20 Questions: Jon Polito

Photo (partial) by © Chris Orazi

Jon Polito’s mug is so familiar that he almost feels… familiar, like the merchant at the corner store, the beat cop in your ‘hood, or the local mobster. Yeah that's it, the local mobster.

The Last Godfather

Distributor: Lionsgate
Release date: 2011-08-09

Jon Polito’s mug is so familiar that he almost feels… familiar, like the merchant at the corner store, the beat cop in your ‘hood, or the local mobster. It's like the award-winning actor is everywhere you turn.

He practically is. You’ve seen him in many Coen Brothers films (Miller’s Crossing, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Barton Fink), and on the small screen (Homicide: Life on the Street, Crime Story) -- to name but a fraction, a mere fraction -- of the films and TV shows where you've seen that face. And that voice, you can just hear that raspy voice quoting Bertrand Russell.

If you missed him on the big screen recently, you can catch Polito on the DVD release of The Last Godfather (Lionsgate, 09 August) alongside director and star, Hyung-Rae Shim, Harvey Keitel, and others. Or better (!), you can catch him here at PopMatters 20 Questions. In case you do run into him at your local grocer, just don’t tell the man what you think he can’t do – you might get a visit from a big knuckle-cracking brute (see his reply to question #16).

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

The Miracle Worker. The brilliant film version with genius Patty Duke and the wonderful Anne Bancroft. I first saw it when I was 11 years old, on a double bill with To Kill a Mockingbird. You can imagine how that afternoon changed my life.

When I saw it again recently, I cried with joy at the ending when Helen Keller “Knows!” for the first time. I was also crying with joy about how seeing it affected my entire life. It’s why I became an actor.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Quasimodo. His personality rang out wherever he went! He was King of Fools! He had a hump, or he liked to hump and both apply to me. Hump on, Quasi!

3. The greatest album, ever?

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Those guys just jam! It was the first Jazz I ever heard. What a Baptism of fabulous fire!

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars, of course.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Spinach… or watching 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings…or eating spinach while watching 60 Minutes.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Surviving…in life, and acting, and giving up some of my destructive addictions. But I’m proud that I’ve remained addicted to being loyal to all those in my life who influenced me.

7. You want to be remembered for…?

My acting work with the Joel and Ethan Coen. They are our generation’s Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, etc. They have given me the opportunity to create memorable characters, like those created by Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Walter Brennan, Akim Tamaroff…the great old character actors I most admire.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

My parents, of course. They had a young Quasimodo on their hands yet they treated me with love and support. I couldn’t have gotten over the hump without them.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The film score to Jaws. The first attack music by John Williams is pure art.

10. Your hidden talents…?

Masturbation. Thank gawd I keep it hidden.

Also, I play piano and compose really schmaltzy movie score music.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

My late dear friend and inspiration, Paul Bettis told me don’t answer emails from idiots you hate. It opens a door for the idiots to write back yet again and the battle never ends…

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My black Toyota Camry…ahhh gawd, I love my car! Nothing fancy, like me. Practical…like me. And so good on gas…like…er, well…not quite like me. Bought it outright and paid it in full with gambling winnings…

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

Armani cologne…and nothing else…let the hangers hang out free but make sure you smell inviting…

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Marilyn Monroe. Just to hear the truth about everything and everyone. Also, I bet she smelled terrific.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Back to the Jurassic period. I’ve always loved those museum T rex bones, and I want to see them with flesh on them. Breathing Dinosaurs….yeah, baby!

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Hit man. To rid the world of all those who told me not to pursue my dreams.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?

Chocolate, vodka, cigarettes, coffee…and BEER!

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Boothbay harbor, Bar Harbor or Hallowell Maine. Love that state! Love my friends that live or vacation there. And boiled lobsters and corn on the cob do not suck!

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Stop trying to please the idiots.

Remember the quote from Bertrand Russell, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure, and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Don’t doubt…SHOUT!

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Re-thinking the answers to this questionnaire...

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