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Danny DeVito has a spoon hanging off his nose.
Hes trying to impress the beautiful woman having dinner at the next table at Craigs, the Hollywood clubhouse. And its working. Shes cracking up.
But a mere utensil is not enough to hold Jennifer Lopezs attention for long. Soon, J-Lo swings back around to return her focus to A-Rod. Their engagement is on deck, after all.
When I meet up with DeVito for an interview the next night at the Palm, he explains that he was not trying to come between J-Rod.
“No, she had her eyes glued to him,” DeVito says, laughing. “But I think everybody did. It was kind of cool.” He says hes friendly with J-Lo because his company, Jersey Films, produced her best movie, Out of Sight, also starring George Clooney.
Sipping cranberry juice with club soda and eating Chilean sea bass, DeVito is a far more civilized dining companion than his character in Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank Reynolds, who would no doubt order the most expensive bottle of wine, guzzle the whole thing, wave around a gun, wax nostalgic about the time he waterboarded his daughter in a urinal and then skip out on the check with a doggie bag of bacon bits for lovemaking later with a girlfriend who likes to role play that shes a Cobb salad.
“Shes really rough,” DeVito crows to me about his TV girlfriend, bragging that they have sex in a dumpster. “I like a little bit of that.”
Frank is in a pantheon of delicious vulgarians played by DeVito, characters who compress the seven deadly sins into one compact package, yet somehow still charm.
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A native of Asbury Park, New Jersey, DeVito became a TV star in 1978 as Louie De Palma, the lewd, loud taxi dispatcher, for five seasons in Taxi and this year will begin filming his 13th season as the lewd, loud Frank in Its Always Sunny.
“Tinseltowns Tiny Terror,” as Time once nicknamed him (he has called himself “the 5-feet guy”), has also had an extraordinarily long, successful career as a producer, director and actor in indies and big-budget films, most recently as Max Medici in Tim Burtons Dumbo, a re-imagining of the 1941 Disney classic, which opens next week.
“Dannys just got a good Felliniesque spirit about him that makes you want to be around him,” says Burton, who has directed the “DeVito trilogy” of the actor as top-hatted ringmasters in Batman Returns, Big Fish and now Dumbo. (Burton says that the film, featuring a very woke circus and an adorable CGI blue-eyed baby elephant, wont upset those who swore off circuses because of elephant abuse, noting, “As a child, I felt very uneasy about the circus for that reason.”)
Michael Keaton, who has a dastardly turn in Dumbo as an archcapitalist, says he marveled that when DeVito played Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin, in the 1992 film Batman Returns, he created an entire garden outside his trailer, with beautiful hedges, potted plants, a chair and a table for water, where he presided, doing “his Danny thing, his Jersey funny, irreverent thing.”
Robert De Niro, who met DeVito in an equity picket line in the rain at a theater in the Village when they were in their mid-20s, admired his fellow Italian so much that he called to ask him for tips before he directed A Bronx Tale.
Basically, De Niro tells me, DeVitos advice boiled down to: “Dont worry.”
Pioneering Meme Lord
It is a measure of DeVitos magnetic presence that, despite his diminutive stature, he has said he was never bullied as a child. The first time he emerges from the dispatchers cage in Taxi, the audience erupts into shocked laughter, because his height is such a contrast with his characters outsize confidence and belligerence.
DeVito says his older sisters, Angie and Theresa, filled him with self-esteem. Angie brought him into her salon and taught him to do hair. He was affectionately nicknamed “Mr. Dan.”
“They loved me, yeah,” he says. “They treated me like a little prince.”
A former altar boy, he is described by friends as a Tasmanian devil. “He has no fear,” says Michael Douglas, an old friend and former roommate. “He will comedically take any chance, and he savors darkness.”
DeVito has been nude on film twice, once in Big Fish, when his ringmaster turns from a werewolf back into a man, and once on Always Sunny, when he busts out of a leather couch hes hiding in looking like a greased-up halibut.
“Im no Willem Dafoe,” he says blithely, but “Im not shy about taking my clothes off.”
I tell him about a young guy in Boston who is such a big fan that he bought a 1996 Chevy Lumina van and named it Vanny DeVito. He tattooed it on his leg and printed out bumper stickers of DeVitos face to hand out on a cross-country trip.
Hes unfazed. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “I know about these things. Theyre all over the place. There was a girl last year who took me to her prom with the cardboard cutout of me. I was her date. I love all that stuff.
“You know, I did a movie called The Van one time. It was like a low-budget people-in-a-van movie.”
When a sophomore at SUNY Purchase constructed a DeVito altar made from trash in a mens room last year, DeVito tweeted: “Your shrine honors me. My heart is filled with love and garbage.”
He was a pioneering meme lord with his #Trollfoot, which features pictures of his right foot out and about, including moments of repose, drinking wine on the beach and painted in rainbow colors to match his feather boa on a float at the Los Angeles pride parade last year.
“My first tweet was, My nuts are on fire,” he recalls. “And then what am I going to do? So I started taking pictures of my foot and sticking it online.”
DeVito has been in many great movies: L.A. Confidential, Tin Men, Get Shorty, Twins, Ruthless People, Man on the Moon, Romancing the Stone, Terms of Endearment, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Matilda and War of the Roses, which he also directed. And he has produced several, including Gattaca and Erin Brockovich.
He bought a script sight unseen from a fledgling filmmaker in the 1990s because he had liked the young mans first movie script and wanted to do whatever was next. “A year later — and it was a long year — he finally showed up with 155 pages,” DeVito recalls. “It said, Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino: Final Draft. So I sat down in a comfortable chair and I read it. And I was blown away by it.”
I tell him that Dumbo is well timed for the Trump era, when the circus, clown and elephant-in-the-room metaphors are flying fast and thick. DeVito himself has referred to both the president and Democrats as “clowns.” (Except for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom he hails as “a gift.”)
DeVito, who likes to listen to Democracy Now and is reading Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Rights Stealth Plan for America, says that he will campaign for Bernie Sanders, as he did in 2016, and that hed like to see him run with Tulsi Gabbard.
“If you look back on that election, a lot of his progressive ideas are accepted now,” he says. “Like free college education. Yales not going to be free, we know that, right?” Indeed we do, thanks to Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. “I didnt go to any college. Forgive the debt, so people can live their lives and not feel theyre under a wet blanket. Lets let the sun shine. We have a beautiful country. We got a lot of resources. You know, Medicare for all. Whats the big deal? Why not open that up?
“We got to take a big breath and move on and get out of this muck and mire. I dont wish anybody ill, but I think it would be a good thing to get a lot of people out of our government. Let them go fishing or someplace south, stick them on a farm somewhere, and get our country moving. The ones that are there now are really stinking up the joint.”
Many liberals in the Twittersphere regard DeVitos succinct 2013 tweet as certified platinum: “Antonin Scalia retire bitch.” Even more gratifying than when he went on The View in 2006, after a long night of downing Limoncello with Clooney, and blurted out that George W. Bush was a “numb nuts” and that he and his wife, Rhea Perlman, had enjoyed a wild night in the Lincoln Bedroom when Bill Clinton was president.
Were All Suffragettes
He has occasionally leavened his loathsome but lovable little men by playing a romantic lead. But DeVito relishes villains. Not gangsters but crazy con men and neer-do-wells in black comedies.
I wonder if kids ever get scared if they see him on the street and realize hes the really mean dad from Matilda.
“No, its cool,” he says. “The mother usually says: Hes OK. Hes not going to hurt you.”
He says playing the Penguin was the biggest kick, even though a monkey went wild on the set, “leapt at my balls and grabbed me. It was the scariest thing. They had to rip him off.”
Other than that, he recalls, “It was a lot of fun. You got to put all the clothes on and the suit and the mask. Its like real commedia Read More