Everyone knows John Turturro. Sure, they may not know his name but one glimpse of his mug and they’ll recognize him. One of Hollywood’s most under-appreciated (and under-rewarded) character actors, Turturro has been a recognizable face of American cinema for nearly three decades now. The Brooklyn-born actor’s chameleon-like performances – which run the gamut from racist pizzeria owner to neurotic screenwriter and bluegrass singing criminal to pedophilic bowler to smug FBI agent – have made him a constant presence in films by the Coens brothers, Spike Lee, William Friedkin, and even Michael Bay who cast him in three of his Transformers movies.
On Sunday, March 12, the organizers of the Miami International Film Festival honored Turturro’s indelible contribution to cinema – both as an actor and a director – with a Career Achievement Award. The event, which took place at the Olympia theater at the Gusman Center for Performing Arts, opened with MIFF director Jaie Laplante generously praising the actor before presenting the audience with a montage of the actor’s work. Although I would have liked to have seen montage editor Jokes Yanes use something other than the supremely overused theme from Sunshine to score the highlight reel, the piece as a whole did a commendable job of showcasing the actor’s versatility. The montage included scenes from the Coens’ The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, O Brother Where Art Thou, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Robert Redford’s Quiz Show as well as some of his directorial efforts.
As the lights went up, Turturro, who was in-attendance, walked to the stage to the sound of thunderous ovation from the packed house of nearly 1,500. Upon receiving the award from Laplante, he thanked the festival and audience, adding that he preferred to think of the award as a “Mid-career achievement” award. Following this, he sat down for a chat with NY magazine film critic David Edelstein to talk about Fading Gigolo, his newest film as actor-director. The comedy, which centers on a handyman coaxed into becoming a gigolo by his long-time friend, played by Woody Allen, is Turturro’s fifth directorial effort, his first since 2010’s Passione. The actor talked about how he nabbed Allen for the part of the elderly bookshop owner-turned-pimp by using their barber as a mediator. He also praised Allen’s wit and comedic timing, as well as remarked on the “merciless” script feedback he received from him.
After a couple of tacky jokes at Turturro’s expense as well as some chit-chat on the movie’s themes, Edelstein soured the mood of the evening by asking the actor for his thoughts on the headline-grabbing controversy surrounding Allen. Whether Edelstein was using this moment for his own personal gain or as ammunition to trash the movie in a future review was unclear. What’s clear is that the question was tasteless. A class act, Turturro proceeded to silence the critic by responding that it wasn’t his place to pass judgment since he didn’t have all the details on the case. This audience saved the loudest applause of the night for this moment, sending a clear message to Edelstein that ridiculous personal questions about another artist have no place on a night when another is being celebrated. Turturro added that if he ever had the chance to work with Allen again, he’d do so in a heartbeat! This too received a healthy round of applause. The evening concluded with the screening of Fading Gigolo.