His weathered mug is mostly wrapped in bandages. His funniest line is mostly unprintable. But Dennis Farina, the Chicago policeman-turned-character actor, nevertheless turns scene-stealer in Get Shorty. Portraying Miami mobster Ray ”Bones” Barboni, Farina has to compete for screen time with the likes of Gene Hackman, John Travolta, and Danny DeVito.
”No one can say the F-word like Dennis,” gushes Get Shorty director Barry Sonnenfeld (Addams Family Values). But back home in Chicago, Farina is more apt to say jeez, as in ”Jeez, I thought it was a really nice opportunity to meet these people,” when asked to describe how it felt to join the all-star read-through of the script.
Despite roles in 1981’s Thief (director Michael Mann was a friend of a friend) and numerous television movies, the 18-year veteran of the Chicago police force always considered acting a hobby. ”I would just work on my days off and furlough if a job came along,” shrugs Farina, 51. But in 1985, he finally made the leap, giving up police work for a new beat: playing Chicago cop Mike Torello in NBC’s Crime Story, which ran from 1986 through 1988.
Farina went on to share the screen with such daunting actors as Robert De Niro (in 1988’s Midnight Run), Gary Oldman (in 1994’s Romeo Is Bleeding), and Whoopi Goldberg (he costars as a basketball coach in the upcoming Eddie). But he’s never lost his nerve — or his tough-guy decorum: When Hackman offered to step in for his stunt double during a scene where Farina beats him up, Sonnenfeld remembers, ”Farina said, ‘No. Gene will come after me, and the only way I’m going to be able to stop him is by shooting him. And I don’t want to be known as the guy who shot Gene Hackman.”’ Or, as Ray Bones would more simply put it, ”F – - you, f – - ball.”