The old story is true: Chazz Palminteri rejected a $1 million offer from Hollywood execs who wanted to turn his one-man play, "A Bronx Tale," into a film. His objection: They didn't want him to act in the movie.
Palminteri tells me it was a week later when Robert De Niro offered $1.5 million for the script (with De Niro directing and co-starring). And Palminteri portrayed the main mobster, thereby launching his acting career in 1993.
Now Palminteri, 57, is back in Vegas, starring in "A Bronx Tale" at The Venetian ($46-$166; Saturday-Thursday and May 8-9). Last year, Review-Journal critic Mike Weatherford named Palminteri's play the best show on the Strip.
Palminteri was trained by Lee Strasberg and worked his way up from the streets of New York. I asked whether it bothers him that rich kids now get famous for doing nothing in reality shows such as "Jersey Shore."
"I've been around 20 years. Let's see if they're around 20 years," he says, but then he insists he doesn't begrudge others' success: "It's OK with me." (That's a line from the classic "The Long Goodbye.")
The main line of "Bronx Tale" is this: "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent." Palminteri hands out business cards bearing that sentence.
"I write my name on it. And I give it to the kids" who see the play, he says. "I say, 'This is a contract between you and me. You can't waste your life.'"
I asked: Isn't Lindsay Lohan wasting her talent?
"That's a sad thing," he says. "I wish I could sit down and talk with that girl because she is so talented. There's a window that opens up, but when it closes, that's it. It's not just about talent. It's about doing the right thing."
COMEDY IS KING
It's a big comedy weekend in Las Vegas. Jerry Seinfeld performs today-Saturday at Caesars ($75-$150). Joel McHale plays today at Mandalay Bay ($40-$60). Cedric the Entertainer plays today at Planet Hollywood ($74-$84). Conan O'Brien does Saturday-Sunday gigs at the Palms ($75-$150).
The comedian I'm looking forward to most: Jim Jefferies today-Saturday at the Palms ($40). His HBO DVD, "I Swear To God," is a very funny routine on atheism and sexcapades.
The Australian tells me he thinks the 10 Commandments can be boiled down to one commandment: "Try not to be a" Whooooa! That is the dirtiest word of all, Jim! For the rest of our interview, check out today's Neon section.
Contact Doug Elfman at email@example.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.