Paul Sorvino chats about his new film, “Mambo Italiano”

It’s amazing how many people don’t know who Paul Sorvino is. I excitedly explained to almost everyone I know that I was getting to interview the screen legend and was met with blank stares and a “That’s nice.” It became increasingly obvious that only a few people recognize him by name, but most needed only one description: “He’s the man who can boss around De Niro, Pesci and Ray Liotta in ‘Goodfellas.'” Then come the smiles and nods. They remember.

As Sorvino says, “I have such an image of a mafioso, despite the fact (that) I’ve only played (that role in only) five or six out of about 100 films. But that’s where I got famous.”

His new film, “Mambo Italiano” (Samuel Goldwyn Films), is gaining steam by positive word of mouth. And Sorvino’s performance is one that will forever put a face with a name.

“Mambo Italiano” tackles the classic paradigm of old world versus new world. In it, an old-world Italian family father (Sorvino) discovers that his son and his friend are indeed homosexual. What proceeds is a comedic run through clashing ideologies.

In a recent Hatchet interview, Sorvino discussed the film and his numerous past projects.

Hatchet: Obviously the film was done in a manner of good, positive fun. Has there been any anxiousness related to potential backlash from the Italian community or any other community that is portrayed onscreen?

Paul Sorvino: Well, I haven’t felt any of that or heard any of that. I heard a couple of people before they saw it that said things. I know that some church people said something about it. But nothing official. The church people were talking about the ideas that the son was gay. It was something about an event they were running and it was a gay thing and the church is against homosexuality, which is a laugh and a half. But that’s all. There’s been nothing else that I’ve heard of. And this has just been one group of people that ran an event.

H: What was it like being a veteran actor and working with a second-time director like Emile Gaudreault?

PS: Well, Emile was always ready to learn. But that doesn’t mean he’s a pushover. He’s got very good instincts, and you can see by the way he edited the movie that he’s very skillful. He’s got good instincts, he’s very skillful and he’s very smart. And so we worked together very well.

H: You’ve chosen some rather unconventional projects, like Baz Luhrman’s “Romeo + Juliet,” “Bulworth” and now “Mambo Italiano.” What is the attraction to less traditional projects?

PS: It’s hard to say. It just works out that way. It’s something that resonates inside me, and it’s time to work. I go to work. Baz Luhrman is very talented. And Warren Beatty, with whom I did “Bulworth,” is a very good friend. We’ve done three films together.

H: Of which work are you most proud?

PS: There was a movie I did for television called “Dummy,” where I played a deaf lawyer. I would say that one. I’d say, “Oh, God!” where I played the preacher, one of those phony kinds of preachers, and created a way of doing it which I see people imitating to this day. Which is kind of fun. Also, (playing the role of Henry) Kissinger in the movie “Nixon.” And also “Goodfellas.” There’s a number of things I like that I did. And the one I’ve just done, “Mambo Italiano.” I’m very proud of that for two reasons. One is because my performance has been edited exactly as I would have edited it myself. I very rarely can say that. The actor in movies is not an artist because he doesn’t decide on the final product. He’s just a craftsman. He just gives pieces and the director puts it together. In this case, and it is very rare, the director put my performance together the way I would have. So I can absolutely say that this is my performance, because that’s the way I would have wanted it. And unless you can say that you’re directing the piece, that almost never happens. So I’m very, very pleased about that. And I think I did some good work in something that I think people will like and will be surprised to see. It’s a terrific movie and people just don’t realize how good it is yet. But I think it’s gaining.

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