Paul Sorvino talks about new his film “Precious Mettle”

Paul Sorvino is probably best known for his authoritative heavy roles, most notably mob boss Paul Cicero in “Goodfellas.” But when he started out on his show business career he had dreams of being a famous opera singer. Classically trained he discovered the acting bug while attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. In 1972 he landed a starring role in the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama “That Championship Season.” His work here got him noticed by Hollywood and he soon found himself getting small roles in such films as “The Panic in Needle Park,” “A Touch of Class” and “The Day of the Dolphin.” In 1975 he found himself starring in his own television series, “We’ll Get By,” which was created by Alan Alda.

The first time I saw Mr. Sorvino on screen was in the film, “Oh, God!” As the Reverend Willie Williams (if you watched religious television programming in the 1970s it’s clear that he was based on Ernest Angley), he is the man behind a lawsuit claiming defamation after John Denver’s character tells him that God wants him to stop ripping people off. The next year he starred in director John Avildsen’s follow-up to “Rocky” entitled “Slow Dancing in the Big City.” As a New York City reporter who falls in love with his neighbor, a ballet dancer, he gives one of his greatest on screen performances. He has continued giving great performances in films such as “Reds,” “Dick Tracy,” “Goodfellas,” “Nixon” and Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” He co-starred in the film version of “That Championship Season,” as well as a later television adaptation that he also directed. Besides “Goodfellas” he is probably best known for his two seasons as Sgt. Phil Cerreta on “Law and Order.” And lest you think he gave up on the singing career, you can hear his amazing voice in such films as “The Cooler,” “Repo! The Generic Opera” and “The Devil’s Carnival.”

While in Chicago filming his latest project, the drama “Precious Mettle,” Mr. Sorvino took time out to speak with Media Mikes about his career, justice at the Oscars and the fine art of slicing garlic.

Mike Smith: Let’s get the important question out of the way first, which comes from my wife. Was that really you slicing the garlic so fine in “Goodfellas?”
Paul Sorvino: That’s an interesting question. A lot of people have asked me that. But I’m curious why she thinks it wouldn’t have been me! (laughs)
MS: I think it’s because she’s a great Italian cook and she remarks every time we watch the film that it takes a certain skill to do that.
PS: Tell her that I’m also a sculptor and a pianist. I also play the guitar. My hands are pretty well educated. Indeed that was me.

MS: Can you give us some insight into the character you’re playing in the film you’re currently shooting, “Precious Mettle?”
PS: It’s a wonderful script. The character is very rich. He’s a strong man…a police commander. But he also has a big heart. Without giving too much away I can tell you that it becomes a father/daughter story…a very, very emotional story. I like it because there’s a lot of emotion in it and a lot of tough guy too. And I like playing parts like that.

MS: Is that what attracted you to the film?
PS: It was the overall quality of the script. As a writer and director myself, I don’t just look at a script from the point of view of the role I’m going to play. I look at the totality of the quality of the script. I know if the script is good then we’ll make a good movie. This script is very good so I know we’re making a very good movie. And, again, the role is excellent.

MS: You trained to be an opera singer and have performed in some of your films. Did you ever release and album or CD?
PS: I have and you can probably get it off eBay. It’s called “Paul Sorvino Sings” and I recorded it with the Seattle Symphony as a PBS special. I can also be heard on the cast albums of “Carmalina” and “The Baker’s Wife.” Those are the three recordings you can hear me on. I’ve sung with the New York City Opera. I’ve sung with the Seattle Opera. I’ve done a gala at the Metropolitan Opera. I’ll also be doing a concert tour in Canada in the fall. We start in Montreal in September.

MS: If you had a choice would you rather be singing or acting?
PS: (laughs) Both!

MS: My two favorite performances of yours are, ironically, the first two films I saw you in: Reverend Willie Williams in “Oh, God!” and Lou Friedlander in “Slow Dancing in the Big City.”
PS: You remember those? (laughs) Wow, you go way back.
MS: They’re also two very different roles. One is played for comedy and the other is quite dramatic. Do you have a preference of doing comedy or drama?
PS: Not really. If I’ve done a couple of comedies I’ll try to follow them up with a couple of dramas. I like to do both. I’ve just shot three very serious movies in a row. I’d love to do a comedy next. In fact my next film will be “The Devil’s Carnival 2.” That’s going to be zany! I probably wouldn’t call it a comedy but it’s a very different style.

MS: Besides that project what else do you have coming up?
PS: There’s a project of my own that I want to do called “Marietta’s Song,” which would star my daughter Mira and I would direct and write. It’s based on the story of my mother and I. I’ve always written. I was a copywriter in advertising and became a creative director. In 1985 I wrote the book “How to Become a Former Asthmatic” (NOTE: Mr. Sorvino has battled asthma his whole life and is the founder of the Sorvino Asthma Foundation in New York City). I’ve written many scripts but this one is a true labor of love.

MS: Speaking of Mira, one of the most genuine emotional moments EVER in Academy Award history came when Mira thanked you from the stage after winning the Oscar for her role in “Mighty Aphrodite.” Can you describe what you were feeling at that moment?
PS: Nothing was going through my mind, I can tell you, but my heart….I was just so happy! Happy that justice had been done. She’s a great actress who gave a great performance. Oscar justice is not always done… as we all know, life is not fair. But that night justice was served. My heart was overflowing with pride and happiness. I wasn’t thinking anything but I was feeling all of that. I couldn’t believe that she said that…it was a wonderful time where a billion people saw the wonderful relationship between a father and a daughter that’s very rare to see on television. I was just so proud of my daughter. I’m proud of all my children.

“Trade of Innocents” Interview Series with Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino

In the back streets of a tourist town in present-day Southeast Asia, we find a filthy cinder block room; a bed with soiled sheets; a little girl waits for the next man. Alex (Dermot Mulroney), a human trafficking investigator, plays the role of her next customer as he negotiates with the pimp for the use of the child. Claire (Mira Sorvino), Alex’s wife, is caught up in the flow of her new life in Southeast Asia and her role as a volunteer in an aftercare shelter for rescued girls where lives of local neighborhood girl’s freedoms and dignity are threatened. Parallel story lines intertwine and unfold twists against the backdrop of the dangerous human trafficking world, in a story of struggle, life, hope and redemption in the “Trade of Innocents”.

Click here to read our review of “Trade of Innocents”

The topic in this film is very important and we had a chance to chat with various members of the cast including Dermot Mulroney, John Billingsley and Mira Sorvino and the film’s director Christopher Bessette. Hope you enjoy these and be sure to check out this great movie.


Christopher Bessette

Dermot Mulroney

John Billingsley

Mira Sorvino

Mira Sorvino talks about new film “Trade of Innocents” and Human Trafficking

Mira Sorvino is well known for her Academy Award winning performance in “Mighty Aphrodite”, as well as her role as Romy White in “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”. In her new film “Trade of Innocents”, it takes a more serious look into the epidemic of human trafficking. She co-stars in the film with Dermot Mulroney and John Billinsgley. She is also working again with Dermot Mulroney next year for “Space Warriors”. Mira really took out some time to chat about her role and her stand on the topic in the film and what people can do in order to get involved.

Mike Gencarelli: “Trade of Innocents” is such an intense film; especially your role. How did you prepare for Claire Becker?
Mira Sorvino: I have met many survivors of human trafficking through my volunteer work. I am UNODC Goodwill Ambassador to combat human trafficking. So I meet victims all the time, so I took those experiences since I am always deeply moved. You get confronted it with the horror of what people are put through from others for the love of a buck and just realize the first time I you were exposed to that. The character really understands human trafficking, or slavery as Obama rightly put recently, for the first time. There is nothing like meeting a survivor of human trafficking and hearing their stories. There is just nothing like it. You are moved by their incredible strength and ability to not only come back to live and thrive but to help others. They are very optimistic people. So there is that. Then there is the fact that I am also a mother myself. In the story, our characters are bereaved parents and that were not a stretch to imagine but obviously I would never want to go there. I love my own children so much.

MG: How did this role come about for you? Was it due to your work against human trafficking?
MS: I was offered the role. I am not sure if they were aware how involved I was with this. I remember having a conversation with the director, Christopher Bessette, and he told me about modern day slavery and I told him what I do. Then I think we realized that we had far more in common than we thought and then worked together to make the story even deeper. What I loved about the film is that it highlights a solution both on the law enforcement side, with the International Justice Mission and then there are volunteer facilities. These are such an important part about fighting slavery, since you can’t just arrest people.

MG: Do you feel that film will create awareness against this?
MS: That is our hope. We are showing it to a lot of political people. It is really helping to drive to the message and outreach at child sexual exploitation. The sad this is that it is such a huge problem in our own country. The film is about a foreign situation but honestly we have a big, if not, bigger issue of child trafficking here in the US as in anywhere else. John Billingsley plays a pedophile in the film and goes to Cambodia to by children. If he is caught there, our US Federal laws will get him and he might get 25 years and put on permanent sex offender registry. If someone like him is caught in America, in most cases he will be let go at the scene and not even brought into the police station. The child will be brought in and charged with the crime of prostitution. That is really true. Nothing will happen to the “John” in the US as long as he has paid for it. If your neighborhood pedophile has sex with a kid in his basement and doesn’t pay he is going to get the full ride of punishment. That is the outrage in our country.

MG: Let’s talks about John’s role in the film, it was very well done and extremely disturbing.
MS: It was incredibly disturbing. He played it in a very self-justified way. That is what great actors have to do; they have to justify the behavior of the character. He wasn’t apologetic for it in any means.

MG: Tell us filming on location in Bangkok, Thailand?
MS: That was an eye-opener for us as well. While I was there I worked with the local UNODC office for Southeast Asia. They gave me a true education on the situation there in terms of human trafficking. I also worked with some local NGA’s one of which was called Nightlight. One of the women there took me into the Bangkok red light district late at night. She goes on this nightly walk-about with her volunteer staff. They try and find under-age girls working in the sex bars. It was very crazy and not something that an ordinary American female will ever experience. It is not something you would see. It is such much about of their culture there and a lot of their economy is based on sex tourism.

MG: What can people do if they want to get involved?
MS: I have three recommendations for you. First is EPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking). This is global network organizations that span the entire world. You can go to the website for your country and find out how to get involved. Then, there is a group called Polaris Project. This project is absolutely amazing. They run the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is a 24/7 hotline that has led to thousands identification and rescues of trafficked people in the US than law enforcement has. Also on their website, you can see how you state rates in terms of human trafficking. Some states are good but some have no responses. You can see how to put pressure on your legislators to pass these new laws. Lastly if you just have money and don’t have time you can donated to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victim of Human-Trafficking, it is one of the only fund that grants money to NGO’s and people around the world to help people. That is a very big deal and even with a small amount of money. It all adds up and is very important.