Frank Vincent on "The Sopranos."

 Frank Vincent on "The Sopranos."

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Sad to hear about the passing of Frank Vincent, one of my favorite character actors (and Joe Pesci's frequent Scorsese movie sparring partner). I got to talk to him once, in 2006, when he was doing The Sopranos. Here's that interview. (The clips have some salty language).

Frank Vincent is best known for telling Joe Pesci to go home and get his shine box in GoodFellas. But to fans of HBO's The Sopranos, he's Phil "The Hair Do" Leotardo, silver-coifed comrade of the incarcerated Johnny Sack.

"Phil is just a guy who only knows one way to do it," says the 66-year-old Vincent by phone. "He learned the old-fashioned way. He's maintaining his family's integrity. He's got a lot of ideas, a lot of stuff that's been instilled in him over the years, and he lives by those codes."

When he's not locking horns with Tony, Mr. Vincent is out promoting his new book, A Guy's Guide to Being a Man's Man. But he took time to discuss some of his most memorable film work for the directors Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee.

Raging Bull (1980) - Scorsese discovered Vincent and Mr. Pesci in a small 1976 film called The Death Collector. For Raging Bull, Vincent was cast as Salvy, a criminal henchman who gets pounded into the sidewalk by Pesci. Pesci also gave his good friend a beating in GoodFellas; Vincent finally got to return the favor in Casino.

Vincent: "Marty hired us because we had chemistry. It was a good move casting-wise because we really work well together. At one point Marty said we were better than Abbott and Costello.

"I remember it was really hot. It was July in New York, and we had to wear these heavy wool suits. There's one scene where I'm all bandaged up, I'm sitting at a table with Joe and Nicholas Colasanto, who played the boss. They had my hair dyed black, and I had to exit the club we were in and they had fake rain outside. I remember having to hurry up and get under the umbrella because if my hair got wet the dye would drip down my face. I would get dyed every day and have to go home and shower it all out."

GoodFellas (1990) - Vincent played Billy Batts, just out of jail and ready to harangue Mr. Pesci's Tommy DeVito. It seems Tommy used to shine a mean shoe - but he doesn't like to be reminded.

Vincent: "When Marty was doing GoodFellas, he called me in and asked me who I wanted to play. I said I wanted to play Paulie. He said, 'You're better off playing Billy Batts. It'll really mean something to you.' You don't argue with Marty.

"To this day, it's the most memorable thing I've done in film. People come up to me every day and say, "Go home and get your shine box." So I went one step further. On my Web site [www.frank vincent.com], you can get a Billy Batts T-shirt that says 'Go home and get your shine box.' You wouldn't believe how fast people buy them."

Do the Right Thing (1988) - Vincent had a small part in Lee's greatest film, but it was a good one: He played Charlie, the irate motorist who gets an unwanted car wash from a Brooklyn fire hydrant.

Vincent: "When Spike called me up, he said, 'This is Spike Lee.' I had no idea who he was. He said, 'I'm a film director.' I said, 'Are you Chinese?' Spike said, 'No, I'm black. I'm making a film. Martin Scorsese told me to call you.' At that point I went to see him, and I did Do the Right Thing.

"Spike let me go off a lot on that. The Moe and Joe stuff, and the 'I want them locked under the jail' line, weren't scripted. He just let me rant and rave, and it worked so well. I was wet, man. We had to do it three or four times, and I got wet every time."

Jungle Fever (1991) - Vincent had a return Spike engagement as Mike Tucci, father to Angie, played by former Sopranos cast member Annabella Sciorra. The film's most brutal scene comes when Mike beats his daughter after he finds out she's dating a black man, played by Wesley Snipes.

Vincent: "There were a lot of bad words in there, a lot of references to blackness, 'How could you do this with a black man?' When we got done, Spike said, 'Are you gonna have a problem with any of this?' The crew was predominantly black. I said, 'Spike, if you don't have a problem, I don't have a problem.' So we did it.

"Annabella was absolutely terrific. It was a very violent scene, and we had to rehearse it a lot to get the camera angles right. When we did shoot it, every time we cut we would embrace. We were so emotionally charged up. She was shaking and I was shaking. Anna has been a friend of mine for a long time."

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