The Turturro family tree sprouts actors

April 19, 1995|By James Endrst | James Endrst,Hartford Courant

Here a Turturro, there a Turturro, everywhere, it seems, there's a Turturro.

They might not be the Barrymores. Or even the Baldwins.

And yet, as one producer puts it, it's as if the Turturro family is "eating up Hollywood."

To date, actor-director John Turturro ("Quiz Show" and "Barton Fink") has been the most successful and best-known member of the Turturro troupe. But the TV Turturros are coming up fast.

John's brother Nicholas, who plays Det. James Martinez on ABC's "NYPD Blue," has been raising his profile on prime-time's top cop show this year and as one of the stars of the feature film "Federal Hill."

Then there's Nick's boisterous cousin Aida, who plays Tom Conti's indispensable assistant Lydia on CBS' new courtroom drama, "The Wright Verdicts."

"It's funny how it came out of all of us," says Aida, who grew up on New York's Lower East Side and fondly remembers visiting her cousins in Queens as a kid.

Funny, maybe, but not strange, says the 32-year-old actress during a break on the set in Manhattan. "You think of a family where everyone's in construction or they're all lawyers and it's like any other business -- except that it's public."

Cousin Nick, 33, speaking by phone from the set in L.A., recalls, "It was sort of a dramatic family. Very animated, eccentric people. My brother got this stuff started by being a big movie buff, and some of the cousins were interested, so it doesn't surprise me that we wound up on this side of the camera."

One thing that distinguishes both Nick and Aida Turturro is their ability to make the most out of a minimum of screen time. They are not lead players in their respective series, and still they draw the attention of many critics and viewers.

"I really don't think it's the amount of stuff," says Nick. "It's what you do with what you've got. If you're good, the smart people know."

Nicholas Turturro made enough of an impression on Spike Lee, in fact, that he was able to make the transition from doorman at a New York City hotel to some behind-the-scenes work in Mr. Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (which featured John Turturro prominently). From there, it was on to a real part in Mr. Lee's "Mo' Better Blues."

Cousin Aida -- whose biggest feature film role was the "best friend" opposite Geena Davis in "Angie" and has extensive credits that include "Junior," "Manhattan Murder Mystery" and "What About Bob?" -- was the first Turturro to play on Broadway. (She was the upstairs neighbor in "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin).

Appraising her on- and off-screen image, however, Aida says, "I'm not the leading lady, you can tell."

She gets high marks for her acting, though, from "Wright Verdicts" creator-executive producer Dick Wolf. "She is absolutely terrific," he says.

The three Turturros have worked together only once -- in John's well-received "Mac," a film he directed and starred in, based on his father's life as a carpenter in Queens in the '50s. They talk sometimes of getting together again.

"We could do a period piece with color and heart and soul or we could do a street piece," says Aida, enthusiastically considering the possibilities.

Unfortunately, strained relations between Aida's father and the rest of the family (herself included) have put some distance between friendly visits, both sides admit.

"We used to get together a lot," says Nick. "Now, nobody talks to anybody anymore. There's all sorts of vendettas."

"It's sad, very sad," says Aida.

Living on different coasts and working in show business doesn't make get-togethers any easier.

"I guess it's like anything with cousins, with friends," says Aida. "You say, 'Oh, we got to get together more, make more of an effort.' But it's not like that for anybody's family anymore, that you're all around that much."

But the two cousins clearly have affection for each other.

"She's a good person and full of life," says Nick.

"I think when I was about 4 I had a crush on Nick," Aida remembers, adding that she -- like Nick -- has often looked to 38-year-old John for professional guidance.

Now, yet another Turturro -- Aida's sister Olinda -- is breaking into the business. She has a small part in "The Ballad of Little Jo" and the family, of course, is pulling for her.

"From my heart, I think we all work pretty much the same," says Aida. "Instinctually and honestly."

"I think everybody's got a different style," says the always low-key Nick. "You can only be who you are. My brother's a very fanatical type of performer who does a lot of research, a lot of getting into character. I'm more of a gut, instinctive, naturalistic type. I don't agonize over things. Aida, I really don't know how she works and where she works from but I think ultimately, she's right. We're all pretty real."

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