JERSEY CITY, NJ - After watching A Tale of Two Pizzas, I picked up the phone. In less than thirty minutes, star Frank Vincent delivered an interview to the “Party Favors”. The movie features Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore as rival pizza parlor owners. Normally a film featuring two Sopranos veterans should climax with their enemies being turned into special sausage toppings. But amazingly enough, this is a date movie. No limbs are hacked off. There’s barely a beatdown.
Frank Vincent laughed when asked if this is one of those rare movies in his filmography that a woman can enjoy without having to hide her eyes to avoid the bloodshed.
“It’s a nice little escape from some of the insanity that they put in the movies these days,” Frank said. “The most violent thing was the fight with the paddles.” If your date can handle Frank and Pastore swatting each other with pizza paddles, you won’t have to worry about her squirming under the seat.
Frank has found himself becoming a bit of a sex symbol thanks to his role on The Sopranos. “Let me tell you something, Joe,” Frank said. “Phil Leotardo has got more women fans than anybody. I don’t understand it, but the women love Phil. Phil is a bad guy. But every woman I met says they love him. I say, ‘Why?’ They say, ‘Cause he’s bad and sexy.’”
But ladies, don’t think you can call up Frank Vincent and sweep him away for a romantic evening in Manhattan at Scott Sartiano’s Butter. He already has a date. “I go out with my wife,” the bad boy confessed.
You might spot Frank Vincent dining out with his wonderful wife. Feel free to give him a polite wave, but don’t be a pest. He’s not going to put up with it.
“If I go out socially with my wife someplace and I’m with people for dinner. somebody will come and say, ‘Can I take a picture with you?’ If I’m out socially, I don’t want to take a picture. Everyone in that room has a camera in their pocket (especially with most cellphones also being cameras). If I take a picture with you and somebody else asks me, and I deny them, then I’m not doing myself a service. If I take one. I got to take them all. If I’m out socially, I’d rather refuse than say yes and stand there for an hour and a half taking pictures. That’s not what I came out to do. I’m not working. If I go to a place that I’m there to sign autographs or whatever, then we take pictures. People don’t realize, but that’s what happens.”
He sounded pretty happy that he isn’t being hounded by the camera hordes that follow fellow sexy actor Brad Pitt. “I don’t have to worry about that level yet. I don’t know if I ever will get to that level. But I don’t particularly care to get to that level.”
For decades, Frank Vincent has been to crime movies what Strother Martin was to the western. Fans of the genre would spot him on the screen like a Where’s Waldo moment. He made his first major splash as a mobster in Raging Bull. He nabbed a quotable role in Goodfellas when, as Billy Bats, he said, “Hey, Tommy, if I was gonna break your balls, I’d tell you to go home and get your shine box.” He became part of Joe Pesci’s crew that terrorized Las Vegas in Casino. But when he assumed the role of hardcore mob boss Phil Leotardo on The Sopranos, Frank became a guest in America’s living room.
“It elevated my visibility a lot. I had some visibility with Raging Bull, Casino, Goodfellas and Spike Lee movies. But you can’t compare film visibility with television visibility,” Frank said. “Fifteen million would watch one episode. A movie couldn’t do that in 10 years.”
In a few weeks, Frank Vincent went from a cult star to a cultural icon. “People know my name now. Wherever I go. They know it’s Phil. They know it’s Frank Vincent. It’s raised my level of visibility a lot.”
The benefits of this visibility can be immediately seen in A Tale of Two Pizzas finally getting a DVD release after playing festivals a few years ago. For the longest time Frank Vincent made a living as a drummer, but has he ever worked in the world of slices and parmesan?
“No. I have not ever worked in pizza place,” Frank declared. “I was in the pizza place for two weeks making this movie.”
In the film, Frank’s character is trying to come up with a crust that matches his great sauce. He didn’t actually have to learn how to make pizzas to perfect the role of Frank Bianco, the pizzeria proprietor. “We weren’t making them from scratch. The pizza parlor owner was there. He would kneed the dough, lay it out and put it in the oven. During the shot, I had to take it out. I wasn’t actually making pizza dough.”
Did Director Vincent Sassone have him try to toss the pizza dough in the air and catch it like a scene from I Love Lucy?
“No. None of that stuff,” Frank said. “It would mess up my hair.”
A Tale of Two Pizzas has Pastore’s daughter (Robin Paul) and Frank’s son (Conor Dubin) having a Romeo and Juliet relationship. The fathers don’t completely disapprove since they expect their offspring to steal the trade secrets of their rival. While the movie now features two Sopranos legends, at the time of the shooting, only Pastore had the show on his résumé.
“He was in and out already,” Frank said. “I hadn’t gone in yet.”
Did Frank ever accidentally call Pastore by his old Sopranos name? Are there outtakes of him saying Big Pussy?
“No.” Frank said. “You call them by their real names sometimes when we’re shooting. If I’m doing a scene with Tony and I call him by his name, I might say, “Jim.” And they say, ‘Cut. It’s Tony; not Jim.’ When you’re friendly with people, occasionally that’s what happens.”
I proposed the idea that Tony Danza only plays characters named Tony so that his fellow actors don’t have that confusion on the set. Frank laughed. “Tony Danza is a good man,” he said.
While most of the people Frank Vincent went to High School with are pondering how to enjoy retirement, he’s going into career overdrive. “I’m busy. I’m busy. I have a couple of films that I’m waiting to hear about. I have my own cigars that just came out: The Frank Vincent Signature Series. They’re from the Dominican Republic. I sell my t-shirts on my website: Frankvincent.com. I sell Billy Bats “Go Home and Get Your Shinebox” t-shirts. We sell mugs, Phil Leotardo t-shirts and mousepads. We sell them all over the world. They buy them in Australia and Scotland. I’m a spokesman for a bank in Dublin, Ireland.”
Turns out the bank in Ireland uses him to promote their electronic services. Many characters played by Frank Vincent know how painful it can be when you’re late on a payment.
There had been a rumor that on the set of Nothing to Lose, Frank would occasionally juice newbie director Eric Bross by whispering, “That’s exactly what Marty would do” after a take. When confronted with this story, Frank Vincent admitted to doing this. “I would tease him,” Frank said.
Vincent still has a scene with a pre-Oscar Adrien Brody on his reel. But he rarely sends that tape out to casting agents. “I’m offer only. If you want to hire me, call my manager. Tell him what you want. Send the script. If we like the script, then make an offer,” Frank said.
Frank has a done voice work on the successful Grand Theft Auto video games. I asked if he’s ever done any voice over gigs in his pajamas.
“No. Why would I do that?” Frank asked. During every interview with a major star doing an animation voice, they talk about how they like the gig cause they could show up in their pajamas. “No. I do not wear pajamas in public like Vincent Gigante,” Frank said. Gigante was the mob boss who faked being nuts by wandering around Manhattan in his PJs.
Speaking of mobsters in pajamas, Frank almost had to wear pajamas for work.
“I was up for the pilot of The Sopranos. I didn’t get it because David didn’t want me in the show at that point because Billy Bats was too popular.” He almost became Tony’s uncle.
“We all read for the Uncle Junior role. I read it, Tony Sirico read it. And Dominic (Chianese) read it. Chase created the Paulie Walnuts role (for Tony) after it. A lot of times when you read, you don’t read for the role they want you for. You read a generic role. Directors just want to meet you and see what kind of style you have. David created Phil after the third or fourth season. He brought me in and said, ‘I want to find something for you.’ I said, ‘Whenever you’re ready, I’m ready.’ He called me in for season five for a recurring role. They bought me for three episodes. They just kept buying me and buying me. We did 12. The next season I was a regular. He had it planned all the while.”
The subject turns to how Phil proved to be Tony’s toughest rival on the series.
“You had Johnny Sack there before. Vincent Curatola did a nice role. He was respectable and believable in his character. Phil had a little more of an edge than Johnny,” Frank said. The other mobsters went weepy as they showed their human side. Phil might have backed down, but he never broke down. “I never went soft,” Frank said.
Phil kinda went soft when he met his fate in the final episode. Unlike many supporting actors who were taken out to dinner by David Chase prior to discovering their sad demise, Frank didn’t get a dinner with his funeral.
“That was the usual way,” Frank said. But instead he had to discover he’d be a human speed bump without an entree during the table read. “We sat down and read the script,” Frank said. Judging from the body count in the final episodes, they would have had to extend the shoot to squeeze in all the dinners.
Because he was wrapped long before the big finale, there was no need to ask Frank if he was part of any of the “other” final scenes or if the family eating at the restaurant was meant to end that way.
“You tell me what really what went on?” Frank asked. My theory is that the family sits around the table. AJ can’t get the ketchup out of the bottle. Tony grabs it and gives it couple hard slams. We see the onion rings covered in ketchup, blood and brains.
“Why do you think that?” Frank queried. My theory comes from the scene earlier in the episode with Tony forcing ketchup out of the bottle. It seemed like a moment to be replayed with gruesome results.
“You have a very vivid imagination, son,” Frank said. “Now your imagination of that and ten other people will have ten other endings. David (Chase) achieved what he wanted to achieve. He made everyone think what they wanted to think.”
In the past, Frank has acted on several Law and Order episodes. Will he be guesting on one of the CSI series in the near future? “No,” Frank said. “At this point, those shows might be out of reach for me because of the Phil character.”
Frank is in discussions about being part of a reality show. “It’s a question of what the reality show is. How the story is constructed.” He won’t allow a camera crew to live inside his house. “I don’t want none of that nonsense,” Frank said. He’s more up for the competitive reality show rather than challenge Gene Simmons and Hulk Hogan.
Bringing the conversation back to A Tale of Two Pizzas, I asked Frank what he thought of seeing himself turned into an animated character in parts of the film.
“I thought all the animation was great. I thought the music was great. They did a nice job for a little independent movie.”
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