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Chazz Palminteri tells the story behind his Bronx Tale

Chazz Palminteri brings his one-man show A Bronx Tale to Toronto for the first time on March 29. The play, partially based on his childhood, was adapted for a 1993 film that starred the actor-writer and Robert De Niro, who also directed and co-produced the movie. We spoke to Mr. Palminteri from New York.

How is the stage show of A Bronx Tale different from the film, other than it being performed by one actor?

It's more of a visceral experience, because I'm the guy. I am [the protagonist] Calogero. I'm telling you the story of my life, and about my father the bus driver and Sonny the wise guy.

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It's called A Bronx Tale, and it's an Italian story. But it's essentially a coming of age tale, right?

That's what it is, exactly. When I did the national tour, after Broadway, it didn't matter what city I was in. The characters are archetypes – the father, the mother, the young boy. It's about racism. It's about a father telling his son about not wasting his talent. People connect to it.

How did your father react to it?

He loved it. Especially when he first saw the play, and then when the movie came out. Robert De Niro and him hung out for a month, because De Niro was playing him and wanted to get to know him. Imagine that. Here's my father, a Sicilian who loved The Godfather and Robert De Niro. And now he's playing him. I mean, c'mon.

How did you feel yourself when Robert De Niro approached you about making the play into a movie?

I was excited, of course. Bob was the one who really wanted me to play Sonny in the movie. That was the only deal I would make, to be honest with you. I wasn't going into any deal where I wasn't writing the screenplay and I wasn't playing Sonny. And Bob granted me that.

Can we say that he made you an offer you couldn't refuse?

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Listen, I was offered $250,000 by a studio to walk away from it. I had $187 in the bank, but I said no. Three weeks later they offered me a half-million dollars. Then a month later I was offered $1-million, again to walk away. That's how bad they wanted to make the movie.

But only De Niro was going to let you write it and play Sonny?

After doing the play one night, somebody told me that Robert De Niro was in my dressing room. He told me that A Bronx Tale was the greatest one-man show he'd ever seen. He asked me if I realized that I'd essentially done a movie onstage. I said, "yeah, I know." Then he told me that he would direct the movie and play my father, and I would play Sonny. I ended up getting a million and a half dollars, plus I got what I wanted.

So you really couldn't refuse his offer.

No, I could not.

Chazz Palminteri performs A Bronx Tale, March 29, 8 p.m., $83.25 to $166.50. Jane Mallet Theatre, 27 Front St. E., 416.366.7723 or tp2.stlc.com

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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