In 2018, Sorvino was approached by celebrity news site TMZ for a reaction to the breaking news that producer and studio mogul Harvey Weinstein had allegedly sexually harassed his daughter and blacklisted her in the industry. Sorvino did not disappoint them. “”He ought to hope that he goes to jail,” he said coolly. “He’s gonna go to jail. Oh yeah. That son of a bitch. Because if not, he has to meet me. And I will kill the motherf**ker. Real simple.”
Now that’s the Paul Sorvino with whom audiences are more familiar.
That clip went viral anew when it was reported Monday that Sorvino had died of natural causes at the age of 83, as did the moving Oscar memory.
So indelible was his 6-foot-4-inch presence, that he is typecast in most people’s eyes as characters on the wrong side of the law, most notably Paulie Cicero, the menacingly quiet mob boss and father figure to eventual mob turncoat Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.”
“Goodfellas” would have been my go-to movie to watch in his honor had I not re-watched it just last May following star Ray Liotta’s death. So a master of his domain was Cicero that a clip just of him preparing a meal in prison and slicing an onion with a razor has been viewed on YouTube more than 67,000 times. One of the most devastating scenes in the film is one of the quietest: when Cicero informs Liotta’s Hill, who was once like a son to him, but now is exposed as a drug dealer, “Now, I’m gonna have to turn my back on you.”
It may surprise some that his best-known role was out of his comfort zone, and his iconic performance might never have happened if he had had his way about it, according to a New York Times oral history:
“I would have done a ‘Dinner is served’ role in a Scorsese picture, that’s how much I wanted to work with him. I met with him and saw immediately he wanted me for the role. I was overjoyed but very worried. I’d done a lot of comedies as well as dramas, but I’d never done a really tough guy. I never had it in me. And this called for a lethality, which I felt was way beyond me. I called my manager three days before we started shooting and said: ‘Get me out. I’m going to ruin this great man’s picture, and I’m going to ruin myself.’ Then I was going by the hall mirror to adjust my tie. I was just inconsolable. And I looked in the mirror and literally jumped back a foot. I saw a look I’d never seen, something in my eyes that alarmed me. A deadly soulless look in my eyes … And I looked to the heavens and said, ‘You’ve found it.'”