When discussing the last episode of “The Sopranos,” it's those final few minutes in the diner that everyone's been going on and on about in recent weeks. Let us not forget, however, that although we don't know for sure if Tony got what was coming to him in that moment immediately after the screen faded to black, at least one character definitely met his maker during that final hour: Phil Leotardo, boss of the Lupertazzi crime family. Fortunately, the actor who played Phil, Frank Vincent, has plenty of other projects to keep him occupied now that both the series and his character have met their respective ends.
Most recently, he's promoting the DVD release of
his indie film, “A Tale of Two Pizzas,” where he and
fellow “Sopranos” alumnus Vincent Pastore co-star as
rival pizza parlor owners who are each striving to
make the best pie, even as their children are falling
in love. We talked to Mr. Vincent about working on
this film and several others on his resume, including
everything from “Goodfellas” to “Shark Tale,” also
giving him a chance to chat about his book, A Guy's
Guide to Being a Man, and his work as a drummer, about
which Bullz-Eye was woefully (and embarrassingly) ignorant.
Good thing he was forgiving. I think we can all agree
that no one wants the man who played Billy Batts on
their bad side.
Frank Vincent: Hello?
Bullz-Eye: Hi, Mr. Vincent, this is Will Harris, with Bullz-Eye.com.
FV: Hi, Will, how are you?
BE: Not bad, how are you?
FV: I'm pretty good. Hold on, let me make this a little louder. (vanishes off the line for a moment) Can you hear me?
BE: I can. And I've got a phone that's a little light, so I'll speak up as well. But, anyway, it's good to talk to you.
FV: And good to talk to you, sir.
BE: I checked out “A Tale of Two Pizzas,” and I really liked it. It was a very nice, sweet little movie.
FV: You watched it? How'd you like the paddle fight? (Writer's note: there's a scene where the two fathers engage in an epic battle with pizza oven paddles.)
BE: (laughs) That was nice!
FV: You know, we don't have any violence in it…well, I mean, other than the boy getting knocked out a little bit…and we don't have any car chases or people getting killed. We've got some animated stuff in there that's nice, right?
BE: Yeah, absolutely. It was a sweet little movie.
FV: You think people will like it?
BE: I think so. I mean, I don't know what people will necessarily go in expecting, seeing two guys from “The Sopranos” on the cover of the DVD, but I walked into it and was very pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed it.
FV: Good, good!
BE: How did you get involved in it?
FV: Well, Vincent Pastore comes from Yonkers, and I think that Vincent Sassone, the director and writer, contacted Vincent Pastore, and Vincent Pastore brought the project to me to play opposite him. If I remember correctly, that's how it happened. You never know. These projects come flying around. First, you get a script, then you don't have one, then tomorrow another guy calls you. Stuff happens pretty quick in New York.
BE: Now, it's been a long time since I've watched the early seasons of “The Sopranos.” Did you and Vincent have many, or any, scenes together back then?
FV: No, no, Vincent was gone by the time I came into the show.
BE: OK, that's what I thought, but…
FV: But Vincent and I are very dear friends, and we've done a lot of work together. We've done quite a few movies together, and I co-host his radio show when he's not there. So we've known each other for a very long time.
BE: The neighborhood in “A Tale of Two Pizzas,” how close is that to the feel of the neighborhood where you grew up?
FV: The feel is the same, but it's not where I grew up. It's where Vincent grew up. I grew up in Jersey City, which is more or less the same kind of town. They have pizza parlors there, too. (chuckles)
BE: Yeah, but do they have paddle fights on the streets?
FV: Not too many, I don't think.
BE: You actually made the film back in 2003. Was it making the film festival rounds? Is that why it took so long for it to come out on DVD?
FV: Yeah, yeah, it made the festival rounds. It won…I think it won Sarasota. It won in Massachusetts. In Daytona Beach, it did well. It did pretty well wherever it went.
BE: Did you make appearances at any of those festivals?
FV: I think I was at Sarasota for that one.
BE: Of course, I've got to ask you about the “Sopranos” series finale.
BE: What did you think about it?
FV: I thought it was very ingenious and very creative on David's part, the way they cut the end. I thought it was great.
BE: Did you have any personal theories on what meant what during those last few moments?
FV: No. Well, I knew what it was going to be. I just thought that he just raised the tension level to put you on the edge of your seat, with Meadow not being able to park and then rushing to get in, and the whole family winds up together. I don't know, I think it was just a gimmick to raise the level of tension. I don't know how much it had to do with anybody killing anybody or anything. I don't know. You never know what's on his mind, though.
BE: So he didn't offer much in the way of clarification?
FV: No, he doesn't. He just…you read the script, and you see the way it is. They don't discuss how they're going to cut it up, you know. So that was surprising to all of us.
BE: As far as your last scene, did you get any say in the exact sound effect they used when we heard Phil's skull being crushed?
"On my website, I've got t-shirts and mugs and mouse pads that have Billy Batts on them that say, 'Go home and get your shine box.' And people buy this stuff! We've sold to people in Australia, Scotland, Ireland. That saying follows me wherever I go."FV: No, no, I had no say in anything. You don't have much to say in “The Sopranos.” You just come prepared and do the work. It's left pretty much to David's imagination. He's the driver of that ship, totally.
BE: Any idea if there'll be a “Sopranos” movie? Everyone keeps wanting to suggest that it's a possibility, but it seems like that might just be wishful thinking.
FV: Well, I know that David did an interview with one of the big magazines, and he expressed his desire to do a film. So I would venture to say that, five years from now, if a “Sopranos” film came out, I think it would do pretty good, don't you?
BE: Absolutely. By then, I'd think the desire to see more of their exploits would be at a fever pitch.
FV: Sure. So I don't know, I don't know what HBO's got in the offing, and I don't know what David's thinking about, but it would seem logical to me from a business standpoint to do it. Everybody else does it, you know.
BE: I'll keep my fingers crossed for a flashback or dream sequence for you.
FV: Yeah, exactly! A little something.
BE: So how did your book, “A Guy's Guide to Being A Man,” come about?
FV: Well, Steven Prigge, who's my co-writer, helped write a cookbook called “Shut Up and Eat!” with Tony Lip. Tony played Carmine's father on “The Sopranos,” and most all of the actors from “The Sopranos” got a page, and they got some of their favorite recipes in the book. And Steven called me and asked me about my page and my recipe and whatever, and we were talking, and he said to me, “Do you have a book in you?” And I said, “I do!” So we started knocking some ideas around. But we went to lunch one day, and we came out of the restaurant, and some guy was driving by in a truck, and he yelled, “Frank, you're the man!” And from there, it was, like, “You're the man's man.” And that's where we went with it. And we did pretty good with it.
BE: Now, your very first film was “The Death Collector,” in 1976.
FV: Yes, it was.
BE: And that was with Joe Pesci, which I guess led both of you to team up with Scorcese for “Raging Bull.”
FV: Yes, that's exactly right. He saw us both in “The Death Collector,” and he cast us in “Raging Bull,” yes.
BE: You and Pesci are still close friends, even though he's beaten you to death in two separate films.
FV: Absolutely true. Joe and I play music together; we're musicians, and we've been friends for years.
BE: What's your instrument of choice?
FV: Drums. (pauses) And sometimes a bat.
BE: (laughs) So who's your big drumming influence? I gotta think that Buddy Rich is probably near the top of the list.
FV: Buddy Rich, he gave me drumsticks…
BE: Oh, wow!
FV: …so he was somebody that I looked up to. There were a lot of big band drummers who I looked up to. The Count Basie Orchestra was a very big influence on my musical ear. And there's…do you know who Louis Prima is?
FV: Well, when I started out playing music, we did a lot of different music, and I learned how to play “The Louis Prima Shuffle” from listening to The Louis Prima Band. And there were a lot of recording drummers that I looked up to, like Bernard Purdie and a lot of guys. I was in the studio quite a bit, and those are the guys who influence you.
BE: So you've actually recorded some? It's not just for fun?
FV: No, no, I played on Del Shannon's stuff, Trini Lopez's, a lot of Paul Anka's stuff, Don Costa. I did a lot of recording in the '60s.
BE: I'm totally embarrassed; I didn't realize that. That's awesome!
FV: It's on my biography. Have you been to my website?
BE: You know, I have, but I guess I made the mistake of focusing on your filmography rather than your bio. What Del Shannon recordings did you play on in the '60s?
FV: Pretty much all of them. I did a couple of albums with him. I forget the name of his big song.
FV: Yeah, yeah, “Runaway.” And the other side of “Runaway.” Trini Lopez, I did… (hesitates) See, you're talking about the '60s now, and I don't remember the song titles! But I did a lot of work with Paul Anka, Steve and Edyie, the Belmonts the Duprees. I'm a drummer before I'm anything.
BE: So I mentioned Joe Pesci a minute ago, but you're also pretty good friends with Robert DeNiro as well.
FV: Bob? Yeah. Well, I mean, we don't go out too often, but we know each other pretty well.
BE: Do you ever feel like you've gotten typecast as a “gangster type?” You've certainly played more parts than that, but…
FV: Well, those are the ones that've come to the forefront. The biggest of those roles is probably Billy Batts, “Go home and get your shine box,” from “Goodfellas.” That's made me. On my website, I've got t-shirts and mugs and mouse pads that have Billy Batts on them that say, “Go home and get your shine box.” And now we've got Phil Leotardo from “The Sopranos” on there as well. And people buy this stuff! That (“Goodfellas”) saying follows me wherever I go. We've sold to people in Australia, Scotland, Ireland. In fact, I'm actually spokesman for an Irish bank, in Ireland.
BE: Yeah, actually, I was going to ask you about that, because I knew that you'd some commercials over in the UK and Ireland.
FV: Yeah, Permanent TSB Bank. I'm the spokesman for that bank, in Dublin, Ireland.
BE: Now, did they approach you?
FV: Yeah, they approached me. I've had the account for two years now. It's amazing. I go over every once in awhile, and we shoot two or three commercials, and then, on a quarterly basis, we do radio spots. I just did four of them last week. And they're timely, because they run offers on mortgages and on different products that they sell. It's interesting that I'd be the spokesman for a bank, given the kind of characters I've played! But “The Sopranos” is very big over there. It's big all over the world, really.
BE: Yeah, I've definitely gotten the impression that it's not just an American phenomenon.
FV: Definitely not.
BE: So when you did “Shark Tale,” did you think, “Finally, something my grandkids can see!”
FV: Yeah, finally! (laughs)
BE: Did you enjoy doing the voiceover work?
FV: Yeah, y'know, it's a different medium. You go into a studio and just talk into a microphone. When I did my stuff for the “Grand Theft Auto” games, we did a lot of work like that, but it was a little different technique, because they use a little video camera and they photograph you, because they're making the character look like you, y'know? So there's a lot of different techniques involved in doing this stuff, but it's fun. It's all fun, and it's great.
BE: You've also made some appearances in rap videos, too.
FV: Yeah, sure, with Nas, and with DMX. I was also the acting coach on “Belly,” the Hype Williams film, so I worked with DMX, Method Man, Nas, T-Boz, and all the kids. (laughs)
BE: And I was going to ask this a minute ago, but you mentioned how you grew up in Jersey City. Were you personally aware of any organized crime presence when you were growing up?
FV: Well, I was playing in nightclubs when I was 19 years old, and there was a presence there, especially where I was playing, in Union City, New Jersey, which was a Sin City, across the border from Jersey City to Union City. It was 'til 3 o'clock in the morning, and women were allowed in the bars, and you had all these different type characters who went to these places, and, yeah, I met a lot of people that were involved in that kind of stuff in my early life. And I guess I learned a lot about how they react. On Friday night they come with the girlfriend, on Saturday they come with the wife, so you can't say to them on Saturday night, “Geez, Larry, it's good to see you back again!” You had to learn the language, and you had to learn the protocols.
BE: Especially if you want to keep going!
FV: Yeah! And they were…the '60s was a very big era for the mob guys. They all had money, and none of them were in jail, and I guess the high line drugs were just coming in. A lot of stuff was happening.
BE: Do you get feedback from the current members of the organization now, about your…
"I was playing in nightclubs when I was 19 years old, and there was a presence (of organized crime) there. On Friday night they come with the girlfriend, on Saturday they come with the wife, so you can't say to them on Saturday night, 'Geez, Larry, it's good to see you back again!' You had to learn the language, and you had to learn the protocols."FV: Well, there aren't too many current members around now! (laughs) It's kind of a dying breed! But there are some people that I know that have, uh, been away, and they don't talk about anything other than what we're doing, or that they're doing some work or whatever. But they never talk about the past.
BE: Well, I was really wondering if they had anything to say about, like, your work on “The Sopranos.”
FV: Well, a lot of people like it. Some don't. I know a couple of personal friends who are my best critics. They'll say, “That stunk.” And I appreciate the fact that they would say that to me. That's their opinion.
BE: You've also worked with Spike Lee a couple of times.
FV: Yeah, I did “Do the Right Thing,” and I also did “Jungle Fever” with Spike.
BE: Did you enjoy working with him?
FV: Yeah, Spike's a good director. He's a talented guy.
BE: What would you say is your favorite underrated film that you've been in?
FV: Underrated? Okay, that's a good question. Probably “She's The One,” with Jennifer Aniston.
BE: Oh, yeah, I love that movie.
FV: It's a great little movie. It did well for Eddie Burns, and it had a great cast: Eddie, Jennifer, and Mike…oh, what's his name?
FV: Mike McGlone. And what's her name, the blonde was in it, too.
BE: Cameron Diaz. See, I really do love the movie!
FV: Yeah, it's a great movie. And I'll give you a tip on that movie, a little insight. The woman who played my wife in that movie, who played Jennifer's mother, was the girlfriend of Cher's father in “Moonstruck.” His name is Vincent Gardenia, and his girlfriend was the same actress who played my wife in “She's The One.”
BE: Good pedigree.
FV: Yeah. (laughs) She's gone up in life!
BE: So what's on your plate right now?
FV: Well, I've got two films on my plate right now that I'm looking at and we're in negotiation with, though I'm not at liberty to talk about them yet. I've got a cigar that just came out, called the Frank Vincent Signature Series. I've got “A Tale of Two Pizzas” that's just come out on DVD, obviously. I'm still doing the Irish thing. And, actually, I'm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., right now, just relaxing. But I'll be going back to New Jersey shortly and getting back into the groove after the (fourth of July) holiday. And, y'know, just talking to my manager every day, getting business done.
BE: OK, well, it's been a pleasure talking to you.
FV: My pleasure. And this is going to be where?
BE: On Bullz-Eye.com.
FV: OK. Which is what?
BE: (laughs) Well, our slogan is “The Guys' Portal to the Web,” so it's a nice mixture of pop culture, sports scores and bikini girls.
FV: Sounds good!