He lost his head to Tony Soprano. He's dropped his pants on Broadway. Now, as a New York Post reporter in Daredevil, the only thing Joe Pantoliano is trying to shake is his bad-guy image.
"I wanted to play a good guy after playing a lunatic on The Sopranos for two years," says Pantoliano, 52, who played the loathsome Ralphie, a whack-happy gangster who pushed the Bada Bing! boys a little too far when he rubbed out Tony's prize race horse just for the insurance money.
Tony gave Ralphie a lesson in animal rights only PETA could appreciate, and Ralphie's remains were chopped to bits, head and all, in one of the most brutal episodes of the gangster drama.
Will Daredevil Save Joey … For a Sequel?
One perk in his Daredevil role: "I didn't get killed off," says Pantoliano, who plays Ben Urich, a dogged tabloid reporter on the trail of a mysterious vigilante crime fighter. Urich is such a good guy that he passes up the news story of a lifetime to keep Daredevil's identity a secret — all for the good of New York.
The movie, opening Friday, is the latest adaptation of a Marvel comic book. Ben Affleck stars as Matt Murdock — lawyer by day, vigilante-superhero by night.
Splashed with hazardous material as a boy, Murdock is blinded but endowed with superhuman senses, including radar-like hearing. He is also a karate fighter and skilled leaper of buildings — sporting a hooded suit that fits with a snugness even Superman might envy.
Jennifer Garner co-stars as Affleck's girlfriend, the sword-fighting heiress Elektra. Together they take on the hulking criminal mastermind Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and his dart-wielding assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell).
"They own [me] for a sequel," Pantoliano says. "I can just see it now. The Kingpin's got me trapped and they're beating me up … Then [Daredevil] comes crashing through the window and saves me. And I become his Lois Lane."
What a change for Pantoliano. Before making his bones in TV gangland, "Joey Pants," as he's sometimes called, was best known as the mole who sold out Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.
Movie fans will also remember him as "Guido the Killer Pimp" in Risky Business and as Teddy, who shamelessly abuses the man with no memory in Memento.
Still, Pantoliano is a versatile character actor, with more than 60 films, including The Fugitive, Bound and Midnight Run on his resume. He's currently making headlines on Broadway in Frankie and Johnny, if for no other reason that his onstage nudity. Trying to be a Stand-Up Guy
Affleck has been a lifelong fan of Marvel's Daredevil comics, which were among the first to depict a more human, emotionally dark superhero. Pantoliano only learned about Daredevil recently.
"Never read a comic book — I'm a dysfunctional, illiterate dyslexic," he says, referring to his lifetime struggle with severe dyslexia.
Pantoliano says he did not even try to read the New York Post to prepare for his Daredevil role. "Absolutely not … being an investigative reporter for the Post is an oxymoron!" he said laughing. "Who owns the Post? Twentieth Century Fox [the producer of Daredevil]! Talk about vertical integration!"
His goofy yet sharp sense of humor is tempered by the serious parts of his job. Last month two adolescent boys in California charged with dismembering their mother allegedly told police they were inspired by the fate that Ralphie met on The Sopranos.
"The same group of brothers could see The Sopranos and say 'I want to be an actor,'" he says. "What were they doing watching The Sopranos anyway? They're too young." Viagra Man to the Rescue! Up, Up, And Away!
Next up for Joey Pants is his directorial debut, Just Like Mona, a film based on his teen years growing up poor in Hoboken, N.J. It will be adapted from his successful autobiography, Who's Sorry Now: The True Story of a Stand-Up Guy (Dutton, 2002).
He is also planning to appear in sequels of films such as Bad Boys, The Fugitive, Cats and Dogs, maybe Goonies, and if all goes well, Daredevil. "I'm the sequel king," he says.
As for his own superhero aspirations, Pantoliano has none. "I'm not the guy who's going to come out in the red leather suit. I don't have the chin for it.
"I could be Viagra Man," he says, joking with reporters about enhancements that such a role would require to his own physique — which has been much the talk in New York theater circles this season, a small controversy he richly enjoys.
Letting the fearless bravado of a comic crime fighter into his heart, he repeats with gusto, "Joe Pantoliano is … Viagra Maaan!"