John Turturro was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957. After studying theater in college, Turturro launched his career as an actor, appearing in both supporting and leading roles on stage, on television and in film. He was worked frequently with Spike Lee—appearing in nine of his films, including Do the Right Thing—as well as with the Coen Brothers, appearing in the title role of their drama Barton Fink (1991), along with several other projects. A man of many talents, Turturro has also written and directed such films as Mac (1992) and American Gigolo (2014) and has acted in television series and theater productions as well. In 2016 he starred in HBO's limited series The Night Of and received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
Family of Thespians
John Michael Turturro was born on February 28, 1957, in Brooklyn, New York, the first child of working-class Italian immigrant parents. His mother was employed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II and was an amateur singer, and his father was a carpenter and construction worker who had fought in the Navy during the D-Day landing. However, acting, it seems, was in the Turturro genes. Not only would John eventually forge a formidable career as an actor but his brother Nicholas Turturro would as well, giving an Emmy Award–nominated performance in the acclaimed television series NYPD Blue, among many others. Their cousin Aida Turturro would also go on to make a name for herself, appearing as the character Janice Soprano in the HBO smash hit The Sopranos.
As for John Turturro, he became interested in acting at a young age. After completing high school in Queens, he attended the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he studied theater arts. After graduating with a BS in 1979, his already notable talents then earned him a scholarship to the famed Yale School of Drama. While studying at Yale, Turturro began acting in small theater productions. He also made his film debut during this time, auspiciously appearing in the Academy Award–nominated Martin Scorsese classic Raging Bull (1980), starring Robert De Niro.
From Character Actor to Leading Man
In 1983, Turturro graduated from Yale and quickly set about building his career. After numerous acclaimed stage roles—including an Obie-winning performance in an off-Broadway production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea—and minor parts in such films as The Color of Money (1986) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), a role in the 1987 comedy Five Corners earned Turturro his first of many Independent Spirit Awards. Perhaps more importantly, however, his work in the film also came to the attention of director Spike Lee, who cast Turturro as a bigoted pizza parlor employee in his highly successful Do the Right Thing (1989). During the next two decades, Turturro would appear in nine Spike Lee films, including Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), He Got Game (1998) and She Hate Me (2004).
Following his role in Do the Right Thing, Turturro made a show-stealing appearance in Ethan and Joel Coens’ 1990 mobster film, Miller’s Crossing. His portrayal of low-life grifter Bernie Bernbaum earned Turturro much critical praise, as well as the ongoing admiration of the Coen Brothers, who the following year cast him as the title character in 1991’s Barton Fink. Since then, Turturro has been cast in prominent roles in the Coen Brothers’ films The Big Lebowski (1998) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).
Although Turturro has typically played supporting roles throughout his career, he has also appeared as the lead in such films as Box of Moonlight (1998) and The Luzhin Defence (2000), an adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel of the same name.
But in both genre and venue, contribution and scope, Turturro has displayed a multi-talented versatility. In 1992 he made his directorial debut with the indie film Mac, which he also wrote and starred in, and in 1998 directed a comedy about the New York theater scene titled Illuminata. More recently he wrote, directed and acted in Romance & Cigarettes (2005); directed the music documentary Passione (2010); and wrote, directed and starred in Fading Gigolo (2014), which also featured Woody Allen, Sofia Vergara, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis and cousin Aida.
And while Turturro remains a hero of the indie film world in works like Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding (2007), he has effortlessly crossed over into the mainstream as well, with roles in the Robert Redford–directed Quiz Show (1994), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination; The Good Shepherd (2006), directed by De Niro; and all three installments of the Transformers live-action films. Showing off his comic side, Turturro has appeared in the Adam Sandler movies Mr. Deeds (2002) and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008) and has also hosted Saturday Night Live.
Other notable television appearances include a recurring role on the popular USA Network series Monk and the ESPN miniseries The Bronx Is Burning (2007), in which he deftly portrayed legendary New York Yankees manager Billy Martin. Ever true to his roots, Turturro has also stayed connected to the theater world and in early 2015 played the title role in a seven-performance City Center Encores! production of Zorba.
In 2016 Turturro had a major role in HBO's limited series mystery thriller The Night Of and garnered a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal as a street smart defense lawyer.
Turturro has been married to actress Katherine Borowitz since 1985. They have two children together.
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