Growing up in Union City, NJ, Bobby Cannavale participated in the school play because his mother wanted him off the streets. Today, he is a recognizable New York-based character actor with roles in the city's best theater, television, and film productions.
Cannavale was born in New Jersey to an Italian father and a Cuban mother. His parents insisted that he attend St. Michael's Catholic School in Union City where he took part in almost every after school activity, from the alter boys to the chorus. When he was eight, Cannavale secured the plum role of "the lisping boy" in his school's production of The Music Man and a part in Guys and Dolls. Ever since then, he wanted to do nothing but perform.
Cannavale's parents divorced when he was 13 and his mother moved the family to Puerto Rico. After two years in Latin America, they returned to the United States and settled in Coconut Creek, FL. Cannavale returned to New Jersey after graduating high school in the late '80s -- he needed to be closer to New York in order to begin his acting career. Forgoing acting lessons for actual performance experience, Cannavale became involved with Manhattan's prestigious Circle Repertory Theater. He served as a "reader" for several plays and was eventually cast as Mark Linn-Baker's understudy in Georges Feydeau's French farce A Flea in Her Ear. Cannavale soon ended up replacing Baker for two weeks. His first-rate performance secured him a role in the company's next play, Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Television powerhouse John Wells attended one of the shows and cast Cannavale in his television series Trinity. Cannavale's character, a tugboat operator, was supposed to appear in only three episodes of the show, but starred in nine.
Trinity was canceled in 1998, but Wells immediately secured Cannavale for his next television venture, 1999's Third Watch. As dedicated and lovesick paramedic Robert "Bobby" Caffey, Cannavale struck a cord with female audiences. The show was renewed for a second season, but Cannavale felt that Caffey's character was not being developed. He asked Wells to let him exit the series and to make sure he exited "big." The producer obliged his friend: Caffey left the show mid-season after being fatally shot in the chest. The dramatic two-part episode even included a "beyond the grave" meeting between Caffey and his deceased dead-beat dad. In 2001, Cannavale joined the cast of his then-father-in-law, Sidney Lumet's heralded television courtroom drama, 100 Centre Street. Cannavale's brazen, ambitious prosecutor, J.J. Jellinek, is a far cry from the softhearted paramedic he portrayed on Third Watch. Debuting on the show at the beginning of its second season, Jellinek shook up 100 Centre Street -- immediately romancing a fellow lawyer and shamelessly advancing his career in any way possible.
Cannavale's television career has not kept him away from theater or film. He appeared on-stage throughout the '90s, participating in productions such as Lanford Wilson's Virgil Is Still the Frog Boy and Noel Coward's In Two Keys. His movie credits include Herbe Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport (1996) with Walter Mathau and Ossie Davis, Lumet's Night Falls on Manhattan (1997), and Gloria (1999), John Irvin's HBO original film When Trumpet's Fade (1998), Phillip Noyce's The Bone Collector (1999) with Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington, Spike Lee's 3 A.M. (2001) with Danny Glover, Alec Baldwin's The Devil and Daniel Webster (2002), and Daisy Von Scherler Mayer's The Guru (2002). Cast as friendly and outgoing lunch truck vender Joe in the critically acclaimed 2003 indie hit The Station Agent, Cannavale provided the perfect contrast to Peter Dinklage's introverted protagonist. WIth subsequent small screen roles in Kingpin and OZ that same year, the up and coming actor would become a familiar face to television viewers before once again returning to the silver screen for supporting roles in Shall We Dance?, Haven, and Romance and Cigarettes.
A recurring, Emmy-winning role on Will and Grace ensured Cannavale's continued presence on the small screen right through to the final episode of the series aired in May of 2006, with a slew of supporting performance in such the features The Night Listener, Fast Food Nation, Snakes on a Plane, 10 Items or Less, and Dedication that same year proving that Cannivale was the go-to guy for producers in search of quality supporting players. This trend would continue for the actor in the coming years, as he turned up in everything from the quirky Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, to the family friendly Paul Blart: Mall Cop. In 2010 he took a small part in the Will Ferrell comedy The Other Guys. The next year he reteamed with Tom McCarthy for Win Win.
Cannavale continued to showcase his incredible range in the years to come. In 2012, he had a season-long arc on Boardwalk Empire, winning an Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. He then had a recurring role on Nurse Jackie (opposite his son, Jake, playing Cannavale's character's son). After playing Chili in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine in 2013, Cannavale took supporting roles in Chef, Adult Beginners and the remake of Annie, all in 2014. The following year, he appeared in Danny Collins (opposite Al Pacino), and took smaller roles in big movies like Spy, Ant-Man and Daddy's Home.