Master Class With John Turturro

May 29, 2014
Originally published on April 16, 2015 9:14 am

Jesus in the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski, Pino in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Herb Stempel in Robert Redford's Quiz Show -- actor John Turturro has performed countless memorable movie roles. Moving behind the camera, Turturro wrote, directed and starred in the new movie Fading Gigolo, which found him working alongside one of his influences, Woody Allen. It all started because the two men share the same barber.

"We decided that I would write it, and he would give me his feedback, which I didn't know was going to be merciless," Turturro told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg. "Beyond merciless. It was like, 'This is terrible. I hate this. I could be wrong, but ...' "

Turturro was kind enough to indulge us in a game where he reprised some of his most famous movie lines, and did not disappoint. And in an Ask Me Another Challenge, his wife, the actress Katherine Borowitz, joined Turturro to play a trivia round about fellow prolific thespian Christopher Walken.

Interview Highlights

On the idea for Fading Gigolo

I thought [Allen and I would] be an interesting team together in something, and I was thinking, well, what would we be doing? So, I had a friend who had a bookstore, and he was the same age as Woody, lost the bookstore, and I was thinking, wow, maybe we could wind up in the sex business. And I shared my crazy idea with our haircutter, who is Woody's haircutter and my haircutter — his name is Anthony. And Anthony talked to Woody. ... So Anthony calls me up ... and he said, "John, I have good news. Woody wants to talk to you."

On being influenced by some of the directors he's worked with

[Michael Bay] blows everything up all the time. I actually was in all those [Transformers] movies, and ... basically I just imitate Michael Bay. He thinks I'm hysterical, and basically all I'm doing is mirroring him. ... I do it with affection.

This episode originally aired on May 29, 2014.

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You're listening to ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR and WNYC. I'm Ophira Eisenberg with house musician Jonathan Coulton and puzzle guru Art Chung. And let's welcome our very important puzzler John Turturro.



JOHN TURTURRO: Thank you for having me.

EISENBERG: Is this your first live quiz show experience?


TURTURRO: That I'm not being paid for? Yes.

EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly.


TURTURRO: Or that I'm not cheating.



EISENBERG: Congratulations on your new movie, "Fading Gigolo."

TURTURRO: Oh, thank you.


EISENBERG: Yes. Which you wrote, directed and starred in. And it is a - it's very funny but very heartwarming. You play the role of a gigolo, but also, it's a lot about people dealing with people's loneliness and human connection. And I assume that it was largely autobiographical.

TURTURRO: Yes, absolutely.


TURTURRO: I was a gigolo for seven years.


EISENBERG: But how did you get inspired to write a tale about this type character?

TURTURRO: I was thinking that - I knew that Woody Allen was sort of - he liked my work. And I'm huge fan of his. And I thought we'd be an interesting team together in something. And I was thinking, well, what would we be doing? So I had a friend who had a bookstore and - who was the same age as Woody - lost the bookstore. And I was thinking, wow, maybe we could wind up in the sex business.


TURTURRO: And I shared my crazy idea with our hair cutter, who is Woody's hair cutter and my hair cutter. His name is Anthony. And Anthony talked to Woody. And Woody said that's a great idea. Have John call me.


TURTURRO: And the first time - so Anthony calls me up. And he speaks very slowly. That's how he talks - Anthony. And he said, John, I have good news. Woody wants to talk to you. So he didn't have a script, just an idea. So I went to Woody's office. And he said so we share a barber.


TURTURRO: And I said yes. And he said so tell me about it. And I said, well, you know I'd be the hoe, and you'd be my pimp.


TURTURRO: And he said that's very funny.


TURTURRO: And then I said something else. I forget. And he said, well, that's not funny.


TURTURRO: And then I said one other thing. He said, well, that could be funny. And then we decided that I would write it. And then he would give me his feedback, which I didn't know was going to be merciless.


TURTURRO: Oh, it was beyond merciless. You know, it was like this is terrible. I hate this. I could be wrong.


TURTURRO: But, you know, blow me off if you want to. And anyway, and then he asked me one day can you get the money? And I said, well, try. And I did. So now I'm here.


EISENBERG: Wow. You've worked with so many great directors - Spike Lee, Coen brothers to name just a few. But do you - when you work with directors, do you think OK, I'm going to definitely use that as influence when I direct?

TURTURRO: Sometimes.


TURTURRO: When I worked with Michael Bay, that's not an...


TURTURRO: 'Cause he blows everything up all the time. I actually was in all of those movies, and I - basically, I just imitate Michael Bay. He thinks I'm hysterical. And basically, all I'm doing is mirroring him.


EISENBERG: He's like that fantastic. You're like I'm mocking you.


TURTURRO: No, I'm not mocking him. I do it with affection. He's quite interesting, actually, in his own way. I wouldn't want to be his girlfriend. But that's another thing.


TURTURRO: But he's talented, visually. If you watch his films with the sound off, you know, you can follow them.


EISENBERG: Still good.

TURTURRO: Yeah. They're really good.

EISENBERG: OK, John, we're going to subject you to your...


TURTURRO: I'm in a lot of trouble with him now.


TURTURRO: I love you, Michael.

EISENBERG: We're going to put you in your own ASK ME ANOTHER challenge a little later in the show. But right now...


EISENBERG: ...You are going to help us out with a phone game. Hi, you're on ASK ME ANOTHER.

MIKE LOPRESTI: Hi, this is Mike LoPresti calling from San Francisco.

EISENBERG: Hello, Mike. Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm just here with Jonathan Coulton, Art Chung and John Turturro.

LOPRESTI: Yeah. It's a real pleasure to be talking to all of you guys, especially my fellow paesano from the northeast, Mr. Turturro.

EISENBERG: Oh, look at that. Sucking up already.

TURTURRO: Ciao, Mike. Ciao.


EISENBERG: Nice. So I'm told that you watched 123 movies last year.


LOPRESTI: Yes. That is correct.

EISENBERG: And so what happened? There's 365 days in a year so what happened?

LOPRESTI: Yeah. You know, I was thing about that when I tell people that number. And it started to give me pause about what exactly my social life was like for that year.


EISENBERG: So, Mike, you are in for a treat. Here's what's going to happen. This is a game called Master Class With John Turturro. And I can hardly believe what's going to happen. But John has graciously agreed to perform lines from characters he has played over the years. And you have to guess...


EISENBERG: You have to guess which movies the lines are from. And if you get enough right, well, we're going to send you an ASK ME ANOTHER prize. But I think, right now, you've won already. So are you ready?

LOPRESTI: It feels like it. I am ready. Yes.

TURTURRO: I'm a writer, you monsters. I create. I create for a living. I'm a creator. I am a creator. This is my uniform. This is how I serve the common man.

EISENBERG: Mike, go ahead.

LOPRESTI: So that, to me, sounds like "Barton Fink."


EISENBERG: That is correct.

TURTURRO: This week on 21, watch Herbie Stemple get fed to the Columbia Lions. Watch Charles Van Duran eat his first kosher meal this week on 21.

LOPRESTI: That would be "Quiz Show."



TURTURRO: We should've done obscure films with him. Mike is too good.

EISENBERG: We're giving him softballs, right.

TURTURRO: Yeah. These are easy. These are easy. OK. All right. Ready?

LOPRESTI: I'm ready.

TURTURRO: I'm just a grifter huh, Tom. I'm a nobody. But I tell you that I never crossed a friend, Tom. I never killed anybody. I never crossed a friend nor you I bet. We're not like those animals. I can't die. I can't die out here in the woods like a dumb animal.

LOPRESTI: I'm going to guess a "Miller's Crossing" on that one.



TURTURRO: All right. This is a little more obscure maybe.



TURTURRO: Hang in there, Mike.


TURTURRO: I'm in a mood Dave, a bad mood, a very bad mood. I was fired from my ice cream truck today. No more fudgicles. You're never going to get this might. Give up.


LOPRESTI: Well, hold on. I wonder though.

TURTURRO: It's over for you, Mike. You're highbrow.

LOPRESTI: Well, that sounds a little - could that be like, Adam Sandler-y.


LOPRESTI: I know that...

TURTURRO: Come on.

LOPRESTI: ...There was like an Adam - there was an Adam Sandler movie or two in your (unintelligible) .


TURTURRO: Mike, actually works for me. He's in charge of my archives.


LOPRESTI: Oh, right. OK, was it "Mr. Deeds."

TURTURRO: We'll give you one more chance. I mean, there's - you know. I did one other Adam Sandler film.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Sure. John says one more chance, we're in.

TURTURRO: Go ahead.

LOPRESTI: "Anger Management."

TURTURRO: Yeah. Paesano.


TURTURRO: Bellissimo, paesano. OK.

LOPRESTI: Wow. Gracie, seniore. Gracie.

TURTURRO: OK, last one. This is easy.


TURTURRO: What's this day of rest (bleep). What's this bull (bleep) I don't (bleep) care. It don't matter to Jesus. You're not fooling me man. You're not fooling them (bleep) in the legal office, but you don't fool Jesus - this bull (bleep) psyche-out stuff. Laughable man. Ha.


TURTURRO: If you don't get this, Mike, you're not my friend.


LOPRESTI: Mr. Turturro, if I can say how incredible a privilege it is for me to be on the phone listening to you perform Jesus from "The Big Lebowski" live and in person. I don't know what...


TURTURRO: Mike, you're the guy who saw 123 films last year.


TURTURRO: Let's be honest. It's my honor to do it for you, Mike. You pay to see movies.


EISENBERG: That was amazing, and congratulations, Mike. You are going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube that I think we might be able to convince John to autograph for you.

LOPRESTI: Oh, my goodness.

EISENBERG: So thank you so much for playing.

LOPRESTI: Thank you guys so much. It was an incredible privilege. Thank you very much.


EISENBERG: Mike. And how about a hand for John Turturro everybody.


EISENBERG: Hey, listeners, if you want to star in your very own quiz show, we're looking for some worthy contestants both on the phone and right here on stage. So do the right thing and take our contestant quiz. Just send us an e-mail to

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.