“Like a carpenter builds a table and it’s standing there, actors should leave something behind them that you see and say, ‘Ah, I’ll never forget that.’” John Turturro
A gifted, lightly built, Italian-American actor/writer/director who always looks troubled and jumpy, John Turturro has become a favorite of cult/art house film fanatics with his performances in a broad range of cinematic vehicles. A regular in the provoking films of Spike Lee and the off-the-wall comedies of Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Turturro, who delivered his first breakthrough as dogmatic pizzeria worker Pino in Spike Lee’s comedy Do the Right Thing (1989), received recognition and appreciation as the bewildered screenwriter in the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink (1991), in which he was honored the 1991 Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Award and the 1992 David di Donatello Best Foreign Actor Award. His later role, as paleontologist Benjamin, in Two Thousand and None (2000) garnered the frizzy-haired actor a Taormina International Film Festival award. Additionally, he added an Emmy Award to his impressive accomplishments for his outstanding guest starring performance as Brother Ambrose Monk in an episode of USA’s quirky detective series “Monk” (2004).
Turturro is also remembered for playing roles in such movies as To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), The Color of Money (1986), Five Corners (1987), Men of Respect (1991), Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1993), Unstrung Heroes (1995), Box of Moonlight (1996), The Truce (1997), The Big Lebowski (1998) and Cradle Will Rock (1999). His more recent and upcoming credits include the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000), The Luzhin Defence (2000), The Man Who Cried (2000), The Sundance-screened Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001), the comedy Mr. Deeds (2002), Secret Window (2004), the Spike Lee comedy She Hate Me (2004), the drama Quelques jours en septembre (2006) and Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd (2006).
As a director, Turturro, who has his own production company called Humperdink Productions, has directed such films as the 1992 Cannes’ Best First Feature Mac (1992, also starred), Illuminata (1998, also produced, co-scripted and starred) and the musical/black comedy Romance & Cigarettes (2005, also acted). He is also scheduled to sit in the director’s chair for the upcoming TV movie The Doorman (2006).
On stage, the multitalented actor made a name for himself for his exceptional performance in the Off-Broadway play “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” (1984), where he took home an Obie Award. Among his notable performances are the title role in Bertolt Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” (1991) and Estragon in Waiting for Godot (1998).
As for his romantic life, 6’ 1” Turturro has been sharing his time outside the spotlight with his wife of 16 years, actress Katherine Borowitz and their two sons, Amadeo Turturro (born in 1990) and Diego Turturro (born in 2001).
Childhood and Family:
In Brooklyn, New York, John Turturro was born on February 28, 1957. His father, Nicholas Turturro (died in 1988 of lung cancer), was an Italian immigrant who worked as a carpenter and construction worker and his Sicilian mother, Katherine Turturro, was an amateur jazz singer. John has two brothers, Ralph Turturro (older) and Nicholas Turturro, an actor born on January 29, 1962.
Brooklyn-born, John moved with his family to Rosedale, Queens when he was six. As a child, he developed an interest in film and after earning a BS from the State University of New York, he won a scholarship to study at the prestigious Yale Drama School and received a MFA degree in 1983. He also studied acting with Robert X. Modica.
In 1985, John Turturro married actress Katherine Borowitz and, in August 1990, while filming Barton Fink, his wife gave birth to their first son, Amadeo Turturro, which was named after artist Amedeo Modigliani. The couple welcomed their second son, Diego Turturro, 11 years later in 2001.
Do the Right Thing
Charmed by movies during childhood, John Turturro began his career as a film extra in a 1980 movie by director Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull, which starred Robert De Niro. This was after he earned praise in regional theater and Off-Broadway. A year after receiving his MFA from the Yale School of Drama, Turturro gained positive reviews and won a 1984 Obie for his role in his Off-Broadway debut, John Patrick Shanley’s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” a role he first created at the Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center a year before. The same year, he moved on to Broadway, debuting on “Death of a Salesman,” opposite Dustin Hoffman.
Despite playing bit parts in such features as Exterminator 2 (1984), The Flamingo Kid (1984) and Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), it was Shanley’s play that landed Turturro larger roles. He was seen in Woody Allen’s masterful Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) and Scorsese’s drama The Color of Money (1986). In 1987, he gained additional notice as Heinz Sabatino, a psychopathic who terrified Jodie Foster in the Shanley-penned, Tony Bill-helmed drama Five Corners (1987). Impressed by his performance in Five Corners, writer-director-actor Spike Lee cast Turturro in his breakthrough role as Pino, a bigoted pizzeria worker, in the comedy Do the Right Thing (1989), starring Danny Aiello and Ossie Davis.
The 1990s saw Turturro land more film roles. In 1990, he made four movies, including Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues and the Coen brothers’ gangland drama Miller’s Crossing. He won his first starring role in the following year when director William Reilly paired him with wife Katherine Borowitz in the conceited modern version of “Macbeth,” Men of Respect, and he showed his versatility in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991).
Turturro’s big break arrived in 1991 when he was re-teamed with the Coen brothers in the dark satire Barton Fink. As the films’ titular character, baffled screenwriter Barton Fink, the actor’s bright performance was critically applauded and he was handed a 1992 David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actor and a 1991 Cannes Film Festival for Best Actor. He scored another success in the following year with the festival-screened Mac, a little-seen independent movie that won a Golden Camera award for Best First Feature at the Cannes Festival in 1992. The rock-hard tale of three Italian-American brothers in Queens, New York, starred Turturro as a carpenter who tries to begin his own construction company in the 50s. Aside from acting, Turturro also served as a director and co-writer.
Following supporting roles in the disappointing Being Human (1993) and Peter Weir’s superb Fearless (1993), Turturro gave an exciting, scene-stealing turn as beaten game show champ Herbert Stempel in Robert Redford’s Quiz Show, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, and was perfectly cast as a faithful husband to a gravely ill wife (Andie MacDowell) and troubled father to a sensitive little child, Sid Lidz, in the Diane Keaton directorial debut Unstrung Heroes (1995). Also in 1995, he made his TV movie debut in the acclaimed HBO movie Sugartime, starring as hoodlum Sam Giancana, opposite Mary-Louise Parker as Phyllis McGuire. Next up for Turturro, he had supporting turns in Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995) and Spike Lee’s Girl 6 (1996) before starring as Al Fountain in Box of Moonlight (1996), for director Tom DiCillo. In 1997, he lost 30 pounds to totally capture the bird-like, ill-health of a released prisoner, Italian writer and Holocaust-survivor Primo Levi in Francesco Rosi’s The Truce. 1998-1999 saw roles in Animals and the Tollkeeper (1998), the Coen brothers The Big Lebowski (1998, offered a memorable cameo as flamboyant Latin sex offender Jesus), the Spike Lee basketball drama He Got Game (1998) and the Summer of Sam (1999, provided the voice of Harvey the Black Dog), O.K. Garage (1998), the Cannes-screened Illuminata (1998, also directed, produced and co-scripted), Rounders (1998) and Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock (1999).
Entering the new millennium, the versatile, Brooklyn-born performer proved he was still on track with such fine performances as playing one of the convicts, Pete, in the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000), opposite George Clooney and Tim Blake Nelson, where he earned a MTV nomination for Best On-Screen Team, and Benjamin Kasparian, a paleontologist diagnosed with a fatal brain disease, in Two Thousand and None (2000), wherein he won a Taormina International Film Festival award. He also played Crocker Johnson in Company Man (2000) and the unconventional, but ingenious, chess Grand Master in The Luzhin Defence (2000). Turturro was featured in the Venice Film Festival-premiered The Man Who Cried (2000, opposite Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci and Cate Blanchett) and The Sundance-screened Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001), as well as voiced the titular character in Monkeybone (2001).
In 2002, Turturro received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for his starring turn as Howard Cosell in the TNT movie Monday Night Mayhem before making his way back to film acting with a supporting role as snooty butler Emilio Lopez in Steven Brill’s romantic-comedy Mr. Deeds (2002), starring Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder. He then found himself acting with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the action-thriller Collateral Damage (2002). In the 2003 little-seen psychological thriller Fear X, Turturro was seen as a grief-stricken husband obsessed with solving the murder of his wife, and then appeared as a therapy patient in Anger Management (2003). The subsequent year, he starred in Secret Passage (2004), costarred with Johnny Depp and Maria Bello in Secret Window (2004), acted with Adam Trese and Andrew McCarthy in the comedy/drama 2BPerfectlyHonest (2004) and had a feature role in the Spike Lee comedy She Hate Me (2004). Still in 2004, the actor took home an Emmy for Best Performance by a Guest Actor in a Comedy with his convincing guest role as Ambrose Monk, Tony Shaloub’s agoraphobic brother, in an episode of The USA eccentric detective series “Monk” (2004).
After providing his voice for the animated feature The Moon and the Son (2005), Turturro was back in the director’s chair to helm the musical/black comedy Romance & Cigarettes (2005), where he also served as a writer and appeared as a sidewalk dancer. The film starred James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet and Steve Buscemi. He is scheduled to star with Juliette Binoche and Nick Nolte in the drama Quelques jours en septembre (2006) and play a role in Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd (2006), alongside De Niro, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Joe Pesci.
In addition to his hectic film schedule, Turturro has also frequently been seen on stage, most notably in two off-Broadway revivals by the Classic Stage Company. He earned kudos for his bright portrayal of a gangster whose rise parallels Hitler in Bertolt Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” (1991) and his role as Estragon, opposite Tony Shalhoub’s Vladimir, in the 1998 Waiting for Godot.