How Joe Pesci Fought for His Iconic Role in ‘Goodfellas’

September 18, 2017

“I’m funny how? I mean, funny, like I’m a clown?” –Tommy DeVito

Am I really doing enough to advance my career? To succeed? Do I have the grit and determination and ingenuity to actualize my dreams? Am I working hard enough and being proactive in my approach to the business? These are some of the questions you might ask yourself from time to time as you assess the state of your career. Maybe you ask yourself these questions every day! And indeed you should, because we can always do more. Acting is a tough game by anyone’s standards, but if you give it all you’ve got, some amazing things might happen.

Consider Joe Pesci, powerhouse actor of the gangster epic Goodfellas, the Home Alone series as well as the Lethal Weapon franchise–among many other archetypal roles. Pesci is a singular talent in the world of acting as his commitment to his characters is legendary and his versatility is renowned. But it’s his turn as the psychotic-yet-hilarious Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas which put him on the map and cemented his iconic status. That particular character is so unique, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role. But as it turns out, Joe almost didn’t get the part!

In the attached YouTube video clip, Pesci says that Marty thought he was too old to play the part of the wild and juvenile gangster. They actually had a heated argument and hung up on one another. But Joe was not to be deterred. He got an ace makeup artist to Benjamin Button him, which apparently wasn’t easy, and he put himself on tape as the headlong and unnerving character Tommy DeVito.

And the rest is history. Joe Pesci won the Oscar for best supporting actor in a feature film in 1991 and went on to enjoy a thrilling and storied career. But what if he hadn’t gone the extra mile and fought like a lion to procure that role? Hard to say, but it’s a good bet he wouldn’t have achieved the heights of stardom and respect he now enjoys.

Are you leaving no stone unturned in your career? No opportunity wasted? Now, it’s not advisable to hang up on or refuse to hear a no from a director you’re trying to impress; you might end up burning a bridge instead of building one. After all, one of the main characteristics many directors say they’re seeking, besides talent, is someone who’s a pleasure with whom to work. However, it should be noted that Joe Pesci already had a relationship with Martin Scorsese. In fact, they’d done some great work together on Raging Bull prior to the Goodfellas shoot. While it would have been much easier to accept the feedback that he was too old for the part, it would have been a wasted opportunity to be sure. Showing your determination to commit to the role might keep you in contention. Just stay within the bounds of professional behavior and respect everyone’s space, and you should be good!