One of today's best character actors, the inexhaustible Joe Pantoliano boasts over 100 film, television, and stage credits. A favorite of directors Richard Donner, Steven Spielberg, Andrew Davis, and Andy and Larry Wachowski, he is also a dependable scene stealer with more than his share of memorable roles -- including killer pimp Guido in Risky Business (1983), bumbling criminal Francis Fratelli in The Goonies (1985), double-crossing bail bondsman Eddie Moscone in Midnight Run (1988), cynical U.S. Marshall Cosmo Renfro in The Fugitive (1993), turncoat Cypher in The Matrix (1999), and shady sidekick Teddy in Memento (2000). Born on September 12, 1951 in Hoboken, NJ, the actor is the only son of Dominic, a hearse driver, and Mary Pantoliano, a part-time seamstress/bookie. When he was 12, Pantoliano's mother left his father for her distant cousin Florio, though the couple never officially divorced. Pantoliano and his younger sister Maryann grew up throughout northern New Jersey with their mother and Florio, whom they eventually came to regard as their stepfather. Pantoliano suffered from severe dyslexia, and at age 17, he was still reading at the third-grade level. After seeing the youngster perform in his senior play, Up the Down Staircase, Florio convinced him to pursue acting professionally. Pantoliano moved to Manhattan, where he worked as a waiter while juggling acting classes and auditions. In 1972, he landed the coveted role of stuttering Billy Bibbit in the touring production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Four years later, Pantoliano moved west to try his luck in Hollywood. After making his television debut in the sitcom pilot McNamara's Band, he landed a recurring role in Rob Reiner's summer replacement series, Free Country. Reiner then tapped Pantoliano to co-star with him in James Burrows' television movie More Than Friends (1978). This led to the part of Angelo Maggio -- a role originated by fellow Hoboken-ite Frank Sinatra -- in NBC's miniseries adaptation of James Jones' From Here to Eternity (1979). After making his major feature-film debut in The Idolmaker (1980), Pantoliano guest starred on Hart to Hart, M*A*S*H, and Hardcastle and McCormick, as well as appeared on the Los Angeles stage in Orphans. He also landed a sizable part opposite a young Tom Cruise in the surprise hit Risky Business (1983). The comic ruthlessness with which Pantoliano's pimp tortures Cruise quickly earned the character actor a loyal cult following. He gave standout performances in Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) and the off-Broadway play Visions of Kerouac, before thrilling audiences again in the Spielberg-produced adventure The Goonies (1985). Scores of plum roles followed: Pantoliano joined Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in Running Scared (1986), portrayed Lou Diamond Phillips' music producer in La Bamba (1987), re-teamed with Spielberg in Empire of the Sun (1987), and acted opposite Robert De Niro in Midnight Run (1988). He then topped these performances off with an unforgettable turn opposite Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive (1993), delivering a funny, fiery tour de force that was pure Pantoliano right down to the name he chose for his character, Cosmo -- his grandfather's name. By the mid-'90s, Pantoliano had a recognizable name and a devoted fan base. While making numerous television guest appearances, he starred with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon in directors Andy and Larry Wachowski's debut thriller, Bound (1996). Pantoliano's edgy performance as a doomed money launderer impressed the Wachowskis so much that they created the character of Cypher in The Matrix (1999) exclusively for him. Shortly afterward, his co-star in the sci-fi spectacular, Carrie-Anne Moss, insisted that director Christopher Nolan hire Pantoliano for the third lead in his sleeper-hit Memento (2000). In 2001, at the behest of producer David Chase, Pantoliano joined the cast of the landmark HBO series The Sopranos. While earning a well-deserved Emmy as psychopathic mobster Ralphie Cifaretto on the hit show, the actor published Who's Sorry Now: The True Story of a Stand-Up Guy, a bittersweet memoir about his New Jersey childhood. He also put the finishing touches on his directorial debut, Just Like Mona (2002), and began filming his role as reporter Ben Urich in the comic book adaptation Daredevil (2003). Over the course of the next decade, the versatile actor continued his trend of turning in memorable supporting performances on film and television, with turns in films like Bad Boys II and Pecy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief offering the most exposure. Meanwhile, in 2009, Pantoliano got personal with his fans as the director of No Kidding, Me Too!, a playful yet poignant documentary exploring the devastating effects of mental illness, and the steps being taken to eradicate it.
Biography by Aubry Anne D'Arminio
- Nickname "Joey Pants" came from his childhood in Hoboken, NJ, when neighborhood kids had trouble pronouncing his last name.
- While playing Maggio in the 1979 NBC miniseries From Here to Eternity, he met David Chase, the future creator of The Sopranos, who was then a writer for The Rockford Files.
- Published his autobiography Who's Sorry Now: The True Story of a Stand-Up Guy (written with David Evanier) in 2002.
- At his 1994 wedding to Nancy Sheppard, the ceremony was performed by comic (and ordained minister) Charles Rocket.
- A collector of rare and first-edition books, he has owned works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger, as well as the Budd Schulberg screenplay for On the Waterfront.
- Following a diagnosis of clinical depression in 2006, started a charity called No Kidding, Me Too! (www.nkm2.org), which is dedicated to removing the stigma associated with mental illness; also directed a 2009 documentary of the same name.
- With childhood friend and chef Rich Pèpe, launched a line of pasta sauce in 2010 called Pèpe & Pants, with a portion of the proceeds going to charities, including No Kidding, Me Too!