Joseph Frank Pesci (born February 9, 1943) is an American actor, comedian, singer, and musician of Italian descent.
Usually known for playing violent mafia mobsters or grouchy but lovable funnymen, Pesci has starred in a number of high profile films, including raw dramas like Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, JFK, Casino and The Irishman, comedies such as My Cousin Vinny, Home Alone as well as the action comedies Lethal Weapon (starting with Lethal Weapon 2).
He started as a child actor on the New York stage, but only became a full-time actor after his success in Raging Bull. Before then, he had a long list of He Also Did occupations. He worked as a barber, a restaurant owner, as part of a comedy team with his future frequent Those Two Actors partner Frank Vincent, and on the fringes of the music business. He was friends with several members of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasonsnote and played a role in their formation, was a member of Joey Dee & The Starliters (of "Peppermint Twist" fame), and even tried his luck as a solo singer under the Stage Name Little Joe Ritchie, releasing the album Little Joe Sure Can Sing! in 1968. 30 years later he recorded a comedy music album in-character as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini.
Despite playing dangerous and foul-mouthed sociopaths, he is known as an extremely humble, soft spoken man who gave one of the shortest speeches in Oscar history after winning Best Supporting Actor for Goodfellas. He simply took a breath and said "It was my privilege. Thank you." It was over in three seconds. The reason for the brevity is that he really didn't think he would win and didn't prepare a speech; he was genuinely surprised.
Tropes in his works include:
- Early Installment Weirdness: Pesci started his entertainment career playing guitar in a lounge band with Frank Vincent and the two also had a succesful Laurel and Hardy style comedy duo act after lounge music began to die off. Not exactly how you'd expect his career to have started.
- Flowery Insult: A large portion of his dialogue in most of his films.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Nearly all of his characters are perpetually pissed off, which is quite different from how he is in Real Life.
- Joisey: He has a thick Newark accent as a native of New Jersey.
- Large Ham: A recurring trait among his characters.
- Motor Mouth: Invariably plays excessively talkative characters.
- The Napoleon: Is 5'4 and tends to play pugnacious types.
- Playing Against Type: As the nervously naïve Leo Getz in the Lethal Weapon series, and as the calculating and composed Mafia don Russell Bufalino in The Irishman.
- Production Posse: A regular of Martin Scorsese's films.
- Rambunctious Italian: Since he is an Italian-American actor, many of his characters have a very aggressive attitude.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Both in Real Life and most of his roles. Most utterances of "fuck" in GoodFellas and Casino, two of the most profane films in history, are said by him. Most of the time, it's Cluster F-Bomb. Home Alone and to a lesser extent My Cousin Vinny are the only movies where he doesn't swear and in the case of the latter not as much as his other roles.
- Those Two Actors: With either Frank Vincent or Robert De Niro.
- Tom Hanks Syndrome: Pesci was initially a stand-up comic before turning to acting. Most of his roles have been dramatic parts, but he has a had a few comic roles as well.
- Typecasting: He is frequently cast as aggressive, often psychotic, gangsters and other criminals.
- What Could Have Been: Pesci was considered to voice Iago in Aladdin, before Gilbert Gottfried got the part.