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We all know who the boss is at this point, but that doesn't make Tony Danza any less entertaining. The 62-year-old actor has a standout supporting role in "Don Jon," Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut about a Jersey guido (played by Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the film) who can't stop looking at internet porn even when his girlfriend looks like Scarlett Johansson (literally, she plays the girlfriend). Danza portrays Gordon-Levitt's character's father, a muscled-out, football-loving senior version of his son.
The two worked together nearly 20 years ago in "Angels in the Outfield," but "Don Jon," which opens with an eye-popping sequence of sexy ladies in pop culture, bears no resemblance to that film's family-friendly fare. This is not one to see with your grandmother, folks.
NextMovie sat down with Danza in New York City prior to the film's September 27 release to talk about "Jersey Shore," Gordon-Levitt's acrobatic abilities and how to take direction from someone you still remember as a tween.
Congratulations on the movie. It's been screening at festivals for months. Are you happy that it's finally coming out?
First of all, anytime you're in something that's good, that's a thrill, I think. And this is really good! I'm rooting for Joseph because I love him so much, so this is a labor of love.
I saw you give a talk after a screening last night. It's great that you're around to promote it so much.
Yeah, I was fired up. I had just come from a — this is crazy — I had just come from a Wall Street Journal dinner interview where I forgot that I was talking to the Wall Street Journal. I was talking about like privatization of schools, and they're looking at me like, "Oh god." I'm afraid they're going to cancel the interview.
Just so offended, I'm sure. Not.
The world we're living in now, it's so easy to do that to people. It's so bizarre. One of the things I talk about all the time is -- do you know what the motto of America is? It's on the flag, it's on the seal, it's on the money. It's E Pluribus Unum. And it means "out of many, one." And now the motto of America is Hey, I've got mine, how come you ain't got yours?" And, uh, that didn't go over so well with the Wall Street Journal.
Right, it's not brought up too often.
That's the problem, nobody remembers it. Some people don't trust in god. My father's translation was Hey, E Pluribus Unum, we're all in this together, pal!
So of course you've worked with Joseph Gordon-Levitt before. Or, wait, he just goes by Joe now, I guess.
When he was 12, yeah. I call him Joseph, out of respect, but he's Joe, just regular Joe.
What was it like taking direction from someone you used to rollerblade with when he was 12 years old? Does knowing him as a kid affect how you take his direction at all?
He's a tremendous talent, he knows what he wants, he wrote the script, he gave me the job. He has a very sure hand. We rehearsed a little bit and he told me what he expected. It was pretty good. He really knows what he wants, which is really all you can ask for.
Did you keep in touch since "Angels in the Outfield," or was this almost a reintroduction?
Intermittently. That's what happens with people: It's a little sad, you become a family and then everyone goes on their own. I've been lucky, the two shows, "Who's the Boss" and "Taxi," we'd all see each other and stay in touch. Joe and I, we'd see each other occasionally. We were both on TV at the same time, so we'd end up at things like that, and also intermittently we'd touch base.
The father-son vibe between you two was really authentic and believable.
Amazing, isn't it? It's really wild.
Was there ever a time you wanted to blow off his direction? After all, you've been doing this for so much longer than he has.
The opposite! I'm telling you, even when he was 12, he was thinking about this. It's an amazing thing to see come to fruition. I'm more like, "Wow, I knew you were gonna be this way!" As opposed to being like, "Hmm." And I'm really proud of him. He does to me what I think I used to do to older actors, he reminds me of what I used to feel like because he's so driven and he has such a vision and so many things he wants to do. It's exciting to be around him. And he will! He can do a backflip!
Did he teach you how?
No, my days of doing a backflip are long gone, no chance of that now. We did a dance number for his variety show and there's a lyric [singing] "It's enough to make you wanna do a baaaaaackflip!" And he does one! It's like , boom! Just standing and bang! I'm telling you! He just does this: [stands, waves his arms] And lands it! We're not talking about using your hands or anything, just straight up!
Okay, so how did he pitch this to you? "It's about porn. Go."
He sent me a script and I read the script and I thought wow, he wrote this? We skyped and we talked about it and we talked about playing Italian and all that and I said no problem. He said, "Could I play Italian?" And I said, "Yeah, that's what's great about you." And it was just a, you know, he was very straightforward with "I want you to do this." I said, "Joe, you sure you don't want to see anybody else?" And he said, "No, you. I want you to do this." And he told me Scarlett was in the movie and Julianne [Moore] was in the movie and I was like, that's pretty rarified air. I'm pretty excited to be part of ti.
Did you have any reservations about playing a New Jersey Italian? Were you worried that it would be a caricature of your own background?
I'll be honest with you, I've been very lucky that I haven't had to do any of that. I haven't played gangsters too much, all that stuff. Because I'm very cognisant and sensitive to it. This is more a family dynamic than an Italian dynamic, it's a family dynamic. We're all, I know of many families like this, I do. And you can slip into this, even if your family's not like that. It's easy. That's what i think and that's why I wasn't worried about the stereotype.
Two words have been brought up often in related to "Don Jon": Jersey Shore. Is that comparison invited?
I think that Joe just wanted an archetype. It had nothing to do with Jersey Shore. I think if you asked him, he'd say it's more an overview of any type of family, it's not an ethnic -- they didn't have to be Italians. No, I really think he was able to find that balance. You've gotta be careful because you can easily slip into that stereotype and play that stuff. But he said to me, "I want these scenes to crack."
Did you ever think in your career that you'd talk about porn this much?
Well, it's funny, it's certainly an issue that you have to think about. When I was a kid, if I wanted to get porn, I'd have to raid my uncle's stash of Playboys or I had to go to a store, buy a magazine, walk up to a guy who probably knew me from the neighborhood, my neighbor lady walks in and sees me holding this magazine. There's a tremendous governor on behavior, you ain't gonna do that! So you didn't do it! Now you can just go into your room with a computer and press a button. It doesn't say "Are you 11?" It doesn't say that, so you can do it.
And I wonder what does that foretell, what does that foreshadow as far as, if you're a kid when you're 11 and you're 25 or 28 and you want to marry my daughter and you've been watching porn since you were 11, that worries me. I've gotta think about this, you know? I think this movie is, aside from capturing a moment in our culture very clearly like Saturday night Fever did, it's a cautionary tale, it really is. This could happen to you. There are some other messages there too, like you better use a condom because real sex can kill you. I just think, you know, a kid, R-rated, but I think older kids should see it.
Right, there's an unfair standard real women are sometimes held to when a guy has been watching porn for years.
And on the other hand, Scarlett's character Barbara has this other image of how it's supposed to be, like Channing [Tatum] and Annie [Hathaway]. How's a person supposed to live up to that?!
You mean it's not like that?!
What do you do? It's gotta have an effect on you. The minute you start making up a checklist, I want that, I want this.
And I have to ask you: Will you hold me closer, Tony Danza?
And lastly, using the formula of your first pet and the street you grew up on, what would your porn name be?
My first pet was Zippy and and my street Pitkin. So Zippy Pitkin. Holy mackerel.