Paul Sorvino could play more than a mobster, even though mafioso roles became standards in his prolific career.
But Sorvino, who died Monday at age 83, was a good actor. And with more than 170 film and TV credits to his name, according to IMDb, there was plenty of room for other types.
“The reality is I’m a sculptor, a painter, a bestselling author, many, many things — a poet, an opera singer, but none of them is gangster,” he once told the Associated Press. “It would be nice to have my legacy more than that of just tough guy.”
So here’s a quick look at a few of Sorvino’s best-known roles. And don’t worry — not all of them are wise guys.
- ‘Goodfellas’ (Paul Cicero)
As the don of the Mafia family featured in 1990’s “Goodfellas,” Paul “Paulie” Cicero was like Henry Hill’s true father, if not his biological one. The late Ray Liotta’s Hill says in the film, “Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”
The same Paulie we see slicing the garlic very, very thin for the Italian-style dinners he and his fellow mobsters enjoy together in prison is just as comfortable ordering a hit on a longtime associate.
- ‘Law & Order’ (Sgt. Phil Cerreta)
“I’ve been in some TV series where the quality didn’t hold up after the pilot,” Sorvino told The Times in 1991, when he was about to replace George Dzundza in the second season of NBC’s “Law & Order.” “The quality of this one seemed clear to me, and I’m in for the run of the show.”
But he was on the show for only 31 episodes as partner to Chris Noth’s Det. Mike Logan before being replaced by Jerry Orbach’s Det. Lennie Briscoe. No matter — Cerreta lives on in reruns. Lots of reruns.
- ‘Nixon’ (Henry Kissinger)
Sorvino as Kissinger? Henry Kissinger?
The actor “uncannily impersonated” the former U.S. secretary of state, according to the New York Times. But Sorvino told Charlie Rose in 1995 that he never thought he would get the role. At 6-foot-3, he was too tall, he thought, plus nobody would let him escape from “the Scorsesean aura of the Mafia don” that he had created for “Goodfellas.”
But Oliver Stone directed “Nixon,” and, the actor said, “Once Oliver had decided that I was the one to play it, even though I’m a good deal taller than Dr. Kissinger, he knew that I could play it, he knew that I would play it, he knew I would give everything to it. That was it.”
- ‘That Championship Season’ (Phil Romano)
Sorvino had a long history with “That Championship Season,” appearing first in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play — his big break as an actor — that became the disappointing big-screen 1985 movie directed by playwright Jason Miller.
Years later, Sorvino would direct his own version of the story for Showtime, trading the role of duplicitous 1957 Fillmore High School basketball team member Romano for that of Coach Spinel and delighting Miller.
“I wanted to see the author’s work properly committed to film,” Sorvino told the L.A. Times in 1999.