The actor who delivered a breakthrough performance as Guido talks about the film's 25th Anniversay Edition
We now know Joe Pantoliano from a number of roles in his very diverse career, such as his cantankerous captain in Bad Boys and Bad Boys II or the sinister Cypher from The Matrix and many many more. But perhaps none of those performances would've been possible if he didnt' appear alongside upstart actors Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay in 1983's Risky Business, which comes back to DVD in a 25th Anniversary Edition on September 16. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with "Joey Pants" on the phone about his star-making performance in this classic film, and here's what he had to say.
It's been 25 years already. Does it really even feel this long since you've made this movie?
Joe Pantoliano: No, not at all. It stinks. I keep thinking of my dad saying, 'Life just passes you by after you hit 40.'
So how did you originally become involved in this film? Was this something that you just came in and auditioned for?
Joe Pantoliano: Actually, it's a great story and actually a good question because nobody's asked that. My mom had passed away in February and I got the movie Eddie and the Cruisers. I had to go home, we were shooting it in New Jersey and I was living in Venice, California and I had to go home to take care of some stuff. While I was there, my agent said that they were doing this movie, Risky Business, and I went in and I read for Paul Brickman and Steve Tisch and Jon Avnet. A few days later, maybe a week later, my agent called me up and he said, 'Listen, you've gotta go back.' And I said, 'Why?' and he said, 'You just gotta go back.' I said, 'I'm not gonna go back. It's some goombah. I've played this part before, they've seen me, they put me on tape, I'm not going back.' He said, 'Just go back.' So, I begrudgingly went back and did my job and afterwards, Nancy Klopper was the casting director and she said, 'OK, Paul, you leave. Joey, you stay.' I was having problems on the set of Eddie and the Cruisers. I was not getting along with the director, nor was anybody else. My mom had just died and I was on the brink of disaster in a marriage with an 18-month old baby. I think I gave that director enough reason to dislike me as much as I disliked him. Apparently, he told them, which is the kiss of death if you want to sabotage an actor's career, he said that I couldn't remember my lines and I was difficult to work with. Now, the first part was true (Laughs). The second part was true, I guess. I was difficult to work with because the director was a talentless moron. He gave a bad report on me, but they really wanted to cast me so they wanted to hear my side of the story. I didn't want to stoop to that level, so I said, 'Look. Here's my resume, you call these guys up and if they say I'm difficult to work with and I can't remember my lines, then don't hire me.' They did check me out and they did hire me and that movie nobody remembers, Eddie and the Cruisers, and here you're talking to me 25 years later for this one.
So, like you said, you had played the role before, but did you have any idea how much impact this would have?
Joe Pantoliano: None, whatsoever. They were doing all these kid movies at the time. It was the thing to do and I just thought it was an opportunity for me to make a few dollars while they were doing these kid movies. I was already too old to be in those, so to go and do this part, that was my initial thought. Then I saw how much Brickman was dedicating to the movie and rehearsals and he was inspiring in that regard. I really got into it while I was there.
What was the mood like on the set? It was a breakout for Tom, Rebecca and yourself as well.
Joe Pantoliano: Yeah, me too. Everybody. It was great. We shot it low-budget and we were all in honey wagons and Cruise was a great kid and still really is. I have always liked him and I still do. He's deserved everything he's gotten. He's very dilligent, clear thinker. He very clearly told me he was going to be a big movie star and he worked really hard. Rebecca was just... I thought Rebecca would be a lot like Lauren Baccall and in a lot of ways she is a modern-day Lauren Baccall. Brickman was a wonderful wonderful collaborator.
What did you guys originally think of the dancing scene when you first saw it?
Joe Pantoliano: Oh my God, it was hysterical, the same thing everybody in the country thought.
Yeah, I read that they just told him to dance to rock and roll music and that's what happened.
Joe Pantoliano: Actually, in this special edition, they show outtakes of all the different ways Tom did it. They have an interview with all of us and then there's a digital behind-the-scenes with Cruise and Avnet and Brickman, so it's really well worth having.
So you have a bunch of projects that are coming out. Is there anything you can tell us about those?
Joe Pantoliano: Yeah. I've got this movie that I directed over the summer. It's a documentary called Hope's Messengers and it documents the lives of six individuals with different brain styles, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, clinical depression, and the behaviors we use to self-medicate, alcoholism, drug addiction and cutting, bulimia, all of it. It follows the lives of these individuals who have surrendered to disease and how they manage their lives and their disease by taking a negative behavior like cutting and turning it into a positive like equestrian jumping. That I'm editing now and it'll be out in the beginning of '09.
Yeah, I read that you previewed that at the Democratic National Convention recently.
Joe Pantoliano: Yeah, I did and you can see it if you go to my website, NoKiddingMeToo.org, or nkm2.org and just click on it. You can see a five-minute teaser trailer of it.
Is there anything you can tell us about your other projects you have coming out?
Joe Pantoliano: I think I have The Job that I did with Ron Perlman. I just finished that so I don't know, that's a little independent movie that I did with Shem Bitterman who wrote it and directed it and the guy that I did a lot of work with in the theater. Then I did one with Sarah Roemer and Joe Cross, they just changed the name of it so I don't know the name of it. Rachel Leigh Cook is in it and Snoop Dogg and Annette O'Toole, Mimi Rogers. I've got that coming out and then I think I have another one coming out.
You've played a vast number of roles in your career. Is there anything in particular that you look for when you're choosing your projects, or is it just instinct and the writing?
Joe Pantoliano: Yeah, it's really good parts and good pictures and the writing. Mostly, it's the luxury to be able to decide who I surround myself with. I've seen ambition destroy really good material, where guys are in this business, the storytelling business, for all the wrong reasons. They're not directors at all, they're guessers. I don't know how they talk anybody into giving them this money to do it. The problem I'm having in my old age is when you work with these wonderful directors like Brickman - here's a guy who only directed two movies in his career because it's an art form to him, and it's gotta be right. He's not going to take that journey unless it's right. Spielberg and Taylor Hackford, The Wachowski Brothers, Chris Nolan, Michael Bay. I've worked with really great directors and I go in that meeting and I can tell. I just know too much. It stinks. Ignorance is bliss. When it comes to showbusiness, I've taken the red pill. I've been so lucky to have these movies. I mean, The Goonies, we'll probably have a 25th Anniversary of The Goonies, The Matrix and all these wonderful movies. I just don't want to be left with a legacy of crap because I need to pay the rent. I don't need to pay the rent, the rent is being paid. I'm being kept by a wonderful woman, my wife Nancy who's very successful and this organization, my non-profit is extraordinarily good. We're really busy. As a matter of fact, I don't know when this is going out, but a parody bill that's going to be voted on September 17 in Congress, there's going to be a big rally in Washington D.C. so that the all-american brain gets the same Constitutional priveleges as our gall bladder, so that if your brain is sick, you can be treated with talk therapy or whatever is getting to the bottom of what ails it.
Interesting. Finally, with the 25th Anniversary coming out, do you guys just want a new generation to discover this movie and a new chance for old fans?
Joe Pantoliano: Oh, yeah. That's the thing about this movie. When they sent it to me, I watched it again. I hadn't seen the movie in probablly 23 years and it really holds up. It's very pertinent. I would say it's required viewing, like Catcher in the Rye is required reading in college.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, Joe. Thank you so much for your time today and the best of luck with all of your endeavors.
Joe Pantoliano: Thanks so much, Brian.
The 25th Anniversary Edition of Risky Business hits the shelves on DVD on September 16.