I had the great fortune of interviewing many actors, actresses, musicians, authors, and other celebs during the seven and a half years I worked for Continental magazine. (Yes, the inflight magazine of the late Continental Airlines.)
One of the coolest people I had the chance to speak with was Dennis Farina, who passed away earlier today in Arizona.
Dennis is, of course, best known for his performances in such films as Get Shorty, Heat, Out of Sight, and Saving Private Ryan, and on TV shows like Law & Order, Crime Story, Luck, and, most recently, New Girl, where his tough guy persona was often used to great comic effect.
When I talked with Dennis in 2005, he was promoting the HBO TV movie Empire Falls. We talked about how his 18 years as a Chicago cop informed his acting career and the performances he gave.
“I never impose my past experience on whatever I’m doing, in any role, whether it be a police role or any other role,” Dennis told me. “Sometimes you’ll hear things that just won’t ring true, and I would suggest that they do something else. I never impose it on anyone. I never use it as a hammer. Because then I think you can become like a bully, and you don’t let writers write and directors direct. It’s such a collaborative business that you can’t go through life like that. You can’t swim through that stream just by yourself by imposing your will on other people.”
Dennis, who insisted that he hadn’t played as many cops and gangsters as people thought he had (“only about six or seven policemen or maybe four or five gangsters,” he joked) went on to speak even more about working with some of the best filmmakers and actors in the business, including Michael Mann and Steven Soderbergh. It was clear he was appreciative of this second career, and all the opportunities he’d had over the years.
Which begged the question: Of all the movies and TV shows he’d been in, does he have a favorite moment, scene, line, film, or show? He mentioned lots of “good stuff” in Get Shorty that came right from Elmore Leonard’s novel, but called out specifically a scene from Out of Sight, when he’s making fun of Michael Keaton for wearing a t-shirt that says F.B.I. on it:
“When you see stuff like that, it’s not work,” he said. “It’s all fun.” (The scene starts at :37 in that clip.)
Dennis was gracious and kind, one of the nicest and most genuine people I’d interviewed, and even though he threatened to hang up on me when I asked a question or two too many about his days on the police force, he stayed on and responded to all of my other questions.
A native of Chicago, Dennis called his hometown “the greatest big city in the world. I know I’ll get a lot of arguments from people, but I really do think it’s got everything. It’s big but not so big. It’s populated, but it’s not so populated. Everything is just about right. It has just the right mix of everything.” (No arguments there.)
In closing, I asked Dennis how he’d like to be remembered, as a cop or an actor? “Just as a person,” he replied.
And so it shall be. Dennis Farina inhabited many roles over the years, and he left a memorable impression in every one of them. But he was a guy who was cool enough to transcend the screen.
I enjoyed speaking with Dennis that day, and will continue to enjoy watching him act in some of my favorite movies.
He will be missed.
What’s your favorite Dennis Farina role/performance? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.