“It’s not about vanity,” Danny Aiello said sincerely via a phone interview from his New Jersey home. “It wasn’t a need to sing. I wanted to sing.”
It’s obvious that the Oscar nominated actor knows about the old cliché in Hollywood: famous actors want to do one of two things, direct or sing. In the midst of a select city tour surrounding the latter glorified hobby, Mr. Aiello – the singer – made it clear he released a solo album and is performing tunes from it because he enjoys it.
“I started this five years ago when I was asked to make an album, but I’ve been singing all my life. I just finally got up enough guts and did it.”
Mr. Aiello said he was concerned people would have the same reaction they did to one of his idols, Telly Savalis, who released a solo album and got “killed for it.”
“I thought it was pretty good. I guess if people know you from something, it’s like ‘how dare you try something else?’ ” Mr. Aiello explained.
Thus far, no one has had that reaction to this South Bronx-born performer. His album has been successful, and his voice has been compared to stars like Bobby Darin and Tony Bennett.
On December 12, Mr. Aiello will perform at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck. I asked him about what a typical gig is like for him and the audience, and also got insight into how he chooses his roles these days. Among the roles he’s selected is portraying legendary mobster Al Capone in a musical he’s hoping to take to Broadway.
Q&A With Danny Aiello
What have you heard about the Emelin?
I hear it’s a beautiful little place. Do they have good sound there?
Good. I’m going to kick ass. Trust me.
How would you describe your music style?
I do songs I grew up loving – Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. But, I do it in my way. I think I have my own identification. I do me. I don’t consider myself a singer. I consider myself an interpreter of music. The words of the music are very important to me. Sinatra understood the meaning of the words he was singing. It’s not like you see now where singing is sweet and people to verbal gymnastics.
What’s a typical show like for you? Do you mix up the songs with stories of your films and upbringing?
Yes. I chat about my experiences about life and sometimes acting and I incorporate that into my repertoire. The thing you try to do is not to talk too much, but I find when I talk less, I’m asked why I didn’t talk more. I talk about songs – nothing earthshaking but songs that meant something in my life. For instance, I may remember an incident in my life when the song came out.
Can you give me an example?
“All of Me” is a song on my album, and it’s attached to when my mother took me to the “Arthur Godfrey Show.” It was like “American Idol” in that age. I was 12, and my mother took me to audition and I was too nervous to sing. I went to the bathroom terrified, and never came back. That song was going to be my audition.
Nice. Is there one role that you think personifies you as an actor?
There is one role that personifies me, except this character is a loser. He’s not as he appears to be. It’s the character I play in a film “29th Street.” It’s not a great movie – there are some elements I don’t like, but to me, it’s everything I had.
The relationship between father and son in that movie is overwhelming to me. I look at that role and don’t look at it as me acting. I’ve never seen a relationship between father and son that real.
I’ve been that combustable with kids. I mean Jack Ruby was wonderful, “Moonstruck” although I hated it when I did it, and “Do the Right Thing.” It’s a movie I wasn’t enamored with because it wasn’t true to what I knew about those neighborhoods.
[In time], I’ve realized what Spike Lee was doing was not trying to recreate the reality. He wanted to show the vibe of racists and didn’t want anything to get in the way of that.
Would you classify yourself as an actor and singer or just as an actor?
I’m an actor. Acting is my life. I just was always able to sing. I could’ve done so many musicals on Broadway. I could’ve done “42nd Street,” “They’re Playing My Song…” I kick myself.
You still can…
It’s funny you say that. I’m doing “Al Capone: The Musical.” It’s in workshop now, but it’s going to Broadway. Robert Mitchell is doing it, and it’s dynamite. I sing 22 songs, but there are 32 musical pieces. The dialogue is what sells it.
Capone died much younger than I am and I was hesitant to do this, but I look younger on stage and he was sick in this with syphilis. We’re making a movie of it.
And you’ve got several films coming up right?
I’m still doing movies. I’m doing “Anyone’s Son” and “The Italy Boys.” I only do films if I have a need for it. I don’t want to do just anything. When this Al Capone role came across, I said yes.
It could be the role that defines your career…
It’s a role of a lifetime.