Joe Pantoliano on How a Movie Role Changed Him
Longtime character actor Joe Pantoliano is known for portraying people who combine toughness with intriguing volatility, such as Ralph Cifaretto on 'The Sopranos' and Cypher in 'The Matrix.'
But as he relates in an emotional interview, what "Joey Pants" once thought of as the trappings of fame weren't enough to make him whole. Talking about his job shining shoes in a barbershop, he remembers, "I was shining this guy's shoes and I looked up at this guy and I said, 'I am going to do something that is going to define who i am.' I was always afraid that I wouldn't be remembered."
"I thought that things would define who I was... big fancy house, a fancy car, money in the bank, and all of these movies to say I was here. But really the defining moment is giving of yourself and not hiding behind a character."
Yet despite his success, it wasn't until the 2007 film 'Canvas,' in which he plays a man whose wife (played by Marcia Gay Harden) suffers from schizophrenia, that he opened himself up to some emotional issues about himself and his family that he'd long kept hidden.
"The character I was playing was holding me up," he tearfully reveals. "It allowed me to have all these feelings I felt too ashamed to have in life." And thanks to the catharsis he achieved while filming this movie, "I was able to find my smile again. Because I felt like I had lost my smile and I couldn't find it anywhere."