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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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It's hard to imagine that Joe Pantoliano has been a working actor for over 20 years. The scene-stealing star of Bound, first appeared as an assassin in Francis Coppola's The Godfather, Part 2, "but they originally cut the scene out of the movie. Only when the trilogy was re-edited, was I back in, - so that was cool." Paul Fischer caught up with him in Sydney.

He's in Sydney for close to six months shooting the extravagant sci-fi thriller Matrix, and while hes enjoying it, he says he's looking forward to finishing up. "It's such a long way to come to make a movie. If I have any time off, I can't just sit in a plane and go home. It's hard. I have a lot of down-time on this movie."

"I tried to be as funny and spontaneous as I could." on US Marshals

Equally, he had a lot of down-time on U.S. Marshals, the big-budget sequel to The Fugitive, on which he reprises his role as Deputy Marshal Cosmo Renfro. He admits that his decision to do the high-profile studio pic was a conscious one. "You do one or two of these big studio movies a year, and you can afford to try and do smaller pictures. It's the nature of the business." In U.S. Marshals, Pantoliano admits that most of the bantering between himself and star Tommy Lee Jones was unscripted. "I don't really have a lot to do in this movie, so I tried to be as funny and spontaneous as I could. Tommy kinda gets my sense of humour so we make a great team."

His head shaven for his role in Matrix, Pantoliano, who has appeared in some 60 films and T.V. shows, has come a long way since growing up on welfare in a public housing project in Hoboken, New Jersey. Living there, no wonder he assumed a fantasy life and dreamed of movie stardom. "What else is a guy gonna do there?" Pantoliano, describes his parents as "bohemian". They separated when he was 12 years old - his father was a hearse driver with mob ties and his mother was a bookie. Reading at a third grade level at age 17, Pantoliano decided that acting was a way out of a life that seemed to be leading to criminal behaviour. In fact, the reason he wanted to be an actor was "because I didn't like being broke." Not that you can make a fortune trying to survive as an actor. "I was stupid then, what can I tell ya? I should have been an agent", he says laughingly. "I figured the only chance I've got to escape that life, was to be an actor like Frank Sinatra, make a shit-load of money and meet lots of girls."

"As long as I was making a living, I didn't care about recognition."

Because of his limited comprehension skills, he had to memorise his scenes for auditions, but it paid off as his literacy and confidence increased. Pantoliano moved to Manhattan where he waited on tables, took acting lessons and built up stage credits. In 1976 he moved to L.A where he found work in TV sitcoms. He gained attention with his performance in the TV miniseries version of "From Here to Eternity" (1979) as Angelo Maggio, the role played by fellow Hoboken native Frank Sinatra in the 1953 film. "I later heard, via Frank's lawyer, that he liked my work in that. That was a great compliment." Pantoliano first registered in features as the comic yet threatening Guido 'The Killer Pimp' in "Risky Business" (1983). He went on to regular work in film and TV in strong supporting roles: the ruthless anti-Communist attorney Roy Cohn in the miniseries "Robert Kennedy and His Times" (1987); a bumbling criminal outwitted by kids in both "The Goonies" (1985) and "Baby's Day Out" (1994); John Malkovich's long-suffering sidekick in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" (1987); and the slippery bail bondsman in "Midnight Run" (1988). Playing a more laudable character than usual, Pantoliano took part in a critical and commercial hit as Cosmo, one of Tommy Lee Jones's marshals, in of course the original blockbuster hit, "The Fugitive" (1993). Also in 1996, he played a frightening money launderer for the mob in the feature "Bound" opposite Jennifer Tilly, who played his mistress. That film virtually redefined his career, though he regrets "that the publicity and marketing focuses on the girls. They missed a great opportunity there."

"It's the role that counts."

Looking at the youthful actor, it's surprising that he has appeared in so many films. "Yeah, and that's the good news." It's taken the actor over two decades to achieve the recognition paramount to continued success. On that score, Pantoliano is philosophical. "As long as I was making a living, I didn't care about recognition. The numbers have gotten larger as I've gotten older, and as long as I made those numbers, I was happy."

These days, Pantoliano is as comfortable as a character actor or a leading man, but denies that he has been pigeon-holed in the former. "I think that depends on the role: I can do either." From supporting roles in US Marshals and Matrix to lead role in the upcoming Independent film The Tax Man, opposite Elizabeth Berkeley, Pantoliano says: "I get to have the best of both worlds; it's the role that counts." Following his stint on Matrix, Pantoliano returns to Los Angeles where he may work on a TV sitcom "and there are other movies in the works."

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