Chazz Palminteri will perform his popular and award-winning one-man show, A Bronx Tale, on Saturday at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.
A Bronx Tale is an autobiographical coming-of-age story about a young boy who witnesses a murder in the Bronx in the 1960s and is later torn between his workingman father and a local gangster named Sonny.
The stage show premiered in 1990 in Los Angeles. He later performed the show on Broadway and on a 42-city national tour. A Bronx Tale at one time was rated the number-one show in Las Vegas. Robert De Niro directed a film version in 1993 with De Niro as the father and Palminteri as Sonny.
You've brought 'A Bronx Tale' to Philadelphia and South Jersey in years past. How do the local crowds respond to your show?
Through the roof. Insane. Pretty amazing. Some people love the show more than the movie.
How did you come to write the one-man show, and how did it become a film with you and Robert De Niro?
I was working in Los Angeles, and I was guest-starring on Hill Street Blues, Matlock, and Dallas and a lot of those shows, but it was hard to get film auditions. I had to do something, as I was running out of money. I used to box, so I got a job as a bouncer at a very exclusive club in Beverly Hills. One night, a guy tried to get in, and he was rude to me, so I wouldn't let him in. He said, "You're going to be fired in 15 minutes," and I was fired. The guy was Swifty Lazar.
The biggest agent in Hollywood?
The biggest agent in the world, and it was his party. I didn't know who he was. So I went home and I said to myself that "if they won't give me a great part, I'll write one myself. I'll do a one-man show, and this way they got to notice me." I went to the Thrifty drugstore and came back with five yellow pads of paper, and I wrote about the killing that I saw when I was 9 years old. I always wanted to talk about that. I started writing, and I performed five minutes of it for my theater workshop. Each week, I would perform it again and again, adding more and more. At the end of almost a year, I had a 90-minute show. I borrowed 40 grand off of a friend to produce it. And everything went through the roof.
Was the show an immediate hit?
Yes, the reviews were incredible and every writer, director, actor, and producer wanted to make it into a movie. But they wanted to put a star into the role of Sonny, and they wanted to have an A-plus writer write the screenplay, and I said, "No, I play Sonny and I write the screenplay." Then finally they offered me $250,000 to walk away and I said no. I had $200 in the bank. They offered me $500,000 and I said no again. They offered me one million dollars and I still said no. This was in a two-month period. One night, I was told that Robert De Niro was in my dressing room. I walked in and there was Bob, and he said it was the greatest one-man show he'd ever seen. He said, "My God, you did a movie on stage. I want to direct it and I want to play your father." "But, Bob, I got to play Sonny," I told him. He said I should play Sonny and I should write it, because it's about my life. He said that if I shake his hand that's the way it will be. I shook his hand and that's the way it was.
How does the one-man show differ from the film?
Well, it is a very visceral experience because I'm there, I'm the guy. My real name is Calogero, so I'm the little boy and I'm telling you about my life. The guy is telling you his story right in front of you. It is different.
I understand that you perform 18 different roles in the show - is that right?
Yes. People ask me how I can do it, but I can't describe it. You have to see it.
How has the show changed since you first wrote and performed it?
It's pretty much the same. I think I'm better as an actor in it, only because when I was younger I related to the boy, and now that I have a son the same age, I relate to the father and to the boy, as well.
Did you give advice to Robert De Niro on how to portray your father in the film?
He came to see my father. He stayed with my father for about a month, and my father taught him how to drive a bus. You know Bob.
How does a kid from the Bronx end up acting on stage and in films?
I've wanted to be an actor since I was about 10. My mother took me to the movies, and I fell in love with the camera and the movie theaters. I studied theater, and I got into the Lee Strasberg studio, and that was it.
Many people rate 'A Bronx Tale' as one of the three most realistic modern films about organized crime, along with 'Goodfellas' and 'Donnie Brasco.'
A Bronx Tale is really a family movie, not a crime movie. It is really about a father and his son, the workingman. I wrote it because my father would say, "He thinks he's the tough guy; I'm the tough guy. Let him get up in the morning and work for a living." It is about a father and a boy, and the boy is seeing the best of the father and the best of Sonny. Taking the best of both of them and becoming a man. Then Sonny dies, and the boy realizes his father was right. That's the way to live.
What can people expect when they go the Golden Nugget to see your show?
They can expect the ride of their life.