MFF: John Turturro on knives and acting
By GWEN OREL
John Turturro’s mother was “always with a knife,” he said.
The actor learned how to make a point dramatically from his family.
Turturro’ mother was Sicilian, his father, Italian. She sometimes waved a knife around to make a point.
The 60-year-old actor, sporting a beard, unlike the clean-shaven John Stone in HBO’s series “The Night Of,” spoke to a full house at Montclair Kimberley Academy Sunday afternoon to Stephen Colbert.
The talk was part of the Montclair Film Festival’s “In Conversation” series.
When his father was dying, Turturro said, he would ask people to scare him, to know he was alive. Once Turturro’s mother ran in with a big knife, shouting.
His father had a big smile, looking at her like, “I’m crazy about you.” Turturro said that had as much effect on him as the great acting teachers he had at the Yale School of Drama, which he attended after graduating from SUNY New Paltz.
Although his parents weren’t actors, they were very expressive.
Turturro said his brother used to call the characters on “The Honeymooners” Mommy and Daddy.
Laughing about how his parents would question the raise of an eyebrow and ask what a mouth movement meant, Turturro said, “I had no idea it was Sandy Meisner teaching me.”
The actor is known for his appearances in “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “The Big Lebowski” (1998), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000), and the first three Transformers movies (2007-2011), among others.
Turturro said he learned about performance from the “Million Dollar Movie,” a comment the audience applauded. A series on Channel 9, a local New York station, “Million Dollar Movie” ran movies twice each night for a week. Turturro grew up in Queens.
Turturro worked with his builder father in the summer growing up, and the first time he was on a movie set, he realized the two jobs had much in common: time pressure, finishing one thing before going on to the next.
Colbert led Turturro through a conversation that touched on his directing work, including “Mac” (1992, which he also wrote); “Passione” (2010, which he also co-wrote) and “Fading Gigolo” (2013, with Woody Allen).
“Passione” is a documentary about post-war Sicilian music. Audiences there “did all the emotions,” Turturro said. “It was like riding a big wave.”
Colbert asked about his work with Woody Allen, saying “I call him Woody because you met him once.” Turturro made the audience laugh with his imitation of Allen saying “I’m going to be merciless.” He also imitated Robert De Niro’s asking for40 takes of him chewing gum, and De Niro’s hemming and hawing.
An audience member asked him about his preparation for roles. Turturro said he finds out about people “like a journalist.” He also said a fundamental of acting is “Listening. Let your partner affect your response.”