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Joe Pantoliano's Current Work

Joe Pantoliano’s Current Work — The ‘EZ Streets’ star also played the pimp in ‘Risky Business’

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Joe Pantoliano thought he was in a bad mood when he sat for this interview. The movie Bound, in which he plays Ceasar, a money-laundering mafioso who likes to operate with pruning shears, had just been clobbered at the box office by, among other things, The Glimmer Man — ”a freaking Steven Seagal movie,” as the 42-year-old Hoboken, N.J.-born actor put it.

Imagine the mood he’s in now. EZ Streets, the edgy crime drama he starred in with Ken Olin, was just yanked by CBS — to be relaunched later this season. Then again, it wasn’t as if the actor hadn’t suspected the worst. ”The show has the kiss of death written all over it,” he said, precancellation. ”We’re getting great reviews. But let’s face it, Americans work their asses off, and the last thing they want to do when they go home and turn on the TV is think. I guarantee the show’s canceled by December.”

Okay, so Pantoliano was a month off. But according to CBS spokesperson Terri Corigliano, there’s still hope: ”We love the show, but sometimes you have to take a show off the air to save it.” And it’s not as if Pantoliano isn’t used to rolling with the punches. The life of a character actor can be tough, even when you’re making big movies. Pantoliano played Guido, the killer pimp, in Risky Business, and costarred with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, yet he says he still can’t bank on his track record: ”I’m remembered for movies nobody remembers, or for roles nobody knew were me.”

To tell the truth, even Pantoliano can’t remember everything he’s done. Asked to run through a list of his credits during an interview at the modest home he shares with artist Nancy Sheppard in Santa Monica, Calif., he admits he’s forgotten portions of his résumé. ”The Immortals? What the hell was The Immortals? Wait a minute, I associate-produced that? This is so depressing!”

These days, Pantoliano’s career is a hit with critics at least. His noirish turns in Bound and EZ Streets have won raves. Just in case, though, the actor has an alternative career lined up, and right now Plan B is sssmokin‘. His Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills — a private cigar lounge where high-profile puffers like Schwarzenegger and Nicholson pay annual dues of $2,000 just to light up — has been a huge hit. ”Instead of making three bad movies a year,” he says, ”I can do one good one and still have enough money to live.”

With so many gripes, why even bother with acting? ”Because I love it,” Pantoliano says. ”Actors always complain. Either they’re not acting enough or they’ve got too much to do. But, hey, it sure beats workin’ for a living.”