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Nick Turturro Turns In His Badge

Movies: 'Not enough people have seen me go wild,' says the 'NYPD Blue' actor, who plays a car thief in the wacky 'Search for "One-Eye" Jimmy.'

June 22, 1996|JOHN ANDERSON | FOR THE TIMES

It was the early '90s, and Nick Turturro--part-time actor, part-time hotel doorman--was doing a series of one-act plays called "Siddown (Conversations With the Mob)." He wasn't on Broadway. He wasn't off-Broadway. "We were off, off, off Broadway--way down, below sea level." And yet . . . Turturro somehow became possessed of the often disastrous notion that he and the rest of the cast and crew could make a movie.

"We were having a conversation about some low-budget feature that had just come out--you know, 'Laws of Gravity' or something--and I said, 'Why don't we do a script?' I was talking off the top of my head, 'Yeah! We can do it! I know we can do it!' I didn't know anything."

But with some improvised funding--some of which came from the actors, who included boxer-turned-thespian Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini--and a new screenplay by "Conversations" playwright Sam Henry Kass, they managed to actually make a film: "The Search for 'One-Eye' Jimmy," a hoods-in-Brooklyn comedy that's more Monty Python than Martin Scorsese, which opened Friday.

Turturro, better known as Det. James Martinez in "NYPD Blue," has acted in several Spike Lee movies, got critical accolades for his work in the little-seen independent feature "Federal Hill" and is currently acting strangely in a series of ESPN baseball ads with Abe Lincoln. He said he's proud of " 'One-Eye' Jimmy," which was directed by Kass, and contains within its exceedingly low-budget production values some potent comic stuff.

"The fun of it," Turturro said, "was that we kind of winged it. We knew we didn't have any money, but we had kind of a funny script, funny characters and all these great actors coming in to do all kinds of cameos for us."

They include his brother, John Turturro, who does a manic turn as a Travoltafied neighborhood character named Disco Bean; Steve Buscemi, as the missing Jimmy's brother Ed; Anne Meara as his mother; Samuel L. Jackson as a Vietnam War-damaged neighborhood savant; Nick's cousin Aida Turturro as a fortunetelling cosmetics vendor; and director-cinematographer Lodge Kerrigan, who's since made his own mark on independent film with the legendary "Clean, Shaven."

Joining Nick Turturro among the film's leads are Michael Baldalucco (who was so funny in John Turturro's "Mac"), Jennifer Beals as his love object and Holt McCallany, who plays the local filmmaker whose documentary-within-the-comedy chronicles the "Search."

"One of the good things about ' "One-Eye" Jimmy' is that people can see that I can be funny," said the actor, who was in New York and about to go on hiatus from "NYPD Blue" (most of which is shot in Los Angeles anyway). "Not enough people have seen me go wild." His character, Junior, a car thief and street hustler, is a frantic bit of business. "I get to show different sides, that I'm more than just a one-note actor."

Of course, there are some pretty humorous exchanges on "NYPD Blue," if you look closely enough, especially between Martinez and Greg Medavoy (played by Gordon Clapp).

"Yeah, but it's subtle," he said. "We kinda have two different shows: the real show and 'Twin Peaks,' that's our show. Dennis [Franz] and Jimmy [Smits] were on the cover of TV Guide with the title 'Cool Cops.' So we call ourselves the uncool cops. We're uncool and we're short. Short, uncool and odd. We have a funny relationship."

A self-described sports junkie, Turturro went into acting because of both his brother's influence and a natural impulse to perform. His favorite actors are people like James Cagney or John Garfield.

"I just get out there and do it," he said. "I'm not methodical, I don't work it all out in my head beforehand or get all wrapped up in myself. In television you really don't have the time to. You rehearse a couple of times, it's on its feet and you're in front of the cameras. Movies, you might get to rehearse for two weeks and it's really helpful. But when you've been doing a guy in a series for three years, you know him. You know who he is. I put the gun on now, I feel like I'm going to work."

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