Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Speaking Up for the 'Middle-Class Actor' ; Hollywood Stories

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Speaking Up for the 'Middle-Class Actor' ; Hollywood Stories

Article excerpt

Joe Pantoliano has learned the art of gratitude. "I always thought I wanted to be a movie star," he says, as he looks forward to the opening of his latest film, "The Taxman," which starts in limited release today.

But that's not the way his two-decades-plus in the business have turned out. "I'm not [a star]," he says simply, "but I've become a good actor along the way."

His ability to endure as what he calls a "middle-class actor" or "the third guy through the door in a major feature film" has made him as grateful for the journey as the destination. "I've seen movie stars come and go, but I'm still here."

The man known as Cypher to fans of spring's sci-fi hit "The Matrix" (and just released on VHS and DVD) reveals his secret: Learn to love the process of acting. As an example, he points to his current project, in which he both stars and produces.

"The Taxman," which details the triumph of a lone tax investigator determined to make his life meaningful, was made in 33 days for under $2 million. Mr. Pantoliano says he was paid scale ($50,000), which amounted to donating his regular salary of close to half a million dollars.

Nobody on the film had a trailer or even a dressing room. Lights? When sunset approached, the shooting stopped. "We got used to the idea that you didn't need all [those] fancy, shmancy creature comforts," he says.

Beyond that, because of time limitations, everyone pitched in. "It's a team effort, like helping your wife clean the bedroom and fold the laundry," Pantoliano says. "You don't say, 'I'll take the towels,' you just grab stuff." At the end of the day, he adds, "I don't care who's responsible. I care about the end result being good."

"Joe's an extraordinary actor," offers director Avi Nesher, who says Pantoliano's modesty about his spot in the Hollywood universe is unwarranted. "He has one of the finest emotional ranges of any actor alive.... He reminds me of a young Gene Hackman."

Born and raised in Hoboken, the New Jersey native attributes his appreciation for work to his stepfather. "He raised me to believe that if you put your mind to something, you get [the job] done," he says.

His first appearance as the stuttering Billy Bibbit in a touring production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" began a career that has lasted more than 20 years, including roles in more than 60 films and numerous roles on television. …

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