Feirstein brings in legendary actor and Brooklyn’s own John Turturro

Fresh off a big year on the screen, John Turturro shared his secrets to success with a packed room of students at Brooklyn College’s expanding filmic branch.

June 14, 2022 Evan Rosen
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The Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema continues to score big. This time, with the procurement of a legendary and thriving stage and screen actor – the effervescent and experienced John Turturro – a Brooklyn native and current Park Slope resident. His involvement with Brooklyn College comes at a time when Turturro is busily continuing to soar on-screen, but it seems a natural fit, considering his Brooklyn roots and that Turturro himself is a product of a post-graduate edification, albeit fortified in the ivy-clad towers of the Yale School of Drama.

It was last month that Turturro stopped by to recount this journey and his five-decade-spanning career with the Feirstein students. In a packed screening room on the Steiner Studios film lot, he joined in conversation with executive director Richard Gladstein. The conversation marked the beginning of what will surely be a fruitful relationship, as Turturro will go on to serve as a mentor for the students and also an advisor to Gladstein.

And it comes off a reinvigorating year for Turturro, who starred as crime boss Carmine Falcone in the recent blockbuster film, The Batman, and who captured the hearts of critics with his soulful performance as “Irving” in the hit show Severance from Apple TV+. The Eagle was also able to speak with Mr. Turturro after his talk at Feirstein, and we learned that at age 65, he’s not even close to finished – with many projects still on the horizon (and also his philosophy on mustaches … more on that later). 

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“Life isn’t one thing,” Turturro said to the eager cinephiles in attendance, referring to the balance he’s struck in his projects and performances, often oscillating between comedy and drama, tapping into the light and dark side of humanity. But for Turturro, his life has largely been focused on one thing – acting, and exploring all the nuances within the elusive craft.  

After studying Theatre Arts at the SUNY – New Paltz, Turturro spent a brief stint as a substitute teacher and a bartender before getting into the prestigious program at Yale, where he paid his way by working as a dishwasher and set-builder while on campus. He talked about gaining admission with a rousing monologue from Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront (“I coulda been a contender”), as well as getting into a stone-throwing skirmish with members of the Skull & Bones Society while on campus.

After all his schooling, Turturro claims the best acting methodology is, “Whatever helps you. The Sandy Meisner approach, the Uta Hagen approach, the Commedia dell’arte approach. A life around you and of course, your imagination.” 

Maybe it was the combination of all these things that helped him land the title role in John Patrick Shanley’s play Danny and the Deep Blue Sea –  a role which would earn him an Obie Award and launch his career, not long after graduating from Yale. He went on to work with Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing as well as nine other films by the auteur director, and also has a long-standing collaboration with the Coen Brothers as well as many awards claimed since those early days. As Gladstein pointed out, “many directors who work with John, often do it again and again.”

But he hasn’t only been performing. Turturro has tried his hand at writing, producing, and directing – both for the stage and screen. “There’s not a lot of directors who know how to talk to actors,” he said. 

Turturro knows the importance of giving an actor something physical to do, especially during long monologues, in order to get them out of their heads and make it closer to how people talk in real life. When collaborating on projects, Turturro looks for “people who have access to who they are,” and also enjoys experimenting with music on set, sometimes even giving an earpiece to an actor during a scene, to pump in a song that helps them reach a certain emotional threshold. 

“You want to allow people to express themselves in directing, and then guide them,” Turturro explains. In terms of creating the right energy, he believes that anything you can do to know each other and create a sense of fun, is the most important thing to a successful collaboration. 

All of this was gold for the students in attendance – none of which are focusing on acting specifically in their courses at Feirstein. But to understand the actor’s perspective, and gain his knowledge in these facets of directing, the students felt, was invaluable. 

From there, the talk veered into other areas of Turturro’s wisdom. He talked about the importance of making film and theatre, of humanity’s need to “be tenderized” by art, just as meat is tenderized, before entering into the world as feeling, compassionate citizens. “Our care for other people is what will save us,” he believes.

As for what’s next on his acting bucket list, Turturro claims “I have three projects that I really want to do, one screenplay, one mini-series and one play.” But as to what those are exactly, we’ll have to simply wait and see. For the time being, it’s enough to admire the catalog of work he’s amassed over the years and the recent triumphs which show an actor who has reached an expertise in the craft that very few are able to obtain, and whose performances seem to only grow more realized, fun and imaginative with each performance. 

Both his recent roles in The Batman and Severance show this fact. They also happen to show two completely opposite characters with similar mustaches. “It was my mustache,” Turturro reveals. “My theory is that you can be two different people with the same mustache. It worked for both.” 

These nuggets of wisdom and much much more, will be coming to Brooklyn College for the foreseeable future – part of Richard Gladstein’s reinvigorated effort to “bring the industry to Feirstein,” a mission which seems to be off to a very strong start.

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