It is a privilege for Cinequest to present our Maverick Spirit Award to veteran actor Jon Polito at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, where he will delight the audience with a spectacular, extended Q&A following the World Premiere of Charlie the Ox.
The public at large may not be able to tie the name Jon Polito to his face or his gravelly and unmistakable voice, but audiences on both the large and small screens would easily recognize him from the scores of films and TV series that he's been in. Polito is the consummate hard-working actor whose talent is as deep as the list of his credits is long. He has appeared in a wide variety of comedies and dramas and always seems to bring his more-than-ample skills to every production in which he's been involved.
Polito nevertheless imbues his characters with their own distinctive and undeniable reality. Whether it's the colorful and ruthless crime boss, Johnny Caspar, in the Coen brothers Miller's Crossing or the wise-cracking, suicidal detective, Steve Crosetti, in the brilliant 1990's television series Homicide: Life on the Street, or Seinfeld's insanely jealous - and hilarious - apartment super Silvio, who cannot abide self-absorbed celebrities. Like all good artists, Polito makes that which is difficult look effortless. He manages, every time, to suspend your disbelief in ways that make the viewer truly accept that he is the character he's portraying.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Polito has been acting for most of his life. He attended Villanova University on a drama scholarship and soon after found himself pounding the boards of the New York theater scene, landing his first Broadway role in 1977 as Kevin MacMillan's understudy in David Mamet's visceral drama, American Buffalo. His theatrical career includes many Broadway and off Broadway productions where he has shared the stage with such heavyweight actors as Faye Dunaway and Sigourney Weaver as well as Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich in the acclaimed 1984 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
After receiving an Obie award for Best Actor for his performances with the Dodger and BAM off Broadway Theater Companies, Polito headed west for Hollywood and immediately landed the first of his many continuing roles for television series that include Gangster Chronicles, Homicide, Crime Story, and Dream On. He has also guest-starred on nearly two dozen other TV series, such as E.R., Chicago Hope, NYPD Blue, Mad About You, and Showtime's The Chris Isaak Show.
In 1990, Polito began his long and fruitful association with Joel and Ethan Coen, playing the groveling studio yes-man, Lou Breeze, in Barton Fink. He has also appeared in other Coen brothers films, most notably Miller's Crossing, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Hudsucker Proxy, and the cult/midnight movie favorite, The Big Lebowski.
With his pencil-thin mustache, bulging eyes, and perennially sweaty countenance, Polito seems almost to be a throwback to another era, a harder edged Elisha Cook Jr., if you will, who can play the slime-ball, weasel, or double-crossing rat to perfection. And therein lies part of the beauty of this veteran actor's craft. You may loath the characters that he brings to life, but you're compelled to buy into them lock, stock, and barrel. And, judging from the considerable length of his résumé and the continuing demand for his services, so do casting directors and producers.
- Pete Crane