29 December 1950, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
A veteran of nearly 100 films, Jon Polito is most recognized for his work with The Coen brothers, as well as his many television appearances as a series regular and guest star. Notable motion picture roles include: Millers Crossing, Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Crow, Blankman, and The Freshman with Marlon Brando, and Big Eyes. Di...
A veteran of nearly 100 films, Jon Polito is most recognized for his work with The Coen brothers, as well as his many television appearances as a series regular and guest star. Notable motion picture roles include: Millers Crossing, Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Crow, Blankman, and The Freshman with Marlon Brando, and Big Eyes. Directors he has worked with include; Russel Mulcahy, Clint Eastwood, John McNaughton, Tom Hanks, Andrew Bergman, Michael Apted, Ridley Scott, and Tim Burton amongst others. On television, he starred as a series regular on Crime Story, Ohara, Hearts are Wild, The Chronical, and the critically acclaimed Homicide, Life on the Street. Notable guest star roles include the befuddled landlord Sylvio on Seinfeld, his only role as a woman - Rhonda, on The Chris Isaak Show, Danny Devito's brother Frank on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,, and Earl Chambers on Modern Family. He starred on Broadway with Faye Dunaway in The Curse Of An Aching Heart, and with Dustin Hoffman in the 1985 Tony award winning revival of Death Of A Salesman, which he also filmed for CBS. He received the Best Actor OBIE award for Off Broadway theatre in 1980. Other awards include the 2001 TELLY for animation voice over in The Dancing Pumpkin which was directed by his brother Jack Polito, The New York Independent Festival Award for Excellence in Acting, and the 2005 Cinequest Maverick Award for his lifetime body of work in Film and Television. In 2012 Jon received the Best Actor Award for the short film Anti-Muse from the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. He credits his success to three people; his mentor Dominic Garvey, his only acting teacher Irene Baird, and to the late, great director, and friend, Paul Bettis. In addition, his inspiration to this day is New York theatre artist, Theodora Skipitares, who taught him film and design in university, and who has since never been far away from his life. She is 'Art' surviving.
You can't act alone. Use the props, the setting, the crew around you, and of course your fellow actors. Acting is like a sporting match; a t...
You can't act alone. Use the props, the setting, the crew around you, and of course your fellow actors. Acting is like a sporting match; a tennis game, but no one should win or lose. The game's the thing!
Art is the familiar through new eyes...
Art is the familiar through new eyes...
Most of my like I feel I have been Unicycling at the Edge of the Abyss! If fact, this will be the name of my book if I ever write one, or a ...
Most of my like I feel I have been Unicycling at the Edge of the Abyss! If fact, this will be the name of my book if I ever write one, or a one man stand up routine. I have used it as the name of a collection of my musical compositions written during the 90s. It fits the scary journey I feel I've been on. Sometimes I have run up to the edge in life, and instead of stepping back to trying to leap over it, I find an imaginary unicycle which I've never ridden before and a jump on and take up the new ride...shaky and unsure...but ride I must!
(2011, on filming Highlander) Well, it was shot in London, so all I remember is very funky, '80s London, which Christopher Lambert was the k...
(2011, on filming Highlander) Well, it was shot in London, so all I remember is very funky, '80s London, which Christopher Lambert was the king of at the time because of his position from the Tarzan movie [Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes]. And it was really a terrific shoot time. The director was also a lot of fun to work with. I did not get to work with Sean Connery, which is still a great regret in my life. Although we're in the same movie, I'm one degree from him. Because I was in the same film, but I didn't get to work with him because he was in the flashback sequences. I just remember it being a lot of fun to shoot both in London and in New York. We came to New York for locations as well. I didn't quite figure out what the hell was going on. It's a tough movie to figure out. And, of course, Christopher Lambert is a very interesting actor, but him playing the Scotsman is just hysterical, I think. I think the film is really a lot of fun to watch as a camp classic. I love the idea of you got so many accents. There couldn't be more accents. But one of the great gifts of that movie was getting to meet Clancy Brown, who played the bad guy. And Clancy was just a real force to be reckoned with. I remember loving Clancy as a person and loving his performance.
(2011, on Critical Condition) That was very interesting. There was a director that I had loved. Michael Apted, who'd done a great series of ...
(2011, on Critical Condition) That was very interesting. There was a director that I had loved. Michael Apted, who'd done a great series of documentaries on these young kids growing up [the Up series]. I was a fan of his and I got to work with someone I totally loved, which was Richard Pryor. The amazing thing about that movie to me was that the two scenes where I meet him in prison and then there's a trial scene, the trial scene was one of the funniest scenes I've ever read. I thought it was gonna play like blockbusters. But when we got on the set, it was the first time I realized-because this is pre-my really good film work and I hadn't done that much film-when I got on the set, Richard Pryor mostly improvised the scene. So it threw me. It didn't throw me off acting-wise. I remember him turning to me and saying to me, "I'm gonna just run with this." In fact, he didn't run with it. He didn't say one line from the script. So that was a little disorienting, but the scene plays pretty well and it's kinda funny.
(2011, on Homeboy) Oh my God, I love Mickey Rourke. I. Loved. Mickey Rourke. He was a bad boy. First of all, I'm working with Chris Walken. ...
(2011, on Homeboy) Oh my God, I love Mickey Rourke. I. Loved. Mickey Rourke. He was a bad boy. First of all, I'm working with Chris Walken. I had done Measure For Measure with Chris Walken at Yale years before, and I think he's brilliant. And it was such a joy to be working with him again. He's playing my flunkie in this movie called Homeboy. But it's also Mickey Rourke, who wrote the script, although he uses a different name for the writer on the script. But it's really his script. It was not very well directed, I thought. Because there was an awful lot of listening to everything that Mickey Rourke was saying. I thought he was much better when he was challenged by people. But the great part for me was, I had to go up to the boxing ring and he was gonna try an improv and I could see him preparing for something and he asked for a piece of chocolate. But he didn't know I was watching him and he was going to spit this chocolate on me as I was trying to yell at him in the ring. So I remember just as we were getting to filming that part and he shoved this chocolate up his mouth and I'm watching him, just as we're about to rehearse, I said, "You're not gonna spit at me are ya?" And he was furious! And he spit right next to me. But he was very angry that I ruined his improv. I thought it was a great moment. And he was tolerant of me. For God's sake, anybody who's worked with me has been extremely tolerant of me. So I love Mickey Rourke.
(2011, on his El Gato character on Miami Vice) I remember everything about El Gato. El Gato was brilliant. That was an insane role. Basicall...
(2011, on his El Gato character on Miami Vice) I remember everything about El Gato. El Gato was brilliant. That was an insane role. Basically, the word I got was an offer, there was no audition. They said, "We've got a gay Hispanic drug-dealing, drug-taking lunatic, and we thought of you." I thought, "Hey! That's perfect." The best part for me was when I walked on the set and I walked to wardrobe and talked to the wardrobe girl, who said, "I see this guy trying to be in and wearing padded shoulders." And I saw it and said, "I love this idea." Sequins, I have a neon pin I wore in the first scene. It was the most tasteless thing. And then I said, "Well, what about if we never show his hands?" Because I always loved the idea of him wearing gloves. I thought, "When am I gonna get the chance to play a queen who wears gloves?" So I asked for gloves. So I would never show my hands. And I asked for padded shoulders and everything. One of the best scenes, I think, is the scene where I'm actually outside wearing black shorts and I have on a polyester shirt, in which I have inserted padded shoulders. I think that shows just about how tasteless this guy was. I love the character. Also, there was a great moment there. I remembered there were some beautiful boys that were these extras. And there was one boy in particular that had this long, beautiful hair. And since I was bald, I said to the casting people, "Keep that boy in my scenes. Always in my scenes. So every time you see me looking sweaty and bald that there's this beautiful boy in the back. Keep him as contrast." You know what I mean? I always loved the idea of surrounding yourself with different colors and palettes.
(2011, on The Freshman) The Freshman was amazing. I, of course, loved Matthew Broderick. And the Brando situation was, I remember I was in t...
(2011, on The Freshman) The Freshman was amazing. I, of course, loved Matthew Broderick. And the Brando situation was, I remember I was in the hotel and we hadn't worked yet. I hadn't worked with Brando. And I was staying at the famous hotel in Toronto that everybody stays in. I can't remember the name right now. And I got into the elevator. There was somebody with a hat on in the corner and I got in and faced front as one does. And I could feel this incredible energy. Really just energy, behind me. And I turned around and it was Brando with this big, wide-brim hat on. And, of course, I was all perky. "Oh, I'm gonna work with you." And you're scaring the hell out of him because he's very short. He's about 5-foot-6, I believe. Or 5-foot-7. He was incredibly heavy and looked like an older man. He was 65 at the time. But I had thought to myself, "That man truly has a palpable aura about him." It was quite an amazing presence that he was. And then, of course, I watched what he did with his makeup. First of all, he does his own makeup. He's not in the makeup room. He does it in his trailer with his makeup man. But he does it in the old theater way of looking in the mirror and doing your own makeup. That, he put together, along with the fact that the design of his character had Frankenstein shoes on that actually added, I think, 6 inches to his feet. So he was walking on these massive Frankenstein-type shoes, you know? So he made himself into this massive powerhouse. It was a beautiful transition to watch this simple man being such a genteel gentleman and then turning into this massive iconic figure of a Don Corleone sort of character. That was a great experience.
(2011, on Marlon Brando's behavior during The Freshman shoot) Brando was on that set for that whole shoot. I'd never seen anything like it. ...
(2011, on Marlon Brando's behavior during The Freshman shoot) Brando was on that set for that whole shoot. I'd never seen anything like it. People used to say he would fly in for a week, fly out for other movies. That movie, he was there. He stayed. He was there and he was working a lot and he was having a really great time. And then we shot in New York. He was terrific then. But we were back in Toronto, doing the end of the film, and they waited until the very end to do the ice-skating scene. Now, this is a 65-year-old man ice-skating. That man fell so many times during that shoot. It was unbelievable. He was falling on the ice. It was a very, very rough shoot. Now, the producer... I think his name was Mike Lobell. I don't think Brando was terribly fond of Mike Lobell. And Mike Lobell was gonna throw a party at one point and Brando threw it himself. That kind of stuff. But anyway, I believe the scuttlebutt was, Brando was to stay an extra week. And he had been there for the full six-to-eight-week shoot. And he asked for another million dollars and he was told no. He said, "If you don't pay me this extra million dollars, then I will bad-mouth this film." And they still said no. The next day he came out and all the papers are saying it's the worst film he'd ever been involved with. They paid him the million dollars the following day and the day after that, he came out and said he loved doing the film! He was ready to do the sequel. That's Brando. That was Brando in a nutshell. Really very funny. Very powerful. Don't mess with that man.
(2011, on getting cast in Miller's Crossing) Now, Miller's Crossing, of course, the story's out there and people know that the Coens had see...
(2011, on getting cast in Miller's Crossing) Now, Miller's Crossing, of course, the story's out there and people know that the Coens had seen me in Death Of A Salesman years before and I was 150 pounds playing Howard. And this was four years later, 'cause I did that at 35 and now I was 39, and I received the script for Miller's Crossing and read the script cover-to-cover. It was one of those you-can't-put-down scripts. And it was brilliant. The first piece was amazing. And, of course, I was flipped and I wanted to play Johnny Caspar. So I assumed that's what they were calling me for. I said to my agent, "Yes, I'm definitely going in on this audition. Tell 'em I want to see them for Johnny Caspar." And then the word came back they don't want to see me for Johnny Caspar. They wanted to see me for the character of The Dane. And I said, "No, no, no, I gotta play Johnny Caspar." And they said, basically, no. They were not interested. They wanted a much older man. A 55-year-old man. And I was 39. They did not know that I gained all the weight and all that. Anyway, I said I won't read for anything but Johnny Caspar. "And tell them that they're gonna have to come back to me cause I'm gonna play Johnny." I was very obnoxious. But anyway, the word came down that they weren't gonna read me. So I went off and I went to Miami. I did Miami Vice. And then I was cast in the play Other People's Money, the original production of that at the Hartford Stage, which became a movie with Danny DeVito, which is another story. But anyway, I was up in Hartford when I got the word that the Coens were on the last legs of casting and they were finally going to see me for Johnny Caspar. And so I went down from Hartford, Connecticut, went to New York, and I read the opening speech. And I remember I was rather annoyed because the casting woman, whom I love, Donna Isaacson, but she has one of those little lapdog things and she kept it in the room. And I'm doing that opening speech and I start it and then the lapdog's barkin' and stuff and I finally went out and I was furious and she said, "Don't leave, don't leave." And I said, "I'll go back in if you get rid of the damn dog!" So she kept the dogs outside and the Coens called and asked me to go back in the room. And they had me read cold the entire role. Scene-by-scene. I read every scene in that movie. Because I think they didn't really know me well and they certainly wanted to see if I could deliver it. And whatever I did in the room meant I got cast. Even though I know there was another actor that was actually in the negotiations to get that part. So I was really very, very lucky-and the Coens, I've spoken to them recently, I've talked to them about how important they've been in my life-that that accident happened. That I didn't read for the other role, which is actually quite like how I got Death Of A Salesman. Sometimes you just gotta stand up for what you want to read for. And in that case, I was able to get Johnny Caspar. And really, I believe that one six-month period shooting in New Orleans, that one role, has led to my workload ever since.
(2011, on Barton Fink) The story about Barton Fink, which is really lovely, is that I wasn't interested in playing that part even though the...
(2011, on Barton Fink) The story about Barton Fink, which is really lovely, is that I wasn't interested in playing that part even though they supposedly wrote it for me. I wanted them to cast me in the Michael Lerner part of Lipnick. But they wouldn't see me. They would say, "We're not gonna use you. We're all free with Lou Breeze." So I asked them to see me in Other People's Money. I was now in New York doing it. And said to them afterwards, I was buying them dinner and drinks-Frances McDormand was there and Joel and Ethan and Ethan's wife-I said, "Well? Well!? Aren't you gonna cast me as Mr. Lipnick?" And they said, "Oh, no no no. We're casting you as Lou Breeze." And I said, "Well, I don't wanna do Lou Breeze." And they said, "Well, that's up to you, but that's what we're offering you." And I basically said I wasn't interested. And I walked out. I remember it was raining. It was a rainy day in Greenwich Village. And I heard, "Jon! Jon!" And I was holding my tiny New York umbrella. Those fold-out things. And under the umbrella came running up Frances McDormand. Wet, her hair dripping. And she came right up to my face and said, "You gotta do this part." I said, "Frances, you know, I want to do large-I'm at the point..." She said, "You got to do this part. They wrote it for you. It'll change your career." I said, "What are you talking about?" She said, "I was the lead of Blood Simple and then they put me in a very small part in Raising Arizona but it was so different than Blood Simple, I was cast based on the fact I could play that part. You must do what these guys say to do!" Basically, she was just saying, "Do it!" And I don't mess with Frances McDormand, so...It was so wonderful that she did that. And it was a wonderful choice because it showed immediately that there was so much variation. It was great and helpful. I enjoyed very much doing that part and I remembered the creation of the part when Ethan had the hairpiece made with the comb-over, which was used in several performances. That same hairpiece I used in the Seinfeld "Landlord" role. So the hairpiece thing and then the glasses. And when I looked in the mirror, I made my voice [Nasally.] much more up here and nasal. And immediately, when they heard that, they said, "That's the character." So it was complete variation for me. And the wonderful gift, once again, from Joel and Ethan.
(2011, on The Rocketeer) I loved that movie. That was a lot of fun. That was a good experience because I loved those kinds of characters. Th...
(2011, on The Rocketeer) I loved that movie. That was a lot of fun. That was a good experience because I loved those kinds of characters. That's the kind of stuff from the old Warners films or an old C.B. DeMille circus film. That was a big, bombastic guy. Plus, it was directed by Joe Johnston, who I was a fan of. I was a fan of his special-effects work. And I knew the leading man because he was on Crime Story. Billy Campbell. Billy Campbell had been on Crime Story, not really doing much, but he had been lovely to look at and lovely in his performance, so I knew him and now he was a leading man playing this part. That was all a wonderful experience. And we shot it in Santa Maria, California at an airport and those planes were really shooting over us. The special-effects stuff was a variation between the special effects and the real planes and stuff. Like, today, everything would be done digitally. But then, they were using real planes and real stunt people. It was beautiful stuff.
(2011, on The Crow) Yeah, well, let's put it this way: We were shooting at night and the very first day they were setting up the lights, the...
(2011, on The Crow) Yeah, well, let's put it this way: We were shooting at night and the very first day they were setting up the lights, there was a guy who was driving a cherry-picker onto the lot. A cherry-picker that you put lights on. And the cherry-picker fell into a gully, and we lifted the back of the cherry-picker where the guy was lifted up, and went right into an electrical pole and he was electrocuted. And he was near death. All of his organs were burned. He was about 26. His wife was pregnant. It was a bad luck opening to a film. And then the third night when we were shooting, I remember the prop truck caught on fire and nobody knew what that was about. And then we had a hurricane that destroyed parts of the street sets. The hurricane was so bad. Of course, we were staying at the hotel Holiday Inn Cape Fear, so that should give you some sense of what the film was gonna be like. And I loved Brandon Lee. He was a beautiful, sweet man. And I remember my first scene with him was his breaking through the glass to come into my shop at the end of the fight. And I remember him breaking through the sugar glass and his body got cut. I remember one of the first things I said to that man was, "Don't pull a Vic Morrow on this film. Don't endanger yourself in any way." Vic Morrow was still fresh on our minds at that time.
(2011, on The Hudsucker Proxy) The funny part with that was that character was just a one-scene screaming part that the Coens wanted to shov...
(2011, on The Hudsucker Proxy) The funny part with that was that character was just a one-scene screaming part that the Coens wanted to shove me in, sort of like a talisman for their film, because I had been in the other two. And the way it worked out was, I was going to be in North Carolina doing The Crow at the very same studio. So that's how we were able to work out me doing the cameo. They were going to work around my Crow schedule to put me in. So there was nothing really to say about that part, just to say it was a screaming part on that crazy gorgeous set that they built for Hudsucker. The set was amazing and, of course, the set was produced amazingly. The important part about that shoot was that we were on that same lot doing The Crow and in The Crow we were doing all street scenes and shooting at night, and The Crow was a very bad-luck film from the very first moment.
(2011, on The Big Lebowski) Well, that was a one-night shoot, so my experience really had to do with Jeff Bridges. And I couldn't really mak...
(2011, on The Big Lebowski) Well, that was a one-night shoot, so my experience really had to do with Jeff Bridges. And I couldn't really make heads or tails of the script except that I remember it being very funny. And then walking on there, I'd never seen anybody look as dirty or as disgusting as Jeff Bridges. He looked like he smelled. That guy and his performance with that beautiful phrasing is so brilliant in that movie. So let's say that the evening was a magical one. Jeff Bridges was magical to work with, of course. It turned out to be something that, once again, was not very popular when it opened up, [but] turned out to be a rather iconic film. So that alone has put me into the realm of the iconic, I guess, just because I've touched these Coen brothers. That I've really been able to have a career based on the fact that what they touch is gold and I just keep holding onto them and touching them.
I've accepted everything that was offered to me in my life. I'm a total whore. I have no standards. I do everything.
I've accepted everything that was offered to me in my life. I'm a total whore. I have no standards. I do everything.
Jon Polito's FILMOGRAPHY
Example Example Example
Jon Polito'S roles
Det. Walter Bedsoe
Comissioner Gillian B. Loeb
Judge Emerson Greer