Chet Cooper met up with Joe Pantoliano, aka Joey Pants, at a Belgian
restaurant in New York City recently. The popular character actor has
appeared in such films as Risky Business, The Fugitive
and The Matrix. His skill at playing scumbag mobster Ralph Cifaretto
on the hit HBO series The Sopranos won him a 2003 Emmy Award.
And he garnered sparkling reviews on Broadway opposite Rosie Perez in
Terrence McNallys Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.
Pantoliano is the author of two memoirs: Whos Sorry Now: The
True Story of a Stand-Up Guy and Asylum: Hollywood Tales
From My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery and Being
My Mothers Son. In the latter, he writes about his addictions
to alcohol, food, sex, Vicodin and Percocet, before being diagnosed
with clinical depression. To disarm the stigmas around mental health,
the actor started the organization No Kidding, Me Too!, whose title
comes from the response hes heard all too often after divulging
how mental illness affected him and his family. Hes also shot
a documentary called No
Kidding, Me Too!.
Chet Cooper: Lately youve been focused on your upcoming reading
of the play Moolah, with Mario Cantone from Sex and the City.
Joe Pantoliano: Thats right.
Cooper: So when youre performing the play on Broadway, will you
stop taking movie and TV roles?
Pantoliano: There are a couple of movies that Ive been offered
lately that Im considering, because the play is something were
still trying to set up. The point of the reading is to get it financed.
Cooper: People in the audience will be
Pantoliano: backers. So thats still in process, and in the
meantime there are a number of options floating around. I just met the
consul general of South Africa. They want to get more involved in filmmaking.
He was talking to me about going out there
perhaps setting something
up with them and even teaching at their university, doing a two-week
course on acting and the art of filmmaking. Im currently a visiting
professor at Penn State and do a couple of programs over at Wesleyan
University. I enjoy that.
Cooper: I thought you might be at New York University, because you pass
through there all the time.
Pantoliano: Ive been going to a writing class there with Boris
Frumin, who is a professor at the film school. Its really cool.
I never went to college, so now Im going at 60 years old.
Cooper: And teaching, too. I imagine that must be kind of fun for you.
Pantoliano: Its fun to mix it up. Acting, writing, shooting something
here or there. Did you ever see the Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
we made with Harrison Ford?
Cooper: I dont think so.
Pantoliano: Let me show them to you.
Cooper: Was this for your No Kidding, Me Too! campaign? How is that
Pantoliano: We could use more help with financing.
Cooper: That sounds like most nonprofits.
Pantoliano: Its hard. I dont want to be running around raising
money. Either Im raising money or Im acting. Were
going to do a party/fundraiser so we can make more PSAs. I want to show
you the 30-second and the 60-second versions. Do you have earplugs?
Cooper: You mean earphones?
Pantoliano: Earplugs: You put them in and they plug you up.
(Cooper puts them in; Pantoliano plays the PSAs)
Cooper: Thats really good.
Pantoliano: Keep them in. I want to show you something else. This is
a cartoon based on a story from my first book. Theres also a lot
of No Kidding, Me Too! stuff on our Facebook page.
Cooper: You were telling me a story about being at Carolines comedy
Pantoliano: Right, and its 8 oclock and were watching
the results of the Bush-Gore election. The results have come in, and
Peter Jennings comes on and says, And Florida goes to Al Gore.
It looks as if, with Florida, Gore will be our next president. Everybodys
screaming, you know. And then, about a half hour later, it seems theyve
made a mistake. They take Florida back from Gore. I go from the water
I was drinking to double martinis. A short time later, Im feeling
no pain, and my wife sees the writing on the wall. She says, OK,
Im going home. By then my friend Tony and his wife have
shown up, because I called them up and said, Why dont you
come to this thing? Tony was in a sweat suit with a long raincoat;
he hadnt shaved, and he looked like Columbo on his day off.
We hear that Harvey Weinstein, my publisher, is having a party at Elaines
for Hillary Clinton, because shes won her race to become the next
senator from New York. So we say, Lets go to that.
And Im with Rosanna DeSoto, who played Ritchie Valenss mother
in La Bamba, and was visiting from California. Tony had his wife. And
with four of us I figured, Were not going to get in because
of the Secret Service
And Tony says, Lets give
it a try? And I say, No. But we walk over there anyway,
and Tony is right: They let us in.
The place is packed. Theyve got a tent on Second Avenue. Ive
never seen anything like it. Theres no place to sit, except for
this big table for eight thats completely empty. I say, Lets
grab that before somebody else does. We sit down. Theres
three of us on a table for eight. I got a cigar Ive been smoking
all night. Its about this big, and I havent lit it in a
while. Im just chewing on it. At that point Im so toasted
Im not even drinking, because I know Ive got to go to work
the next morning. Ive got a 6 a.m. call with The Sopranos.
So Im sitting there, and this one girl comes over and she goes,
Im sorry, folks, you cant sit here. This is reserved
for the president and Senator-elect Clinton. I said, I figured
as much. Ill tell you what: As soon as we hear Hail to the
Chief, well get up. She said, No, you cant.
You have to leave. I said, But hes not here. Theres
no place to sit. But hes coming, she assures
me. Well, when he comes... I assure her. And its a
back and forth, yelling. Finally she says, Im going to tell
Harvey. I said, Tell Harvey. Hes going to understand.
Sure, tell Harvey.
As thats going on, something else is happening behind me. Its
Jessye Norman, the opera singer, and shes giving me all these
dirty looks because Im smoking a cigar. Im going, It
aint lit. See, it aint lit! So finally we hear, Ladies
and gentlemen, the president and senator-elect are not going to come.
Harvey made the announcement. Those of you supporters who wrote
big checks, were going over to the Hilton Hotel, and were
going to see them there. So come on over. We jump in the Jeep,
and drive down to the Hilton on 42nd near Grand Central Station.
Cooper: So what happens at the Hilton?
Pantoliano: For starters, Tony slips him, the bellhop, 20 bucks so we
could just leave the car there. We were going to run in and see if we
could find the Clintons. We run in, and its enormous. Its
got 3,000 volunteers partying it up. I said, Theres no way
the presidents coming to this. They dont have any good cover.
Anybody can flip em. Come on, Tony, lets go home. Ive
got to get up early. As were walking out, Tony notices that
Harvey, Bob Weinstein, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Jessye Norman,
a whole line of them-
Cooper: the A-Team
Pantoliano: (laughs)are walking in, and Tony goes, Look!
So we sneak in at the end of the line. And we walk into the service
elevators that are there. I wind up with Jessye Norman again. Shes
standing there, and Im goin, Its not lit!
And theres a guy with an Uzi who looks like hes out of Men
in Black, and he says, Sir, the cigar please. I said,
Its not lit, see? Not lit, not lit, not lit! We get
off, and someone says, Joe, would you come with us? I said,
Sure. So they took Tony, Rosanna and me into a suite thats
probably as wide as this room from the counter to the wall, twice as
long, and theyve got wine and beer and hors doeuvres, and
theres a television set thats in the corner on a steel roller
thing. The TVs about this big, and its showing the results.
As soon as the guy with the Uzi went out the door, Tony says, You
got us arrested! See what you did? You couldnt keep your mouth
shut. Im like, Tony, you see this food? You see this
wine? You call this arrested?
I said, Take it easy. Im going to go take a leak.
So I took a leak just in case he was right. When I walked out, I walked
right into Chelsea Clinton and 120 other people. This place looked like
the A train during rush hour. What I found out is that we were getting
really special treatment, because they put those other people in a different
room, and we got the presidents room. They saw the president first,
Tony and Rosanna. So I come in and I got this cigar and Im going,
Chelsea, we did it! Hillary, we did it! I had met them before.
They know who I am. They may not know my name, but they know Im
the actor, right? And shes going, Thank you, thank you!
And theyre taking pictures, and I tried like the dickens to find
the guy who took those pictures, because I wanted to put it in the book.
Cooper: Where is Bill Clinton in all of this?
Pantoliano: Hes standing in the corner like hes holding
forth, Maybe he can win Alabama, Clinton says of Gore, thinking
ahead. So I go up to him and say, Mr. President, Mr. President,
were going to miss you. Im going to miss you, and
hes going, Thank you, thank you very much! I said,
Oh, we had good times those eight years, Mr. President,
and he goes, Thank you! And I feel this pinching, this grabbing
at my leg, and its Tony, and he says, Sit down, sit down.
[the Secret Service] have their guns out! Theyre gonna clip you!
Get down! Get down! I literally kissed the president on the cheek.
I love you, man! I love you! Im gonna miss you! Tony
pulls me down. He says, Im never gonna work again! I swear
to Christ, if you touch that man again, Im gonna throw you through
the window. Leave him alone, Joey. Leave him alone!
President Clinton finally says, Thank you, and then he starts
talking to the whole room: What Gores got to do is win Florida
now. Theyre going to have to get Florida in order for him to win.
I say to Tony, Well, it would have been a lot easier if hed
left his hands off that chick with the blue dress, right?meaning
Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. And Clinton heard me. And he said, Well,
I gotta go, I gotta go back to work. Thank you. And he walks out.
I felt really bad about that.
Cooper: Yeah! Is Tony still a friend of yours?
Pantoliano: Yeah, Tonys still a friend.
Cooper: (laughs) Clinton might not be!
Pantoliano: Bill Clinton is, too. So the cap to this story came awhile
later when I was doing press for Bad Boys II, and they had me at this
hotel not far from 51st and Park. Steven Spielberg was in town for the
opening of A.I., and I got invited and had an extra ticket. I was going
with Tony. At that point, my celebrity had gone up a couple of rungs,
and when I walked out, there were people wanting me to sign photographs
they had of me; I never know where they find these photographs. They
just show up, because theyve got pictures from movies Ive
Tony goes, Oh, great, here we go. He walks up to the limo,
and the driver says, Are you with the general? And Tony
goes, Oh, great, now theyre calling him the general. Listen
to me: He aint no general, all right? I get in the car now.
Now the guys really confused. And theres a tap on the window,
and they said, Joe, youre in the wrong car. So we
get out. Heres this huge guy and hes got white hair and
hes pissed. We figured it was the general. We never found out
who he was.
Now were at the party, and then the after party, and all of a
sudden this guy whos laughing comes up to me, he goes, Hey,
Joe, how are you? I said, Im good. He says,
You dont remember me. Im on Steven Spielbergs
detail. Im retired. Im Secret Service. I used to be on the
presidents detail. I said, Oh, yeah! He said,
You were funny that night.
Pantoliano: President Clinton was laughing in the car. They couldnt
believe how [drunk] you were. So it was a dot to the end of the
story. I was so happy that the president wasnt insulted.
Cooper: He knew youd had a couple of drinks and were just being
kind of loose lipped.
Pantoliano: Yeah, and I remember being at a party up in Harlem. It was
the Congressional Black Caucus. And President Clinton and I and a bunch
of people were talking, and he was like, Let bygones be bygones.
Come on, lets take a picture.
So now Im in L.A. Im working. The next day is my birthday.
Im going to be 50, and my wife is throwing me a surprise party
at Ron Berkels mansion. Green Acres, I think he calls it. Big
place. Hes a big funder for the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
Cooper: Does the back of his house have this really long pool area?
I think Ive been there before.
Pantoliano: It was built for Harold Lloyd, the Harold Lloyd estate.
The morning before the event, my cell phone rings. I dont get
it. I listen to the message. Its a woman crying, and all she keeps
saying is, Im sorry. This is horrible. Im sorry.
So I turn on the TV, like, what the hell? And I see all the stations
have that the World Trade Center one of them is burning. Im trying
to figure out whats going on when I see the second one. Needless
to say, I found out that there wasnt going to be a party. Thank
God my wife didnt fly out from New York that morning, because
she would have been on that flight.
Cooper: Oh, my God! Wow!
Pantoliano: A friend was coming in from Boston. He would have been on
that flight. So I go to work. Im doing a TV show. Its surreal.
I cant concentrate. I know that my son, whos living in Hoboken,
has got a meeting downtown and all I can think is: Is he taking
the PATH train? Is he going to Christopher Street or the World Trade
Center? I finally thought, The party must go on, but Im
leaving. Ive got to go home and see if everybodys all right.
They said, Dont worry about it. Were canceling. I
called Tony and Chad, another friend of ours; we all live around each
other in Connecticut. So we meet up with Chad, and were watching
CNN, and all of a sudden they cut to this general, and Tony and I go,
Its the general! Holy %@#&, its the general!
His name was Wesley Clark.....
in ABILITY Magazine
click here to order a print copy or to subscribe .
from the Joe
Therapy Horses Help Vets to Heal
Pantoliano He Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional
A Teacher Who Moves Mountains
Saudi Arabia A Princess Seeks
a World of Change
Amato He Sees Music
Humor Adulthood is Overrated
George Covington The Thing About Getting Old
in the Geri Jewell Issue; Humor Adulthood is Overrated; Ashley
Fiolek Balancing Work and Play; Sen. Harkin The Affortable
Care Act; China A Teacher Who Moves Mountains; Saudi Arabia
A Princess Seeks a World of Change; George Covington The Thing
About Getting Old; Derek Amato He Sees Music; Joe Pantoliano
He Puts the Fun in Dysfunctional; Asylum Book
Excerpt; Geri Jewell A Good Act to Follow; Brad Hennefer
Loves His Tee Time; Equine Therapy Horses Help Vets to Heal;
ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...