11 Surprising Facts About A Bronx Tale

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

On September 29, 1993, the now-defunct Savoy Pictures distributed the coming-of-age crime drama A Bronx Tale, starring Robert De Niro and Chazz Palminteri. It was based on a one-man show Palminteri had started performing in Los Angeles in 1989, and then performed it Off-Broadway the same year. Palminteri ended up writing the screenplay and using it as a vehicle to act in the film, whereas De Niro used the script to make his directorial debut.

The film, which is set in the Bronx in the 1960s, centers on a kid named Calogero “C” Anello who witnesses a mafia boss, Sonny (Palminteri), murder someone. As Calogero grow ups, he sees Sonny as a father figure but also copes with his own father’s (De Niro) advice. Partly based on Palminteri’s own life (yes, he really witnessed a murder), the semi-autobiographical film grossed $17.2 million against a $10 million budget.

In 2007, Palminteri resurrected the play on Broadway, and in 2016 A Bronx Tale: The Musical began performances on Broadway. Palminteri wrote the book and De Niro co-directed with Jerry Zaks. After 700 regular performances, the musical closed on August 5, 2018 (though it's now on tour). To celebrate the film's 25th anniversary, here are 11 things you might not have known about A Bronx Tale.

1. A BAD EXPERIENCE AS A BOUNCER INSPIRED CHAZZ PALMINTERI TO WRITE THE PLAY.

While living in Los Angeles and trying to be an actor in the ’80s, Palminteri worked various jobs, including a gig as a bouncer at a nightclub. “One night a guy was going to come in, and he was very rude to me,” Palminteri told The A.V. Club. “I told him I wasn’t going to let him in, he got mad and told me that I’d be fired in 15 minutes. I said, ‘Sure sure, everyone tells me that.’ That man turned out to be Swifty Lazar, the biggest agent in the world at the time—this was 1989—and sure enough, 15 minutes later I did get fired.”

Palminteri went home and considered his options. “I thought that if no one was going to give me a great part—and it was very difficult to break into film, obviously—then I’d write one myself.” He wrote the play in increments—every week he wrote more and performed the material at Los Angeles's Theatre West. “I really honed it and sharpened it,” he said. “About 10 months or a year later, I had a 90-minute one-man show.”

2. PALMINTERI WOULD ONLY SELL THE FILM RIGHTS IF HE COULD PLAY SONNY.

Robert De Niro and Chazz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale (1993)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Palminteri's play garnered enough buzz that studios offered anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million to purchase the story rights, but they didn’t want Palminteri to act in it, as he wasn’t a big enough name. De Niro saw the play and decided to help Palminteri out. “At first, I didn’t want anything in the ingredients if I did a film of it—I wanted a totally clean slate—but I saw it and liked it and liked Chazz,” De Niro told Interview Magazine. “While he was writing the screenplay I said, ‘Let me make this clear. If you give it to a studio, they’ll pay you for it and people will get involved and they’ll give the Sonny part to another actor. If you give it to me now, I can guarantee you’ll be in it and we’ll set it up our own way and I’ll have more control, which is what I want. I don’t want any producer getting in the way and telling me what to do.’ I didn’t want all that mishmoshing—I knew what had to be done.”           

3. PALMINTERI WANTED TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT “THE WORKING MAN.”

In real life, Palminteri’s father was a school bus driver and a saxophone player. “Too many movies speak about us as just gombas or Mafioso,” Palminteri told Roger Ebert. “I wanted a movie about the working man, about a real Italian-American community. The real fabric comes from working men. My dad was similar to Lorenzo. I used to see him put his boots on in the morning to go out and drive the bus. He’d get up in the rain, the snow, smiling, just to make his children’s lives better. That's all he wanted. No dreams to be this, or that. To me, a man like that is a hero, and I wanted the movie to reflect that.”

4. ROBERT DE NIRO WANTED TO WORK WITH KIDS FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

In casting the film, De Niro wanted to hire non-actors from New York. “One day Marco Greco, who was casting for us, was on Jones Beach and he saw this kid and asked him if he wanted to audition for us,” De Niro told Roger Ebert. “The kid says, ‘You’re not looking for me. You’re looking for my brother.’ And his brother, Lillo Brancato, came out of the water, and started doing impersonations of me and Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. He was great. He was perfect for C. It always excites me to work with people who are new, who fit. To create this world—this medieval village in the Bronx—I needed real teenagers, not actors trying to be teenagers.”

5. DE NIRO WARNED LILLO BRANCATO ABOUT THE DANGERS OF FAME.

Soon after the film’s release, Brancato became an in-demand actor, even starring in season two of The Sopranos. But his on-screen father warned him about the trappings of fame. “De Niro came to my house in spring or summer of 1993, not only to warn me, but also my parents,” Brancato told People. “My parents are Italian immigrants and knew nothing about show biz and the temptations that lie ahead. De Niro talked about the changes that will occur in my life. He said this can be very dangerous if not handled the right way.”

Unfortunately, Brancato did not heed De Niro's advice and ended up serving eight years of a 10-year prison sentence following a 2005 attempted robbery that led to the death of a New York City police officer. Brancato was found guilty of attempted burglary but acquitted of murder. His co-defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

6. DE NIRO ASKED MARTIN SCORSESE FOR DIRECTING ADVICE.

Because it was De Niro’s first time directing, he turned to regular collaborator Martin Scorsese for some tips. "I asked certain things about the way you do this or that," De Niro told Interview Magazine. "I also talked to other actors who have turned directors, like Danny DeVito. I guess I felt that I’d be okay. I didn’t want to build up some kind of fear of it. Directing yourself isn’t stressful—you’re just a bit uncomfortable, because [when you’re acting], you have to set your mind in a certain way, and then you have to direct everybody else."

7. THE REAL EDDIE MUSH PLAYED EDDIE MUSH.

Eddie Mush was a gambler both in the movie and in real life. During a racetrack scene in the movie, Mush, Sonny, and Calogero bet on the same horse, Kryptonite, and lose. “We were looking for someone to play Bad Luck Eddie Mush, the guy who is a jinx,” Palminteri told Roger Ebert. "We couldn’t find anyone. Finally I told Bob [De Niro] the real guy, Eddie Montanaro, was still around, 63 years old. Bob saw him and cast him—but I was worried, because Eddie really does bring bad luck, and sure enough, the first day he worked, it rained."

8. DE NIRO WANTED TO PLAY AGAINST TYPE.

In 1993, De Niro told Interview Magazine he thought casting himself in the movie would “get it off the ground more easily.” He had already promised Palminteri the role of Sonny, a part De Niro could’ve played, but the role of Lorenzo—Calogero's father—was more interesting to De Niro. “I hadn’t done this kind of part, and it’s something really different, and I wanted to do it for that reason, because people would expect me to play Sonny. As Lorenzo, I had my own experiences to draw on, and it’s something closer to me because of my kids. I have a son Lillo’s age.”

9. THE CALOGERO-JANE ROMANCE ALMOST GOT CUT.

Lillo Brancato and Taral Hicks in 'A Bronx Tale' (1993)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

One of the film's main storylines focuses on Calogero's romance with Jane (Taral Hicks), a black girl from the neighborhood. De Niro told Interview Magazine the plotline almost got excised, but he wanted to keep it in. “People would say, ‘Just make it between a father and a son—that’s really a story in itself,’ which it was. But I felt that to take away any one of those elements would be wrong. The part with Jane is the one part that you didn’t expect, and for that reason alone I didn’t want to take it out. There’s a beginning, middle, and end to this whole relationship. It happens fast. They meet and fall in love and boom!—they come together.”

10. TOMMY MOTTOLA MADE THE MUSICAL HAPPEN.

The chairman and CEO of Sony Music—who’s also known as Mariah Carey’s first husband—helped get the musical off the ground. In an interview with The A.V. Club, Palminteri said it was the Bronx-born Tommy Mottola who suggested adapting the film into a Broadway musical. (He ended up producing it.) “Even though I had been trying to do one for years, it was him who put it on his back and made it happen,” Palminteri said. “If not for Tommy Mottola, it would not have happened. He put his money where his mouth was.”

11. PALMINTERI THINKS THE FILM IS ABOUT CHOOSING LOVE OR FEAR.

During a 2016 interview on The Today Show, Palminteri explained why he thinks the film and musical still resonate today. “There’s the black neighborhood and the Italian neighborhood, and what A Bronx Tale talks about is how people can come together,” he said. “One of the main aspects of the play is: Is it better to choose love or fear? Because Sonny studied Machiavelli in jail. He tells the boy, ‘What do you choose, love or fear?’ In the end, Sonny ends up choosing love. So I think that’s why it’s so relevant today.”

Jon Snow's Game of Thrones Fate Could Have Spelled Divorce for Showrunner David Benioff

Christopher Polk, Getty Images for Turner
Christopher Polk, Getty Images for Turner

The emotional toll that Game of Thrones's twists and turns takes on its fans has been well-documented. Between the TV show's massive body count and its never-ending series of other shocking moments, the show has left viewers shaken to theirs core for the past eight years (which is part of its massive appeal). But one of Game of Thrones's most heartbreaking moments—the death of Jon Snow at the hands of Alliser Thorne and other members of the Night's Watch in the fifth season—didn't leave just fans crushed. It nearly cost showrunner David Benioff his marriage.

While being interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2015, The Romanoffs star Amanda Peet, who has been married to Benioff since 2006, told Kimmel that she was close to divorcing Benioff for killing off Jon Snow.

"I made him promise me, I begged him … I said, 'I've heard all this stuff … [Kit Harington] got a haircut, I don't want to divorce you, what's happening?'" Peet recalled. Benioff assured his wife that Jon wasn't going to die, but obviously that wasn't true—or at least not at the time. "I don't love you anymore," Peet (jokingly) told her husband. "I said, 'If you kill him, that's it.'"

As we all know, the sixth season saw Jon brought back to life, but Peet likely had no idea it was going to happen due to the intense secrecy of the show. "It's a little like being married to someone in the CIA or something," the actress stated. "He's in bed and he has his earphones and we angle the computer so that I can't see the dailies."

Though Jon's resurrection may have saved their marriage, who knows how Peet will feel about how it all ends when Game of Thrones's eighth and final season premieres on April 14, 2019.

20 Surprising Facts About Benedict Cumberbatch

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

If Benedict Cumberbatch isn't careful, he might just run out of dream roles to play. Since the earliest days of his career, the 42-year-old actor has made no secret that there were two roles at the top of his character bucket list: Hamlet and Patrick Melrose, the protagonist at the center of Edward St Aubyn's critically acclaimed series of novels.

In 2015, Cumberbatch took the stage in London to do the whole "to be or not to be" thing. (More on that later.) In 2018, he starred in Patrick Melrose, Showtime's television adaptation of the book series, and earned both Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for the role. Now, Cumberbatch is back on the small screen—and bald—for the HBO movie Brexit, which premieres on January 19th.

1. He made his stage debut playing a "very bossy" Joseph in a Nativity play.

In a 2010 interview with London Theatre, Cumberbatch shared that his first stage performance found him playing “a very bossy Joseph in the Nativity play at primary school. Apparently I pushed Mary offstage because she was taking too long. Actresses eh!”

2. He thinks his name sounds like "a fart in a bath."

There’s something very regal-sounding about a name like Benedict Cumberbatch, but it’s not one that necessarily rolls right off the tongue. The Washington Post once identified the actor as “Bandersnatch Cummerbund” (though later clarified that it was a joke). But there have been plenty of other mix-ups—like the time a television show ID'ed him as “Benedict Cumberpatch” (which sort of has a nice ring to it).

Cumberbatch had a feeling that his name might cause problems in his career, which is why he began his career as Benedict Carlton (which is his middle name). Ultimately, it was his agent who convinced him to use Cumberbatch, even though the actor said the surname sounds like “a fart in a bath.”

3. He toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer.

Though he grew up in a family of actors, Cumberbatch wasn’t always planning to live his life out in front of a camera. In fact, it was because of his parents’ chosen profession that they encouraged him to pursue a more stable calling, which led him to want to become a criminal lawyer.

“[Acting is] a very odd, peripatetic, crazed, out of your control work and social schedule,” Cumberbatch told The Mirror in 2015. “It's very hard to plan a family life, let alone know where the next paycheck is coming from so they worked very, very hard as my parents, and actors, to afford me an education whereby I had the opportunity and the privilege to try and channel myself towards other goals.

“For a while, I wanted to be a barrister because there's definitely a crossover with criminal law—with trying to persuade an audience and a jury and a judge of the case and your client's story so I did go down that route for a little bit. I think they would have been very happy if I ended up there."

He spoke with Vulture about his legal leanings, too, and noted that, “I would've loved the performance of court, the idea of persuading people, storytelling and all that. It parallels beautifully with acting, lots of frustrated, amateur dramatics going on in court all the time. I think lots of barristers literally perform in amateur dramatic societies and are very good actors. It's a massive crossover."

4. His parents on Sherlock are also his parents in real life.

Speaking of Cumberbatch’s parents: While both Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham are familiar faces as actors in their own right, fans of Sherlock might also be quick to recognize them as Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’s parents.

In 2014, Cumberbatch told the Press Association that he was a little nervous about working with his parents, as “They’re Equity card carrying members but you know it was nerve-wracking because they are actors as well and yet they were brilliant and they were fantastic.”

5. He spent a year teaching in India.

During a gap year, Cumberbatch decided to volunteer his time and teach English at a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India. “I’d always been fascinated by the idea of meditation and what it meant,” he told Lion’s Roar. “In India, I went on a retreat with a lama—several days of incantation to clear and purify the mind—along with a dozen other people. It was incredible, and I kind of floated out of there after two weeks."

Though teaching and acting may seem unrelated, many of the skills and practices Cumberbatch learned during that time eventually helped him in his acting career. “Stillness is an essential part of acting,” he said, “so I already had a certain amount of focus in that beforehand. A still point is a very, very hard place to find, especially among the usual kind of pulped sheep pushed around by the blinking flashing world of modern technology.”

6. He was kidnapped in South Africa.

While filming the 2005 miniseries To the Ends of the Earth, Cumberbatch experienced another kind of epiphany when he nearly lost his life. The actor and two of his co-stars took a day off to learn how to scuba dive near Mozambique. On their way back from the outing, the actor explained, “The three of us were trying to change the tire. These six men appeared suddenly from the eucalyptus. They said: 'Put your hands on your head, don't look at us,' and were frisking us for drugs, money, weapons. Then they bundled us into the car. They dragged me up and put me in the boot of the car.”

Like so many of the quick-thinking characters he has played, Cumberbatch realized his only option was to try and argue his way out of the situation:

“I said: ‘If you leave me in here, it’s not the lack of air, it’s the small space. There’s a problem with my heart and my brain.’

“I just tried to explain to them: ‘I will die, possibly have a fit, and it will be a problem for you. I will be a dead Englishman in your car. Not good.’

“They shut the boot and had an argument, and then pulled me out. So I kind of thank God I had the presence of mind to give them the idea that it would be better to keep me alive. And the other two hadn’t been harmed.”

In a way, the incident became the impetus for Cumberbatch to pursue his dreams even more aggressively. “It taught me that you come into this world as you leave it, on your own,” he said. “It’s made me want to live a life slightly less ordinary.”

7. Julian Assange tried to talk him out of starring in The Fifth Estate.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in 'The Fifth Estate' (2013)
DreamWorks

In 2013, a very white-haired Cumberbatch played the role of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate. In preparing for the role, Cumberbatch—ever the dutiful actor—reached out to Assange about arranging a meeting. Assange’s response, which went viral, was rather epic. Though he assured Cumberbatch that he would very much enjoy meeting him, and that he believed they would get along, he spent the bulk of his word count telling the actor why making the film was a terrible idea:

“You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.

“Not because you want to, of course you don't, but because, in the end, you are a jobbing actor who gets paid to follow the script, no matter how debauched.

“Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world.

“I believe that you should reconsider your involvement in this enterprise.”

The film went forward as planned, with Cumberbatch in the lead (though it was a critical and box office failure, which likely pleased Assange).

8. He is easily starstruck.

When asked during a Reddit AMA whether he’s ever been starstruck while meeting or working with a fellow actor, Cumberbatch admitted that it happens all the time: “Uhhhhhhhh. Every time I've met someone famous who I've been in the audience of,” he said. “I have the same butterflies and inability to be cool. I approach them as a fellow member of the human race as the next person in their audience does. I've been doing this for 10 odd years, and so to meet people who thrilled me with their work for my entire life in such a concentrated manner as has happened over the last few years has been mind-blowing.”

9. Ted Danson was really, really excited to meet him.

While Cumberbatch may get nervous every time he meets an acting hero, one well-known actor who was pretty excited to meet Cumberbatch was Cheers star Ted Danson. When asked during a Reddit AMA to share the “weirdest encounter you've had with a fan,” Cumberbatch answered: “Ted Danson at a pre-Oscar party screaming across a floor of people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ray Liotta, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, et al while pushing past them and knocking their drinks. ‘OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! IT'S F***ING SHERLOCK HOLMES!’”

10. He wasn't immediately sold on playing Sherlock Holmes.

Though playing the titular “consulting detective” in Sherlock is the role that brought Cumberbatch global recognition, saying yes to the part wasn’t exactly a no-brainer for the actor. While speaking at a BAFTA event in 2014, Cumberbatch admitted that he was actually a little hesitant to sign on for the project. “I heard about it and thought that sounds like an idea to [re-franchise] something to make money,” he said. “It could be a bit cheap and cheesy. Then I found out who was involved and realized it wouldn’t be cheap and cheesy.

“My mum had done a few episodes of Coupling with Steven [Moffat] and Mark Gatiss was a huge hero of mine when I was a student in League Of Gentleman,” Cumberbatch continued, “so I knew the stable was good. I thought I would read it and then I fell in love with it.”

11. The BBC wasn't sure Cumberbatch was "sexy" enough to pull off Sherlock.


BBC

It’s funny to think about now, considering Cumberatch’s massive worldwide fanbase, but just as the actor wasn’t immediately sold on playing Sherlock Holmes, the BBC wasn’t sure the actor was a great match for the role—because they wanted someone with sex appeal. While speaking at the Hay Festival in 2014, Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat talked about the BBC’s track record in determining which actors might connect with audiences—Cumberbatch being one of them.

“They said of casting David Tennant as Casanova, ‘Damn, you should have cast someone sexier,’” Moffat said. “With Benedict Cumberbatch, we were told the same thing. ‘You promised us a sexy Sherlock, not him.’”

Sue Vertue, a fellow producer on Sherlock (and Moffat's wife), relayed a similar tale to Entertainment Weekly just a few months prior to Moffat’s comments, telling the magazine: “When we first cast [Cumberbatch], people were saying, ‘You promised us a sexy one!’ People weren’t thinking of Benedict in that light at all.” His name, apparently, posed another problem: “When people said, ‘Who’s playing Sherlock Holmes?’ and we’d say, ‘Benedict Cumberbatch,’ everyone looked very vague,” Vertue said. “Then we’d always have to spell his name.”

12. He is (distantly) related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It turns out that Sherlock Holmes may have been the role Cumberbatch was born to play. In 2017, researchers at Ancestry.com made the rather fascinating discovery that Cumberbatch and Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are sixteenth cousins, twice removed. The ancestral link between the two is former Duke of Lancaster John of Gaunt, who was Doyle’s 15th great-grandfather and Cumberbatch’s 17th great-grandfather.

13. He also has a family link to Alan Turing.

Amazingly, the Conan Doyle connection wasn’t the first time Cumberbatch’s ancestry was linked to one of his characters. In 2014, the same team of researchers determined that Cumberbatch was the 17th cousin of Alan Turing, the computer scientist/codebreaker he played in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game (2014)—a role that earned Cumberbatch an Oscar nomination in 2015.

14. He has been rendered in chocolate on more than one occasion.


UKTV/FLICKR

In a somewhat bizarre promotional campaign by Britain’s UKTV in 2015, Cumberbatch narrowly beat out David Tennant by a margin of just one percent to be named “TV Dishiest Drama Actor.” The prize? Having a life-sized statue, made entirely of Belgian chocolate, created in the actor’s likeness.

It took a team of eight people more than 250 man-hours to construct the delicious doppelgänger, dubbed “Benedict Chocobatch." In 2016, he was recreated in the sweet stuff again, though this time as an edible chocolate bunny/Benedict hybrid that fans could actually purchase … and eat.

15. He turned Hamlet into "the most in-demand show of all time."

In 2015, Cumberbatch achieved one of his lifetime dreams when it was announced that he would play Hamlet in a 12-week run at London’s Barbican theater. Tickets ended up selling out almost as fast as one could say “To be or not to be.” As The Telegraph reported in 2014:

"The curtain does not go up on the production for another year, but Cumberbatch's Hamlet is nevertheless outselling the next most popular show, the current run of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, by four to one. The show has even registered 214 per cent more ticket searches in the hours after tickets were released than Beyoncé and Jay Z’s global On the Run tour.

Hamlet tickets went on sale at 10am on August 11 and within minutes fans were expressing frustration at finding themselves more than 20,000 places back in the queue."

16. He's the leading man in a lot of fan fiction.

In addition to being a leading man on the stage and both the small and big screens, Cumberbatch plays a starring role in a lot of fan fiction. A lot of fan fiction! In 2013, The Mirror estimated that approximately 100 million words of fan fiction had been written about the Sherlock star. Considering that was six years ago, the word count has certainly only grown.

17. Simon Pegg convinced him that he might have radiation poisoning.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in 'Star Trek Into Darkness' (2013)
Paramount Pictures

While filming Star Trek: Into Darkness, Simon Pegg decided to have a little fun with Cumberbatch by convincing him that he was at risk for radiation exposure. According to Pegg, it worked. He recounted the story to The Sun in 2013:

"I don't like seeing people get embarrassed. But we were filming in a nuclear facility and one day I said that Chris [Pine] needed neutron cream—otherwise he'd get sunburn. He said, 'What?' And I said, 'Yeah, you'll get a rash from ambient radiation in the air.' From there the trick spread to other cast members. Finally, we got Benedict. He had this speech and he kept f***ing it up. Afterwards he said, 'Guys, I'm ever so sorry —I've got a real headache. I think the ions were getting to me.' He was so convinced."

18. He has a rare genetic mutation.

If Cumberbatch’s eyes seem to regularly change color, you’re not imagining things: The actor was born with both central heterochromia and sectoral heterochromia—two rare-but-harmless genetic mutations that affect his eyes. Each of his eyes has multiple colors (a mix of blue, green, and gold) because of the central heterochromia, and the sectoral heterochromia is the reason why he has a brown “freckle” on his right eye.

But ask the actor what his favorite part of his body is, and the eyes have got it. “I guess as an actor your eyes are vital in conveying any internal thought process or feeling, and for that I have my mum to thank,” he said.

19. He's not cool with "Cumberbitches."

When Cumberbatch’s massive contingency of female fans dubbed themselves “Cumberbitches,” the actor took issue with the pejorative moniker. “It’s not even politeness,” he said of his distaste for the term. “I won’t allow you to be my bitches. I think it sets feminism back so many notches. You are ... Cumberpeople."

20. He has been a vocal proponent of closing the gender pay gap.

Equal pay in Hollywood is a hot-button topic, and Cumberbatch has made his stance on the issue very clear by stating that he won’t work on a project if his female co-stars aren’t being paid the same. "Equal pay and a place at the table are the central tenets of feminism," Cumberbatch told Radio Times. "Look at your quotas. Ask what women are being paid, and say: 'If she’s not paid the same as the men, I’m not doing it.'"

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