Actor, playwright, and screenwriter Chazz Palminteri is anything but an overnight success. For him, stardom was the result of nearly 20 years of relative obscurity as he worked his way from nightclubs to off-Broadway to small television roles. It was only after he penned his one-man 35-character autobiographical play A Bronx Tale that the then-36-year-old actor hit the big time. A big, burly Italian, he has since specialized in playing heavies and other bad guys.
Born Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri, the son of a Bronx bus driver, he first dreamed of an acting career at age 13. Following high school, however, Palminteri became a singer and spent over a decade as a lounge crooner; he was also a member of a pop group. Though he made a decent living, Palminteri couldn't forget his initial aspiration and, in 1982, devoted himself full-time to acting. While attending acting classes and auditioning, Palminteri supported himself as a doorman and spent the next few years working off-Broadway in small roles. In 1988, he headed to Southern California to work as a bit-player on television, making his debut appearance on Hill Street Blues. After two years of playing relatively inconsequential parts, a frustrated Palminteri took matters into his own hands and, on five yellow legal pads, wrote the script for A Bronx Tale. The play debuted at the West Coast Ensemble theater to critical raves. He then took it to Playhouse 91 in New York, where it played to standing-room-only crowds for four months. One night, Robert DeNiro caught it and was greatly impressed by both Palminteri and his play. Shortly afterward, Palminteri was visited by Hollywood producers wanting to by the film rights. Cagily, he refused to sell unless he was guaranteed the lead. Four years later, with help from DeNiro, who would use it for his directorial debut and play a supporting role, Palminteri's wish came true. Released in 1993, A Bronx Tale received critical praise but did not catch on with audiences. Still, it was enough to jump-start Palminteri's film career and, in 1994, he co-starred in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway as Cheech, a gangster thug with a love of the theater. Palminteri's portrayal of Cheech earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In 1996, another of Palminteri's plays, Faithful, the offbeat story of a strange relationship between a suicidal housewife and the thug her husband hires to kill her, became a film starring himself and Cher. A subsequent turn as the malevolent headmaster of a prestigious private school in the same year's Diabolique found Palminteri hanging up his gangster hat to turn in an especially menacing performance, with subsequent roles in Mulholland Falls, Analyze This, and Just Like Mona showing an actor who had perfected roles on both sides of the law and seemed to show little interest in branching out. Vocal performances in Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure and the computer animated 2005 comedy Hoodwinked made impressive use of the screen heavy's distinctive voice, and gave the longtime screen actor a chance to have some fun without necessarily having the stress of being on camera. A rare voyage into weekly television followed when Palminteri served as boss to one of television's greatest detectives in the 2005 revival of Kojack (this time featuring actor Ving Rhames in the role of the lollipop -munching cop), with a subsequent role as a crooked cop in Wayne Kramer's hyper-stylized action entry Running Scared finding the actor remaining safely behind the badge. One of six co-recipients of a Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Ensemble Performance at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival for his participation in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Palminteri cold next be seen as a diamond-hunting gangster searching for a most unusual thief in the Wayans brothers comedy Little Man (2006).
Since then, Palminteri has divided his time between family life and his film career.