Actors want to be known for a diverse oeuvre, and Anthony LaPaglia has certainly done it all: racketeering, robberies, and rub-outs. But after eight years of reprising movie characters ”whose names end in a vowel or who carry a gun,” as he says, Hollywood’s go-to goon will make the brawn-to-brains switch, finding justice — and leading-man status — as a hotshot defense attorney on ABC’s Murder One . ”I was fed up with [criminal] roles,” notes the soft-spoken, 35-year-old Australian native. ”Now I get to play an intelligent, non-ethnic character — something I’m not normally perceived as. I couldn’t ask for more.” But we could. Henceforth, a cross-examination of Murder’s No. 1.
You’ve played a mafioso [Frank Nitti: ‘The Enforcer’], a hitman [’Bulletproof Heart’], even a guy named Barry ”the Blade” [’The Client’]. Care to talk about your childhood?
I was almost invisible in high school. I hated being there. Consequently, I wasn’t very social, and it’s carried over into my adult life.
How did you earn that humble, regular-guy rep?
I worked as a shoe salesman…a furniture restorer…I even installed sprinkler systems. When I was a production assistant for a commercial company, I had to cut bananas for a cereal commercial. Man, I was the best banana cutter. Coulda made a career out of it.
What kind of reaction do you get from your fans on the street?
One time I was trying to catch a subway in New York and the token-booth guy said, ”You’re Andy Garcia!” and I said, ”No, look, I’m not,” but he wouldn’t give me a token until I signed an autograph. So I signed ”Andy Garcia” and got my token.
Ahhh, fraudulent misrepresentation. Isn’t it also true that you didn’t want to do a TV series?
That’s true. It’s not enough just to have a good script, you’ve got to have great producers who are hell-bent on quality, which is not always a consideration in television. The other thing was the five-year commitment, which I wasn’t willing to make. [He negotiated a two-year deal.]
Okay, Mr. Big-Time Defense Attorney, whom would you rather represent, O.J. or the Menendez brothers?
Oh God, that’s like changing deck chairs on the Titanic…. [thoughtful pause] Hmmm, I’d rather defend the Menendez brothers, because at least they admit they did it.
Let’s cut to the chase. Now that your brother Jonathan has joined the cast of ‘New York Undercover’, could you guys take the Baldwin brothers in a fight?
Depends which Baldwins you’re talking about. We could take Stephen and Billy. We’d kick their asses. But Alec and Danny? No way.