He’s been a part of some of the most critically acclaimed movies (Saving Private Ryan) and popular television shows (“Miami Vice,” “Law & Order”) of the past 30 years. But for Dennis Farina, the notion of making a living as an actor was not the first one that occurred to this son of blue-collar Chicago; his first career was as a beat cop in the City of Broad Shoulders. It was only after meeting director Michael Mann through a mutual friend that the actor best known for his wiseguy roles (Midnight Run, Get Shorty) and the occasional unorthodox ladies’ man (Sidewalks of New York, “Empire Falls”) landed his first role in the 1981 thriller, Thief. While Mann helped launch his career, Farina has gone on to work with a number of other strong auteur directors, including Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight), Guy Ritchie (Snatch) and John Frankenheimer (Reindeer Games).
For his latest projects, the man once known as “The Great Wounder” (something about a lack of marksmanship skills during his law enforcement days) has teamed up with a few relative newcomers, including Randall Miller (Bottle Shock), Zak Penn (The Grand), Mort Nathan (Bag Boy) and Tom Vaughan, who led the actor—along with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher—to Sin City for What Happens in Vegas, out May 9. Shortly before beginning promotion for his role as Diaz’s boss, Farina took ten to answer the MM Ten.
1. When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
I really didn’t, until Michael Mann asked me to do a part in a movie.
2. Which moviemaker, living or dead, inspires you most?
John Ford is certainly right at the top. I think he would be the one.
3. Which actors’ movies do you never tire of watching?
Burt Lancaster, Gene Hackman and there’s a not-too-well-known actor, but he’s a character actor and I love him, named Richard Conti.
4. What’s the one thing you can’t live without when you’re on the set?
Well, I like a little anisette at the end of the day. (laughs) Not while I’m working, but when they wrap I like to have a cup of coffee and a little anisette in it.
5. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen an actor do on set?
You know, I really haven’t seen anybody do anything too strange. Even if I did, I don’t know if I’d talk about it.
6. What’s the goofiest thing a director has ever asked you to do for a movie?
That’s a good question. (laughs) Like cut all my hair off or something? Tell you the truth, no one has ever asked me to do anything like that.
7. As an actor, what are the three things you look for in a script?
The first thing, of course, is story—how my character fits into the story. Then there’s location. The most important thing is the director.
8. When working on a movie, how can a fellow actor impress you the most?
By showing up on time and knowing his lines. Being prepared.
9. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about acting?
Michael Mann told me: “At one point no one will know the character you’re playing better than you.”
10. What do you do to prepare for a film?
Well, of course I read the script, and if there’s a book involved or a play or some other form—if it’s an adaptation—I always like to read the source material. I like wardrobe. I kind of like to know what the guy’s going to wear, so I’ll usually talk to the wardrobe people. I don’t know why but I like wardrobe. It helps me decide what I’m going to do.