Transcription by Katrina King. Katrina is rumored to have killed Bill, but he wasn’t Irish.
Vincent D’Onofrio made himself well know very early in his career with his disturbing performance as Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. Since then he has played many distinguished parts such as Orson Welles in Ed Wood, Thor in Adventures in Babysitting, Edgar in Men in Black and Pooh-Bear in The Salton Sea, to name but a few. Currently, he is playing Detective Robert Goren on the TV series Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Recently, D’Onofrio turned in a terrific performance as John Nardi in the acclaimed film Kill the Irishman. I spoke to the distinguished actor recently about Nardi and the film.
POP CULTURE ZOO: I really, really enjoyed the movie, and particularly your role in it. I was wondering what about this particular movie and this character interested you and made you want to do this?
VINCENT D’ONOFRIO: Well, I was sent the script. I liked it. I’d never heard of the Danny Green story before. So, it was a good read, the script, and then I researched it a bit, and I was just amazed at the whole story of this guy. And yeah, I looked at the role of John Nardi. I tried to find stuff about him – there wasn’t very much. I talked to the director, Jonathan Hensleigh, who I like a lot, just from the conversations that we started to have on the phone. We talked about the way that I wanted to go about portraying John Nardi, since there wasn’t a lot of information about him. Jonathan and I agreed that the take that I had was a good way to go. He had told me that Ray Stephenson was going to play Danny Green, and I’d been a fan of Ray’s since he did Rome, and so… I did it.
PCZ: Excellent, we’re all glad you did! Does it factor in at all into the way you researched this role or thought about it, Nardi being a real person and not a fictional character?
D’ONOFRIO: Yeah, I tried. There was only one picture of Nardi that I could find, and there were some things written about him, but the script really dictates what you have to do: your part. Especially with a supporting role like that, you’re really there to serve purposes; to help the story. It’s really just a creation of my own that I had to bring into it.
PCZ: What was your thought process in what you wanted to bring to the character and also to honor the real life person?
D’ONOFRIO: Well, I wanted him to look more like an accountant than a mobster, and there’s a guy that I met once whose voice and his inflection and stuff I used for Nardi. I wanted him to not be the typical mobster. Y’know we all have these… our favorite mob films and our favorite kind of iconic mob characters that actors have played and you have to really think a bit about it and try and figure out a way that you can do something where they.. you know to invent the character that people have never met before. I think that was really my job, and I kind of approached it like that.
PCZ: One of the things I liked about this movie was that although it is somewhat of a mob movie, it doesn’t really feel like that or play like that. It’s more about the people and what they went through.
PCZ: The biggest thing that struck me was that the guys we’re supposed to kinda root for in this movie do some really horrible things. My favorite scene that underlined that was where Nardi shows Danny how he can believe in him and trust in him, by killing the guy in the back of the car.
D’ONOFRIO: I wanted the Nardi character to not be really aware of the brutality or the danger in his job. I wanted it all to seem like it was business, which you know makes it very cold and horrible for us people that are not criminals. So I think that was a key to playing Nardi, and I think also you’re right, also for the whole story. Just for my character to walk through this life of crime and almost not even be aware that it’s all criminal activity.
PCZ: And then a little while later when Nardi dies, we actually feel bad for him. So that duality in this movie was really well done, especially by you and Ray playing Danny Green. So I appreciated that.
PCZ: Did you ever hear anything, or have you heard anything from Nardi’s family or friends about this?
D’ONOFRIO: No, no I haven’t. I don’t think I will.
PCZ: Understandable. What else do you have coming up? I know you’ve got your TV series is ending, so you’ve got some other movies and shows?
D’ONOFRIO: Yeah, we finished last week shooting [Law & Order: Criminal Intent], so I have some time off right now. I wrote and produced and directed a film that I sold to Tribeca Films, it’s called Don’t Go in the Woods which will be out in the winter, around Christmas. And we’re going into pre-production on another film that I developed, in September/October called Mall, which has Chelsea Handler and myself and Eric Bogosian. The lead characters are a group of young kids so we have to go cast that in LA. I’m going to go out there in a couple days and start casting that. We’ll probably start shooting at the end of October or something. I’m going to go act in a Jennifer Lynch film starting on June 20th. I’m just trying to do things on my own, and try to get some parts in some films.
PCZ: Cool. What excites you about scripts and makes you want to do a particular role?
D’ONOFRIO: It’s things I haven’t done before that interest me. It’s the story and the character in the story that they are asking me to play. If it’s something that I feel like I haven’t done before, then it kind of creates a kind of fear in me – like whether I could handle it or not. Then that’s usually when I do it. When I feel those things. I mean I’ve played a lot of bad guys and stuff, but I think that the group of films is kind of eclectic. So I like to do that, and try not to repeat myself, y’know?
PCZ: Do you feel like maybe the bad guys or the villains in a movie have more to offer for, like you said, doing things you haven’t done before or going places you haven’t gone?
D’ONOFRIO: Well I really don’t have a choice, I mean I’m a character actor; that’s pretty much the stuff that I get, not just killers, but y’know, seedy characters. You have to be careful, or at least try and be careful what you pick. I like the idea of just trying to get away with a film as a whole, and just to be part of it. Sometimes that works out; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you end up in a really bad film and other times you end up in a really good film. You never know what’s going to happen.
PCZ: You also direct and you’ve done a little bit of writing. Do you have like a dream movie you’d like to make where you write yourself as a hero, finally?
D’ONOFRIO: The next thing that I direct is called Johnny and Me and it’s a father/daughter thing, and the father has Asperger’s syndrome. And I would like to play that. I don’t know whether I could make it as a director with me playing it, whether I could get it financed like that; It’s all kind of up in the air. I don’t really know if that can happen. I would like to play the part but I would certainly give it up. If the story turns out as good as it seems to be then I would be happy with anybody playing it. But I would like to direct and act in something of my own, at some point.
PCZ: Awesome. Hopefully we’ll get to see that. Like I said, I really loved Kill the Irishman. It was a great movie. You did a fantastic job in it. Thank you very much for your time today and answering my questions.
D’ONOFRIO: Oh, thank you!