With hundreds of TV and film credits, a Tony nomination, and more star-defining moments — from Goodfellas to Law & Order to The Firm — than most actors can daydream about, Paul Sorvino is a made man. But what seems obvious now wasn’t to most when, at age 30, he walked away from a safe and lucrative career as the head of an ad agency to pursue acting.
“My friends said, ‘What are you doing?’” recalled Sorvino at last night’s Tribute to Warren Beatty at the Museum for the Moving Image. “They told me I was crazy. But I broke away. And I’m very glad I did.”
“I left a very, very promising career as an ad man, like Mad Men, they were going to give me a third of the agency,” Sorvino continued. “I would have been a multi-millionaire in no time at all but I said, ‘I have to be true to myself. I don’t want to do this anymore.’ I had a knack for being a copywriter, and I knew how to run an ad agency. I knew how to do it, but I said, ‘I can’t do it. I gotta do what I gotta do,’ and I did it.”
His film debut came in 1970 with Where’s Poppa, and the jobs started rolling in — until they didn’t. “After a few months, I started to get work and have only been out of work once since then,” he says. The dry spell lasted a year and half, but it was finally broken in 1980 with a call from Warren Beatty. “He said, ‘I wondered if you’d be in my picture?’” says Sorvino. “I said, ‘Sounds good.’ And I’ve been in the business ever since.”
That picture turned out to be the Communist drama Reds. But ten years later, Sorvino says, he came to yet another crossroads in his career — and wound up going with his gut again, with no regrets. “When I left Law & Order,” he says, “I left a big salary. They all thought I was crazy, too, but I do what’s right for me. I said, ‘I’m not enjoying it, I’m leaving.’ So I did.”
In recent years, Sorvino has expanded his repertoire into directing, singing, and writing. His latest project, Pinot, Pasta, and Parties, a cookbook co-written with his wife, comes out this April. “People don’t say, ‘You’re crazy,’ anymore,” he says. “They say, ‘You’re lucky.’”
Sorvino appears in Beatty’s latest film, The Rules Don’t Apply, in theaters November 23.