS and, also, we had done a movie called COP LAND together. And, she's a New Yorker and I'm a New Yorker so our paths have crossed quite a few times. So, it was a thrill to have her as my love interest because we really loved each other and we're very much the same person from the same place, so the chemistry was good.
PC: What about the great Stacy Keach?
FV: I actually didn't get to see Stacy. He worked on the film, but I didn't get a chance to workwith him. Of course, he's recognizable as one of the greats.
PC: And Armand Assante?
FV: And Armand, of course! Armand and I did a couple of movies together - we did GOTTI together. We had a chance to work together again here.
PC: Mike Starr?
FV: Mike Starr - we've done a couple of movies together. It was pretty good working with all these people you are familiar with and know you have chemistry with - that's what made the movie work, also.
PC: How crazy is it to see Phil Leotardo and Charmain Bucco together?!
FV: (Laughs.) Right, right, right - that's exactly right!
PC: In that Uma/PULP FICTION black bob wig, as well!
FV: Yeah, she had to change her look a little bit! She played more of a siren role in this. She was great! Kathy's a great girl and I love her.
PC: You two really flesh out the whole twenty-five-year relationship in those few scant scenes - which is very hard to do; to create a whole sub-textual back-story.
FV: You are exactly right. But, it was written well and we moved into our roles well, I thought, so it clicked together.
PC: It's a very precise and exact screenplay - and they're so young, the guys who made it.
FV: They are great, great, young, talented kids and they've got a great future. That's one of the interesting things - when I got to the first location to shoot, and I looked around and saw all twenty-five-year-old kids, I said, "Wow! What's this gonna be?" I thought it was gonna be a problem - but it was no problem whatsoever. They're all very professional and very talented. We worked well together on the movie and it was fun doing it.
PC: I hope the film gets a high profile because it deserves it.
FV: Thanks. I think it turned out really good. I'm very happy with it.
PC: Moving to your past film work, tell me about working with Martin Scorsese on RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS and CASINO.
FV: Marty's a detail-oriented director - and very much so. He's very conscious of what everything looks like, obviously, aside from being able to tell the story cinematically - he'll change a picture on the wall; he'll change your wardrobe on the set, you know, "Please change this guy's tie," or, "That extra in the back there - I don't like the shoes he's wearing." So, again, he's very, very detail-oriented.
PC: What's the atmosphere like on one of his sets? What's he like one-on-one working on shooting a scene with you?
FV: You come to the set; you come to rehearsal, and you look at where the shot's going to be, from the angle of the camera - then, we talk about it. He says, "What do you think if we did this? What do you think if we do that?" Or, I make a suggestion - or somebody else makes a suggestion. And, he's very wide open to anything you want to do. He's a very, very brilliant, talented man. I am very thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with him so many times.
PC: Steve Buscemi was telling me about working with Scorsese on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and, also, working with you on THE SOPRANOS, when he did this column recently - would you consider joining him and Scorsese on BOARDWALK in the future? It seems destined to be!
FV: Oh, in a minute! Terry Winter - who's the head writer - is a dear friend of mine. He wrote on THE SOPRANOS. And, Steve directed me in an episode of THE SOPRANOS.
PC: He said he quite enjoyed working with you.
FV: Yeah. He's a great guy. We worked together as opposing guys on the show, though. He played the cousin who just got out of jail and I played the thorn in Tony's side.
PC: The best TV villain of the 21st century!
FV: (Laughs.) There's a scene Steve and I have together in the car, when I have the brace on my neck and Steve says, "The seat doesn't work," and I said, "How could it work if it's awry?" The writing on THE SOPRANOS - next to nothing better than that. It was brilliant writing and brilliant moviemaking.
PC: It's Shakespeare, thematically.
PC: And in its implications.
PC: Look how prescient it was, as well - looking back now.
FV: David Chase is a genius. Interesting story: Chase and I went to the opening of JERSEY BOYS. We got invited to the opening and we came out of the theater and it was raining. And, I had a limo and in the limo I had my friend, Dr. Dan Conti, and his son and myself. David said, "Frank, I need a ride!" So, I said, "Get in the car with us, then!" So, he got in the car with us and we went to the opening night party. Consequently, we invited him and Terry [Winter] and their wives to Dr. Dan's restaurant - called GOODFELLOWS - and Dr. Dan wound up on the show.
PC: No way! Who did he play?
FV: When I came back - when Phil came back from Florida, Johnny Sack was dying and he was trying to get control of the family. He's the character we end up shooting outside the whorehouse.
PC: Classic scene.
FV: Yeah! That was Dr. Dan Conti! And, during our conversations at that dinner, we talked about my wife - who was Ukrainian - and, as I said, Terry was there, too - and they made my girlfriend on the show a Ukrainian girl. If you remember, they kill the father and they kill the daughter.
PC: In the last season.
FV: Yeah! That's how observant David and Terry were! When I said that - and my wife was present - I saw them look at each other and, right away, you know, there was a twinkle in their eye!
PC: The spark of inspiration!
FV: They take reality and bring it into the project - and that's also what makes it so warm and cozy.
PC: Plus, being at JERSEY BOYS opening night! Oh, whatta night!
FV: (Laughs.) Right! Right.
PC: Are you involved in David Chase's new project with James Gandolfini? They have begun casting it.
FV: I have heard that he is doing a movie thing, so my antennas are all up. My people have been in touch with the casting people. There's got to be something right, though. David didn't use me for the first three years of the show, but, he knew that all the while he was going to do Phil Leotardo. He knew that the whole time. And, when the time came, he brought me in and that's how it worked.
PC: You and Steve Buscemi's characters on the show are the most important antagonists of the series.
PC: You guys gave Tony Soprano his complex!
FV: That's true! (Big Laugh.) That's really true.
PC: Do you consider Phil Leotardo one of the great villains?
FV: I would say that Phil was, yeah. He didn't fool around. Phil was serious. He had a job to do and he thought, you know, "This Soprano guy is from Jersey, what does that mean? We are New Yorkers! The Jersey mob is nothing - they don't even prick their fingers when they do the ceremony." Some of the writing for Phil was just brilliant.
PC: That line you just quoted is in the very last episode.
FV: Right! You know your stuff! (Laughs.)
PC: Tell me about how they filmed your big death scene where your head is crushed by the car. It was so well done - it really looked like you.
FV: Well, they made about five or six dummies and they made about ten heads. I had to go in to the effects people and they made the heads. In fact, I have one of the heads and my daughter has one of the heads - she puts it in her window for Halloween!
PC: That's hilarious.
FV: (Laughs.) Yeah, it looks exactly like you. I mean, he does the eyes and matches your hair color and everything. So, we sat in plastic for a few hours and they did it.
PC: What about the stunt to crush your head?
FV: What they do is they chain the vehicle to only go so far. Then, I have to lay down under it for the first shot. Then, after I get up, they put the dummy with my fake head on it. Then, the car goes over the dummy. It was very interesting to do.
PC: Was it difficult to film?
FV: Well, there were three little babies that were part of this little trio that played the two babiesin the back seat. So, the first take that I did when we were shooting it, I said, "Say ‘Bye Bye' to grandpa! Say ‘Bye Bye' to grandpa!" And, David says, "Cut!" And, I said, "David, what's the matter?" and, he said, "Frank, they're two years old! They can't talk. Just tell them to wave to pop-pop." (Laughs.)
PC: Stick to the script, right?
FV: Yeah, so I had to say, "Wave bye-bye to pop pop!" Then, when I get out of the car I get shot and fall down and the car rolls over me and whatever. But, the reactions from the other people is what made it all work for me - one person actually upchucks, you know. Then, there's another person who goes, "Oh, my God! Look what's going on!" So, that's the genius of Chase, you know?
PC: The location of your death - the gas station - is a very important place in the show. That's where Christopher imagined his life if Adriana had lived and not ratted on him.
FV: Right. Right.
PC: Throughout the series, it's referenced, and you have the last scene at the gas station.
FV: Right. That's true. Another thing I want to note is that they always referenced me as "the Shah of Iran" - you know, the guy with the grey hair; they always talked about my head. Tony made some remarks and somebody else made a remark, "Yeah, he looks like the Shah of Iran!" And, interesting - that's how they killed me; they crushed my head.
PC: Wow! I never noticed that.
FV: Yeah. Chase is brilliant.
PC: Speaking of heads: tell me about your bobble-head doll on your website based on your GOODFELLAS character.
FV: Well, Billy Batts is a famous guy...
PC: Of course.
FV: And, wherever I go, everybody says to me, "Go home and get your shine box!"
PC: That's your classic catch phrase!
FV: Yeah, so, that's why I did what I did on my website - FrankVincent.com - I have T-shirts and mugs and different things. I had this Mob-ble-head made - and, it's called a Mob-ble-head, as opposed to a bobble-head - and, it talks.
PC: What does it say?
FV: It says, "Go home and get your shine box!", "Give those Irish hoodlums a drink!" and "Nobody's breakin' up my party!" Those are the three lines from GOODFELLAS that Billy Batts says. We sell them on my website - and people buy them. It's amazing. And, it's a cute little gimmick - we're having fun with it.
PC: The internet is vital to a career and staying current.
FV: It's amazing, isn't it? These movies are twenty-five, thirty years old - they're older than you!
PC: The three Scorsese films are among the most popular movies of my generation, as you well know.
FV: Right. Right. They are great works of art - and, you know, the interesting thing to me about the trilogy with Marty is that they are all true stories; as opposed to THE GODFATHER trilogy, which is based on fiction. I'm not saying THE GODFATHER trilogy was bad - because it was brilliant - but, that was fiction. It was based on reality. But, these three stories of Scorsese's are true stories.
PC: And Nicholas Pileggi's, as well, in two cases.
FV: That's right. I'll tell you a funny story. When I was in Chicago doing CHICAGO OVERCOAT, and I went into a little restaurant that this little old lady owned and she said to me, "How could you do that to those people? How could you put them in a hole and bury them alive? I knew their wives - they were wonderful people!" She actually thought that I was, you know, the person who did that - when we bury them alive in CASINO. So, these are Chicago people that really believe that story and that I was the guy that did it in real life.
PC: Those movies are quite realistic, so it's not totally surprising to hear that. What do you think of those films being on TV all the time in that highly edited and censored form?
FV: Well, I think it's good that they are out there. I am a little upset that they are cut up - it's like THE SOPRANOS, on the reruns we had to go back and loop all the bad language. And, the girls that were dancing in the go-go bars, they had to shoot them with clothes on more so than the topless for the reruns. But, at least they're all out there and if someone really wants to see it in its real form they rent it or get the DVD or Blu-ray or whatever and then they see the reality of it. I think it loses a little bit in the translation.
PC: What do you think about SOPRANOS censorship, personally?
FV: I'll tell you, a lot of people are offended by the language. I've had real, real mob guys come up to me and, you know, they say, (Thick Accent.) "How coulds yous talk like that?" And, these guys have notches on their guns! (Laughs.)
PC: That's so funny - and so scary!
FV: (Laughs.) It's funny. (Pause.) It's ironic, too. People are funny in the way that they choose to express themselves.
PC: Maybe it cuts too close to the core for a lot of people.
FV: Sure. Absolutely.
PC: Moving to your non-Scorsese/SOPRANOS films: tell me about working with Spike Lee on DO THE RIGHT THING and JUNGLE FEVER.
FV: Spike Lee. My wife's good friend was dating a black fellow who I met socially - nice fellow and all that - and, I get a phone call from Spike Lee. I mean, I picked up my phone, I said, "This is Frank Vincent," he said, "This is Spike Lee." I said, "OK. Who are you?", he said, "I'm a director." I said, "Are you Chinese?" - because, Lee sounds like a Chinese name - and, he said, "No, I'm black." I said, "Are you making a black movie?" and, he said, "No. I'm making a regular movie." And, I said, "Oh. OK."
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|