Danny Aiello can play a terrifying tough guy like nobody else — but the beloved actor says he turned down a chance to play a vicious Mafioso in a new movie in order to tackle the much smaller role of a troubled priest.
Aiello, 80, told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV
that he was approached by director John Herzfeld to star in "Reach Me,'' a bittersweet drama set for release this October.
"He wanted me to play a gangster. I said, John, I've played too many, and I'm not coming to California, I don't like to fly,'' said Aiello, whose mob movies include "The Godfather, Part II'' and "The Last Don.''
"He said, 'Danny, play any part you want.' So, I looked at the script, I saw an underwritten role, and said this interests me,'' Aiello said Monday.
The role is that of a priest who is part of a group of radically different people who are connected by a self-help book written by a reclusive former football coach.
"I said, I want to play a priest, [but one] that's never been seen on the screen before,'' Aiello said.
"So, I played an alcoholic priest who was there for the wrong reasons. He went in because a woman jumped away from him 30 years earlier.
"He went into seminary and decided to become a priest for the wrong reasons, but he stayed a priest for the right reasons. It's a wonderful, wonderful little story.''
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Aiello co-stars with Sylvester Stallone — "No, he's not fighting in this one!'' Aiello insists — Tom Berenger, Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane, Frank Stallone, Chuck Zito, Cary Elwes and Frank Valli Jr.
He said the ensemble film is unlike much of the Hollywood fare being released today.
"Look, I'm a . . .lover of movies that tell stories, stories of people, not necessarily generations of people, maybe a family,'' he said.
"Today they're making stupid, dumb people – I mean shows. For instance, this thing called '22 [Jump Street,' starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum] . . .
"I'm not cutting on them, they did it, they made it, and it's making a tremendous amount of money. However, the reviews were the worst reviews ever written because the American public wants garbage.''
Hollywood, he added, is in the business of making money — lots of it.
"If you go to a studio today and you say, I have this $100 million dollar movie, they'll say, what's that going to make? $30 million, that's not enough,'' Aiello explained.
"They want to make $200 million, $300 million, if you go in with a $30 million movie and you're going to make $20 million, it's not enough, they're not interested.
"They're only interested in $100 million, [where] they're going to make $100 million. So you can't get the small movie anymore. When you get a small movie [made], that's generally the one that wins the Academy awards.''
Aiello, who was the second-youngest of six children, grew up in the Bronx and at 16 lied about his age to enlist in the Army, said he has finally put his life story down on paper.
It's called "I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, On the Stage, and in the Movies,''
and will be published by Gallery Books in October.
"It was the most stressful thing I've ever done in my life. To remember things that occurred at the age of 6 years old is incredible,'' Aiello said.
"I was unable to sleep because each time I got an idea about what happened at 6, something else popped in. I'd wake up at 3 in the morning, 4 in the morning. So, it was three months of 91,000 words.''
He said his wife suggested the title because "I do not know who the heck I am except when I'm playing a character."
"When I walk into a situation, I'm always saying to myself, even if it's just an average situation with friends, I'm sitting at a table or talking, and I sometimes check myself and I say, is this me? Am I performing here or is this really Danny Aiello?
"I truly mean that because it's happened to me on various occasions.''
One of the stories in the book focuses on a scary incident with the police when Aiello was 10 on the rough-and-tumble streets of the Bronx.
"It was where I [later] shot the movie ["Fort Apache, The Bronx"] with Paul Newman,'' he explained.
"They caught me robbing a Hershey bar in the 5-and-10-cent store. The manager called the police and the police came and took me to the Fort Apache precinct.
"They handcuffed me to the steam right near the bullpen. Taught me a lesson. I never ended up in jail. I should have, but I never did.''
In addition to his acting chores — he's made close to 75 movies and TV appearances since his first film, "Bang the Drum Slowly," in 1973 — Aiello is a singer.
"I love doing it. For the longest period of time I didn't have the guts to do it until about 10 years ago someone talked me into it,'' Aiello said.
"We made an album, it hit number four in traditional jazz chart and then we did three more and now I'm on my fifth. It's a blues album, it's quite different than what I've been doing.''
He's even branched out into rap, something he never thought possible, and performed the standard "Besame Mucho'' with the rapper Hasan.
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