The New York Times opens its obituary of Danny Aiello as follows (December 13, 2019): “A memorable character actor on both stage and screen, Mr. Aiello won an Academy Award nomination for his role in Spike Lee’s 1989 film.” A “memorable” actor worthy of “an Academy Award nomination,” for sure. That he was only a “character actor”, on the other hand, is debatable. Like many, he began in small roles, not like many he debuted as an actor on stage at age 37 and in films at 40. So, he began a bit late, to say the least.
Danny Aiello was, once he passed through what we might call an “internship” of “character-actor” roles, a leading and co-leading actor as well. He excelled especially in those roles in films that had to do with family and, not as ironic as it might seem, with Italian Americana in some manner or another. Hence, I am reminded of his lead role in the TV program Dellavantura (1997-1998) or, one of his favorite films, Once Around (1991), not to forget other great performances such as Do the Right Thing (1989) and 2 Days in the Valley (1996; I know, I know, he is not an Italian-American family man here ☺). Two of my favorite films of his are 29th Street (1991) and Dinner Rush (2000), this last film having gotten lost in its initial distribution period but by now what is for many a classic.
I had the privilege of interviewing Danny Aiello back in 2013 for one of our Italics specials we did for October of that year to celebrate Italian Heritage and Culture Month, which aired on CUNY TV. He visited with us again one evening after we screened Dinner Rush a couple of years ago. Danny and the film’s director, Bob Giraldi, graciously engaged the audience afterwards for a most delightful Q&A.
We have already seen a series of articles / obituaries on Danny Aiello since he passed away Thursday last. We at Italics and the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute want to share with you our conversation with Danny back in 2013.