Between his early career as a Chicago cop and his recent gig as Xfinity Internet pitchman, Dennis Farina, character actor par excellence, amassed an impressive resume of distinctive performances in movies (including “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and the under-appreciated “Sidewalks of New York”) and TV dramas (including “Law & Order,” the cult-fave “Crime Story” and last year’s undeservedly short-lived “Luck”).
He was a personal favorite of mine — yep, I was a fan as far back as “Manhunter” — and I was unabashedly delighted when, during the 1988 New York junket for ?Midnight Run,? I had the opportunity to speak with gentleman. Dennis Farina passed away today at age 69. To celebrate his life, I offer this reprise of my original ’88 interview.
When Dennis Farina smiles, he’s the next-door neighbor you’ll invite over for barbecue, or the guy on the next barstool who doesn’t remain a stranger very long.But when Farina frowns, he’s someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a brightly lit alley, never mind a dark one.With his craggy features, his dark hair and thick eyebrows, Farina, 45, looks a little like a cartoonist’s caricature of a tough customer. Still, there’s an ingratiating warmth and good humor to the man in private conversation. In films, plays and TV productions, he has averaged, by his own estimate, ”a 50-50 split” between good guys and bad guys. At either extreme, he doesn’t have much trouble establishing credibility.In the newly released Midnight Run, Farina turns the art of scene-stealing into grand larceny, playing a quick-tempered mobster who menaces, and occasionally upstages, Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. Before Midnight, Farina was best known as Lt. Mike Torrello of Crime Story, a neon-colored fantasia of pre-Miranda crimebusting and garish early-’60s Americana. Farina was exceptionally well-trained to play the top cop in the recently cancelled TV series: For 18 years, he was a proud member of the Chicago police force, serving as detective for the department’s Special Investigative Unit.“Believe me, I don’t want to minimize what’s happened to me,” Farina said. ”But it never really hit me. “But, again, I was surrounded by these guys who really knew what they were doing… Malkovich was the guy who really took a chance. See, at the time, I had nothing to lose. If I fell on my face, the people in the theater, in the papers, they’d just say, ‘This guy’s just a cop, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, forget about him.’ But John, and the Steppenwolf company, they would have been the people to suffer.”I was doing something else, I had a job. If they had said, ‘This guy’s no good,’ well, hey, I’ll just go back to work next week.”
Read the rest of the interview here.