Lovable tough guy character actor Dennis Farina was already well into his first career as a Chicago cop before he was able to turn his occasional acting gigs into a prodigious new line of work.
Raised in Chicago by Italian immigrant parents, Farina joined his hometown's police force in the mid-'60s, settling into a life of law enforcement. When he was hired to be a local consultant on Michael Mann's film Thief (1981), however, Farina wound up with a bit part as the villain's heavy. Farina continued to moonlight as an actor for several years, appearing in local theater and occasional movies, including Final Jeopardy (1985) and the Chuck Norris vehicle Code of Silence (1985). Though he never took an acting class, Farina was a natural; after Michael Mann offered him the lead in the series Crime Story in 1986, Farina left the police force to play a TV cop. During his 1986-1988 stint on the series, Farina also played FBI agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glen's part in Silence of the Lambs ) in Mann's stylish thriller Manhunter (1986), was the Birdman of Alcatraz in the TV movie Six Against the Rock (1987), and a cop in TV movie mystery Through Naked Eyes (1987).
Drawing on his no-nonsense charm as well as his eclectic life experience, Farina continued to shine in roles on both sides of the law, such as serial killer Angelo Buono in The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989) and the lead prosecutor in the TV docudrama Blind Faith (1990). As nimble with comedy, Farina went up against Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin as a mobster in the popular buddy yarn Midnight Run (1988). His versatility firmly established by the 1990s, Farina's early '90s work ranged from playing a billionaire in People Like Us (1990), to Banquo in a New York gangland version of Macbeth, Men of Honor (1991), as well as supporting roles in the comedy Another Stakeout (1993), Bruce Willis actioner Striking Distance (1993), John Turturro's Italian-American family drama Mac (1993), and vicious neo-noir Romeo Is Bleeding (1994).
Farina's appearance as John Travolta's nemesis, hilariously bumbling tough guy Ray "Bones" Barboni, in Barry Sonnenfeld's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty (1995), led to his most notable hit since Midnight Run. His career hitting a new high, Farina co-starred with Bette Midler as reunited exes in Carl Reiner's That Old Feeling (1997), and starred as a Sicilian bigwig in the high-profile TV miniseries Bella Mafia (1997). Though his Marshall Sisco made only a brief appearance in Steven Soderbergh's esteemed Elmore Leonard adaptation Out of Sight (1998), Farina was pitch-perfect as Jennifer Lopez's protective dad. After joining the superb corps in Steven Spielberg's award-winning Saving Private Ryan (1998), Farina returned to series TV, playing smooth detective Buddy Faro (1998); the series, however, lasted only one season.
Returning to films, Farina followed his role as the police captain who recruits The Mod Squad (1999) with another comic turn as a New York gangster who sets the diamond larceny plot in motion in Snatch (2000), adding a dash of Hollywood celebrity (along with Brad Pitt and Benicio del Toro) to British lad director Guy Ritchie's sophomore effort. The releases of two of Farina's next films, Barry Sonnenfeld's caper Big Trouble (2001) and Edward Burns' romantic comedy Sidewalks of New York (2001), were delayed after the terrorist attack on New York on September 11, 2001. Sidewalks of New York surfaced later in 2001, but the romantic comedy failed to charm a large audience. Big Trouble finally made it into theaters in the first half of 2002, but despite the big name cast, Sonnenfeld's farce joined such high profile fare as Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Collateral Damage (2002) and the espionage actioner Bad Company (2002) on the list of 9/11-delayed flops. Farina's next film, the broad, witless comedy Stealing Harvard (2002), also failed at the box office. Farina returned to television during the fall 2002 season with a lead role as a comically monstrous Meet the Parents-esque father-in-law on the sitcom The In-Laws (2002). Despite initially withering reviews, The In-Laws managed to show signs of ratings life.
As the 2000's rolled forward, Farina appeared in a number of movies, most notably in Bottle Shock and What Happens in Vegas. Farina would find even more success on the small screen, with roles on Law & Order and the much discussed horse-racing drama Luck. Sadly, Farina died of a bloodclot in his lung in July of 2013. He was 69 years old.