Robert Loggia

The actor: The son of a shoemaker born in Sicily, Robert Loggia’s career stretches back to the ’50s and has found him tackling roles both large and small. Loggia has cut an intimidating figure for more than five decades, whether he’s playing Tony Montana’s doomed mentor Frank Lopez in the 1983 bullets-and-coke classic Scarface (which recently made its Blu-ray debut) or telling a kid to drink his orange juice in a Minute Maid commercial. 

Scarface (1983)—“Frank Lopez”
Robert Loggia: Well, it started to be compared to, when we did it, the original Scarface, who was Italian. But this Scarface is Spanish. We rehearsed our Scarface to the nines. Long period of rehearsal, so that by the time we started to shoot, it was almost like doing a play. We all had a grand time doing it. It was a wonderful cast. We all got along well together, and that’s it.

The A.V. Club: Why was the decision made to change it from the original Al Capone/Chicago setting to the Cuban immigrants in Florida?

RL: I guess because it’s much more germane to do that. The Italian mafia, they’re very [into] construction. They’re in a whole different way of operating than they did back in the ’20s. This Scarface was much more germane to the way things are today.

AVC: Al Pacino burned his hand at one point during one of the scenes and they had to stop production. What was involved considering there was so much in the way of gun battles and other action sequences?

RL: Well, the battles were quite severe. And [Tony Montana’s] rise to the top was an embattled rise to the top. His character really cut a swath through everything in front of him, including Frank Lopez. Frank Lopez ended up a guy on his knees. When Pacino said, “Shoot this piece of shit,” [Laughs.] it was the end of the trail. That was the first [half]. The second half was entirely different motion picture. One was impressionistic, when I die. The other is expressionistic. 

AVC: You say you rehearsed the movie a lot. Was the second half of the movie the same way? 

RL: It was an expressionistic movie. It was a totally different movie. That’s about it.

AVC: Was Pacino able to turn off Tony Montana when the camera wasn’t rolling? Or is he some degree of Tony, even when he’s not on camera?

RL: I think that would apply to all actors, not just Al Pacino. I don’t know. You can’t, at least I would not want to be under the veil of a character I’m playing for the entire shoot. You should have to bounce back and forth between illusion and reality.

AVC: When you’re doing such an intense movie like Scarface, what did you guys do to blow off steam when you weren’t working?

RL: I think most of us who stayed on the set went to our trailer. I would meditate a lot. I’m 81, so it’s more than 50 years of a way of working. I guess for each actor they have a different style.

AVC: How does the meditation help you?

RL: It quiets you, and gives you energy. Doesn’t keep you revved up. So when they claw you back to the set, you’re fresh as a daisy, ready to go. I can’t be under the weight of the character for a 14-hour shooting day. I don’t think anybody can do that.

AVC: When you talk about all the rehearsal you had to do, is that something that you like to do for a movie?

RL: I think a lot of what you do depends on the other people in the cast. It doesn’t only depend on you the actor, but it depends on a variety of things, what the other actors are like. It’s a team effort, and this one was a very successful team effort. Everybody came to the plate and hit it out of the park.

AVC: When you were making the movie, did you think that it had the potential to have the staying power it’s had in pop culture?

RL: I think there were some dubious feelings about it, that the first Scarface would not be surpassed by the second Scarface. We were wrong; it surpassed it. The acting talent, the cinematography, we were propelled into a real class action film. Long after I kick the bucket it’ll be played.

AVC: What about Brian De Palma’s directing style stood out for you?

RL: Well, I hate to knock a director, but De Palma… An example of De Palma’s direction: Pacino came in with his arm in a sling and De Palma had him grab me and slam me down on the desk with the gun pointed between the eyes. So we had an argument, I suppose. I said, “If the guy has a gun, that’s the power. He doesn’t need to wave the gun; he just needs to point the gun in a very relaxed fashion. He doesn’t have to wave the gun like it’s a saber. All the power of the gun is self-evident. He points it there, and Frank Lopez sees the problem and ends up on his hands and knees, saying, ‘Don’t kill me.’” And the Pacino response, “Shoot this piece of shit.” Which he does.

AVC: Did he end up doing it that way?

RL: They were doing it our way.

AVC: So he was amenable to suggestions and changes like that.

RL: Yes. Most directors, like John Huston, would say, “Boys, you work it out. I’ll be back in about a half-hour, and you can show me what you’ve done.” John Huston is more of a creative director than most.

Prizzi’s Honor (1985)—“Eduardo Prizzi”
RL: What stands out for me in that shoot is John Huston’s daughter [Anjelica]. I don’t know what adjective to use. He wasn’t uncomfortable with her, but he felt that it would be better if I worked with his daughter more than he did. That I would shield Anjelica from any problems. So I became her off-screen mentor at the behest of John Huston. He wanted me to work with his daughter. He felt, I guess, uncomfortable doing it himself.

Big (1988)—“MacMillan”
RL: Well, when we came to the set, which was… what’s the store? F.A.O. Schwartz. We went up there, Tom [Hanks] and I, we see two guys dressed like we were, and they were going to shoot [the piano dance scene] with just the feet. We thought that was ridiculous. We told the guys who were dressed like we were to take a hike. So we were full-figure, which made it much more of a classic scene. Tom and I did all the dance. Full-figured view.

AVC: How long did it take to get that down?

RL: It didn’t take long at all, really. Just about one take. 

A Woman Called Golda (1982)—“Anwar Sadat”
AVC: How daunting was it to step into the shoes of a world leader like that, one who had a significant impact on current events in that time? 

RL: It wasn’t intimidating at all. I worked with Ingrid [Bergman, who played Golda Meir]. Ingrid and I became very close during filming. She became Golda Meir. She had a problem with her circulation in her left arm. So the whole time it was swollen. She was in pain. Ingrid and I became very, very close in the film. I think it became a real classic. Haven’t seen it in a long time.

AVC: Did you study Sadat at all? Did you look at video of him?

RL: Yes. Yes indeed.

AVC: What did you find about him in general that gave you the key to playing him in the movie?

RL: It’s funny. When you do a part like that, you play a character with a [Imitates Sadat.], “ah, ah, ah,” a stuttering way of speaking, and historically there’s a lot of film footage on him and all that. So I became Anwar Sadat. That’s how I felt. I was Anwar Sadat.

AVC: You’ve played a lot of different ethnicities in your career. How did that come about?

RL: I’d have to thank Stella Adler for that. She didn’t want her actors to be a one-trick pony. An actor is an impersonator; he plays many different roles. If you played the same role all the time, God that’d be a boring career. When you take on different roles and become a different person, that’s called acting … It’s a challenge. When you read a script, you don’t want to be the same guy all the time, you want to change, you’re a different person. That’s why acting is a wonderful career. You’re not the same guy all the time.

Independence Day (1996)—“General William Grey”
RL: It was a thrill to do that movie. For all the actors. It was challenging, and you stepped to the plate and try to hit it out of the park, I guess.

AVC: In what way was it challenging?

RL: It’s a role. You’re dealing with aliens and all of that. It’s an obvious challenge. Scripts like that don’t come your way that often. It’s nice to have it in my acting agenda. Nice to take it on.

Mancuso, FBI (1989-90)—“Nick Mancuso”
RL: Well, I liked playing the cop. It should have gone on longer. I don’t know why it was cancelled, but Mancuso, FBI, it should have had a good long run, but it wasn’t picked up. Maybe there was a problem with me. I have no idea.

AVC: What about the show did you enjoy?

RL: Well, he was good. He was a cop; he had a pretty secretary. It wasn’t that he’d do the same thing every time. He’d be in a different part of the country, the nation, dealing with the case. So I thought that was good. There was some interesting stuff in there, as I said, in different parts of the nation.

Joe Torre: Curveballs Along The Way (1997)—“Frank Torre”
RL: I had great respect for Torre, and I think he felt all right about me playing the part.

AVC: How did meeting Frank and Joe help you out in playing Frank?

RL: When you play somebody, you pick up a lot of their gestures, his voice, the way he speaks, his body language. You don’t often get that opportunity.

Lost Highway (1997)—“Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent”
AVC: How was David Lynch’s style different than some of the other directors you’ve experienced?

RL: His style is quite different. It was really quite a thrilling attempt at the Lost Highway reality. It’s certainly in my memory book as a thrill. Working with David Lynch was like taking a bullet. A gun at you. Lost Highway is, I think, one of the best films I’ve ever been in. It’ll endure a long, long time.