Success on the silver screen for a son of Queens

By The Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

Talented, widely acclaimed and prolific actor and director John Michael Turturro was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 28, 1957. Appearing in over 60 films, Turturro has worked with Spike Lee on nine features and has acted in four Coen Brothers movies. He comes from a family of actors; his brother Nicholas starred in the TV series “NYPD Blue” and his cousin Aida is best known for her role as Janice in “The Sopranos.” The seasoned actor is a dual national of the United States and Italy and speaks fluent Italian.

When the future Hollywood actor was 6 his Italian immigrant parents, Katherine and Nicholas, moved the family to the Rosedale section of Queens. Following high school, where the 6-foot-1 Turturro dreamed of becoming a basketball player, he earned a Theatre Arts degree from SUNY-New Paltz and launched his film career while studying for his MFA at Yale.

Following his appearance as an extra in Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull,” the aspiring actor from Queens won an Obie Award for his Off-Broadway stage portrayal of Danny, the dark, violent and brooding character in John Patrick Shanley’s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.” In the mid-1980s, Turturro steadily built a resume of bit parts and supporting roles in “The Flamingo Kid,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “The Color of Money” and others.

The young thespian’s career began to take off in the late 1980s and early 1990s as he forged relationships with both Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers. John Turturro’s first Spike Lee film was the comedy-drama “Do the Right Thing” and his most recent of nine collaborations with the famed director was the 2008 World War II epic “Miracle at St. Anna.”

Throughout his lengthy career, the kid from Queens who made it big has embraced comedy and drama with a unique range of roles with a variety of leading directors and co-stars. While his collaboration with Ethan and Joel Coen in films such as “Miller’s Crossing” and “The Big Lebowski” are considered black comedy, his appearances in Adam Sandler movies, including the 2008 action comedy “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” are much lighter comic entertainment. Aside from comedy, Turturro memorably displayed a darker, sinister side of his acting versatility as intelligence agent Ray Brocco in the 2006 Cold War spy drama “The Good Shepherd.”

Not limiting his talents to stage and the silver screen, in 1994 he hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and in 2004 earned an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor – Comedy Series for his role in the TV series “Monk.” Behind the camera, the renowned actor from Queens has directed romantic comedies “Illuminata,” where he also starred alongside his wife Katherine Borowitz; and “Romance & Cigarettes,” with an all-star cast of James Gandolfini, Steve Buscemi, Cristopher Walken and others. Turturro has also been nominated and won many awards from film organizations such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Cannes Film Festival.

Reflecting back on four decades in which he brought to life a dizzying variety of characters on stage, screen and television, John Turturro remarked to an interviewer “at the end of the day, your job is to keep people awake. That’s your job. And then tell a story—if people like it, that’s what they remember. I’ve made movies that people love that never won anything, and they discovered later on, and that’s a joy. That’s what I always aspire towards. I always wanted to make a living doing interesting things.”

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astorialic.org.

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