Unless you’ve spent the past 2 1/2 decades avoiding television and cinema at all costs, it’s all but impossible to say Nick Turturro has never crossed your ocular path.
I could list every project the native New Yorker has worked on, but that would take up about 17 pages. So I’ll just list a few: “NYPD Blue,” “Jungle Fever,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Touched by an Angel,” “Malcolm X,” “Freefall: Flight 174,” “The Longest Yard.” Even if you don’t recognize Nick by name, you’d certainly know his voice, his laugh, his face, his mannerisms (you’d also know his brother, John Turturro).
Anyhow, today Nick joins the Quaz ranks by answering myriad questions about Hollywood, Spike, stewardess wives and the 986,543 Yankee games he’s somehow attended.
Nick Turturro, fuck the Oscars. You’re Quaz No. 293.
JEFF PEARLMAN: Nick, you seem like a guy who gets quirky and weird, which A. Makes you a perfect Quaz; B. Allows me to lead with this question: In 2000 you played Detective Tony Nenonen in the straight-to-video film, “Hellraiser: Inferno.” And I want to ask two things about this: A. Having been in many truly great films and TV shows, do you approach something like “Hellraiser: Inferno” with the same intensity, determination, doggedness as, say, “Mo’ Better Blues” or “Malcom X”? And, B. does a film going straight to video hurt? Sting? Or not particularly matter?
NICK TURTURRO: As far playing a role like Tony Nenonen in “Helllraiser,” I approached it with my best effort. But I would be lying if I told you that it has the same juice as other movies I did. For example, films like “Jungle Fever” or the independent gem “Federal Hill” or early “NYPD Blue,” which was a game-changer, I mean, I try to never phone it in, because you never know who’s watching. I mean, it’s who you’re working with—the script, the director or maybe an actor you have great chemistry with. I can’t explain it fully. Sometimes you can have something special with someone, sort of like I had with David Caruso.
J.P.: Spike Lee is my all-time favorite, which—by extension and practice—makes you one of my all-time favorites. So how did your relationship with Spike begin? What is he like to work for? What do you think he sees and grasps and understands that many in the business do not?
N.T.: Well, Spike Lee gave me my chance in showbiz and jump started the whole dream for me. He had a really good idea for raw talent and encouraged a lot young talented actors—like Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence, Sam Jackson—to pursue this. I think what he saw in people was the passion of young performers. He was very quick to encourage you and to let you improvise. He gave you time to rehearse and even let you watch dailies—which was very exciting and unheard-of in the business. I was discovered by him to do voice-overs for “Do the Right Thing”—he made me scream racist comments for, like, two or three hours and the next thing I know he was so impressed with my energy that he hired to be in “Mo Better Blues” with my brother when I was still a doorman at the St. Moritz, a New York City hotel on Park Avenue. It was a very exciting time.
J.P.: You’re like a Manning, only in acting. Your brother John has had this amazing career, you’ve had this amazing career, your brother Ralph is an actor your cousin Aida is an actress. How did this happen? Is there any level of coincidence? Is it something in the blood?
N.T.: As far my family, my brother John was a great mentor and was also a very cerebral guy. I, on the other hand, was probably more of a natural at things. We came from a family that wasn’t in show business, but was filled with bigger-than-life characters. My father and my uncles were so naturally charismatic. Watching them was like watching love theater, and that was probably the best training I ever had. You had to see these people in action. They were intense, volatile, funny and, at times, scary. I mean, my father was like my best friend, but on the construction job site he was a fanatic.
Anyhow, you had these Turturros in action, and they were funny as hell. I think that spurred artistic creativity in all of us.
J.P.: You’re almost 54. For women, acting gigs become harder and harder to land with age. But what about men? Do you find it more difficult to navigate, manage, excel as you get older? Do parts at all dry up, or do they just change? And how does aging change your skill set as an actor?
N.T.: I would certainly agree that as you get older it becomes harder. The parts just become more limiting, and—unless you’ve had a career like John, where you’re so versatile–you get typecast. I think it’s even more difficult for women. I believe, in this business, you need to reinvent yourself at times. The business doesn’t always care about your body of work or what you’ve done. Because it’s all about being young and pretty. That aggravates me.
J.P.: I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but as a New Yorker I was sorta conflicted when a couple of 9.11-related movies came out in the years following the attack. You were in one of them, “World Trade Center,” in 2006. You’re also a New Yorker. Were there any conflicts? Emotions? Did you debate whether to do it? And were you OK with the finished product?
N.T.: The World Trade movie was a very weird experience for me as New Yorker. I had been down by the Jersey Shore when it happened and I was supposed to fly back that week. It was probably the most the surreal thing I ever felt—being there on my home soil.
That movie was a strange experience. My mother had passed away and Oliver Stone was a bit of a bully as a director. I just didn’t feel like it was authentic enough to me and I guess you can’t just recreate something that horrific. Which, again, I lived through. It was a really strange time. I remember driving cross country and some crazy lady in Walmart thought me and my wife’s cousin were terrorists.
J.P.: I consider “Jungle Fever” to be one of the great underrated films of the past 30 years. What do you remember from the experience? How did you land it? What was it like? Is it at all offputting or difficult playing a character who, in real life, you’d abhor?
N.T.: “Jungle Fever” was a role that really convinced me I could do this acting thing for a living. Why? Because I was so hungry and focused, even my brother John was impressed. When I look back at some of those days I actually wonder how I was able to do that, and question where, exactly, was my frame of mind. It’s fascinating—and really hard—to get that edge back.
J.P.: Totally random, weird and dated question, but you were a longtime cast member of the amazing, “NYPD Blue.” I remember when Jimmy Smits left and Rick Schroeder arrived, and it was this HUGE thing in public. Like, can the show last? Will it survive? Did you feel that, too? Was it an easy transition? As an actor, does it even matter? Like, do you just show up and work, co-workers be damned?
N.T.: When Jimmy Smits died on “NYPD Blue” it was very emotional because with TV series you spend years together and become like a family. You spend way more time together than when you work on a movie. And Jimmy was great quiet leader who I loved. He gave me some amazing advice. He was a very sweet man; a very giving man. I have nothing bad to say about Rock Schroeder. He was a great guy and we actually liked each other. But the dynamics for the show started to change. The show was, to me, never the same after Jimmy was done.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
N.T.: The greatest moment of my career was when I was nominated for an Emmy after the first season of “NYPD Blue.” I was so shocked and excited—my mother called and told me, “Nicholas, you were nominated for an Emmy!” I went to ger house in the Rosedale section of Queens, and Entertainment Tonight came on. It was amazing.
The lowest? I wrote a pilot for CBS that was called “Nicky Life.” This was after “NYPD Blue” and I co-wrote it. Vic Levin gave me a chance to write the pilot. They picked it up to shoot, but the process was so stressful and draining; it got watered down, and in the end they said it was “cute.” That’s a bad word. I wound up physically ill with pneumonia, and I also suffered major depression. That entire experience really spoke to the highs and lows of show business.
J.P.: Have you ever had to promote a film that you know, deep down, sucks? And what does that feel like? Is it just an accepted part of the gig?
N.T.: I mean, I won’t name them but I have been in few stinkers. I still worked hard on them, but they were disasters for various reasons. It usually comes down to material. No matter how hard you try to save the project, you can’t. It’s a helpless feeling. But, in the long run, you learn from the bas movies, just as you learn from the new. It’s incredibly hard to move a movie—even a bad one.
J.P.: You’re in the process of writing a book about your 40 years as a die-hard baseball fan. Where does that love come from? Why baseball? And who are you all-time favorite players, teams? Favorite moments?
N.T.: Baseball is a huge part of my life, and has been since 1973 when I stepped into the original Yankee Stadium when I was a member of the Boys Scout of America. Something just came over me, like a guy’s first make-out kiss. I can’t explain it—the smell, the aura. It was just incredible. I knew very little about the Yankees or the game, but I became a student of baseball. I just fell in love, and I don’t think people understand how baseball resonates with history. They don’t get the history, the romanticism, the drama. The moments aren’t temporary pieces of time. They last for life.
Obviously, I’m a true diehard Yankee fan. I’ve paid much more attention to the team than the average spectator. My investment had taken a lot out of me, but I’ve loved every minute.
As for great games … in 1976 I was at ALCS Game 5 between the Yankees and Royals. That’s when Chris Chambliss hit the home run. I was one of the fans who ran onto the field, ripped out the Yankee Stadium grass and planted it in my mother’s backyard. A year later I was at the stadium when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs against the Dodgers in the World Series, and in 1978 I attended the game when Graig Nettles robbed the Dodgers of, like, five runs. I was there for Bucky Dent’s home run at Fenway, and Game 4 in 1978 when Reggie stuck out his ass to block the ball. In 1981, I watched the Game 5 divisional game against Milwaukee, when Reggie and Oscar Gamble went deep off Moose Haas. And, of course, the 1996 World Series clincher vs. the Braves. It was surreal. They brought me into the locker room. Amazing.
I can go on and on. I was in Oakland for the Derek Jeter flip game …
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NICK TURTURRO:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Art Howe, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, gingerbread houses, Los Angeles Rams helmets, “The Drew Carey Show,” almond milk, Kansas City, Joe Pepitone, R. Kelly’s music, Christmas morning, the number 876: Joe Pepitone, Christmas morning, Rams helmets, Art Howe, Kansas City, Drew Carey, Mark Paul Gosselaar, almond milk, R. Kelly’s music, gingerbread houses, 876.
• You met your wife Lissa on a plane. What happened?: It was 1994, on a Continental Airlines flight from Newark to LA. She was really something to look at. I was taken by her immediately, and not just because she was a pretty flight attendance in first class. As the flight progressed she was serving me, and she was nice and classy in a very erotic way. And I noticed other males were giving her attention as the flight was nearing the end. I got up yo ho to the galley where the girls hung out and I introduced myself. I felt an immediate connection. I didn’t know where it would lead. She was going to give me a company number at first, but I convinced her to give me to number to her crash pad. We had a date on Memorial Day in 1994 when she told me she would be in LA. I took her to the Fox lot but it was closed. I got on with a pass and we sat on a bench in front of the old commissary. It felt very romantic, and I dropped her off like a gentleman and went to a baseball game at Dodger Stadium. I called to tell her I really liked her, and she said she really liked me, too. It was exciting for me—a different feeling that I’d ever had before.
• The world needs to know: What was it like working with Vincent Ventresca in “Purgatory Flats”?: “Purgatory Flats” is kind of an underrated movie that nobody knows. There’s some good acting in it and there was a blonde girl. I can’t remember her. But she was very interesting. And, of course, Brian Austin Green was a dark, cool guy.
• Ten all-time greatest sports uniforms?: New York Yankee pinstripes; Brooklyn Dodgers; New York Giants’ Polo Grounds uniforms; Oakland A’s swingin’ A’s unis; the Pittsburgh Pirates 1971 Roberto Clemente unis; the old-school 1973 New York Knicks uniforms; Lakers and Celtics; the old-school New York football Giants and the Joe Namath Jets; the Frank Tarkenton Viking uniforms; the Bruins, Rangers, Blackhawks—so many cool ones it’s impossible to name them all.
• One question you would ask Tommy Herr were he here right now?: Why did you play for the New York Mets?
• What’s the athletic scouting report on Nick Turturro?: Line drive hitter who hits the ball up the middle with occasional pop; good speed and knows how to take the extra base; good outfielder with a non arm reminiscent of the the great Roy White; a clutch smart hitter who knows how to work the count.
• What happens when we die?: I believe and hope there is something higher than us. Otherwise, what’s the point of this life?
• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $50 million to move to Las Vegas and work as her private acting coach for a year. The conditions: For 365 days she gets to call you “Shit Boy No. 28” and you have to have your left arm glued to a hunk of very large cheddar cheese. You in?: Fuck it! I am in, baby!
• What did your childhood home smell like?: The house smelled pretty good. We weren’t a smelly family and we made good food.