John Tur­turro keeps it real as rum­pled lawyer in Night Of

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - FRA­ZIER MOORE

NEW YORK - In the se­cu­rity line at a Man­hat­tan court­house, Jack Stone emp­ties the pock­ets of his floppy over­coat and piles the plas­tic bin to near ca­pac­ity. A lawyer al­ways on the run de­fend­ing hook­ers and drug deal­ers, he bares his life for the X-ray with a stash that in­cludes his keys, Purell, busi­ness cards, breath mints, cream for his eczema — and a hard-boiled egg.

This fleet­ing scene early in the sec­ond episode of “The Night Of ” tells you much about Stone, the hero of HBO’s dark and ir­re­sistible mur­der mys­tery (air­ing Sun­day at 9 p.m.).

It also tells you some­thing about John Tur­turro, who plays him so mas­ter­fully.

“That hard-boiled egg — it gives me a lot of joy,” he says, flash­ing his sig­na­ture lop­sided grin. No won­der. It was his idea (and his own boiled egg, a snack he of­ten brought to the set). And how­ever wide the gulf be­tween him and his char­ac­ter, he sensed that it would be a telling prop for Stone, “who didn’t seem the type to eat gra­nola bars.”

Stone ap­peared only briefly in last week’s de­but of the eight-episode se­ries.

In that opener, Naz, a Pak­istani-Amer­i­can col­lege stu­dent (Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”) “bor­rowed” his fa­ther’s cab to go to a party, but en route met with a dis­trac­tion — an al­lur­ing young woman who ended up bru­tally mur­dered in her Man­hat­tan bed­room, with all the ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing Naz, her overnight guest, as the killer.

A vet­eran NYPD de­tec­tive (Bill Camp, “12 Years a Slave”) caught the case. Naz be­gan his life-chang­ing in­car­cer­a­tion.

But not be­fore Stone, who ran into Naz get­ting pro­cessed at the precinct house, had scored a ca­reer break­through: his first mur­der client.

That episode, the se­ries’ pi­lot, was filmed in 2012 with James Gan­dolfini set to star. Af­ter his sud­den death a year later, the project was shelved. Then it was re­vived with Tur­turro in the lead role and Gan­dolfini’s brief scene reshot. (Gan­dolfini, a friend who starred in Tur­turro’s 2005 film, “Ro­mance and Ci­garettes,” re­tains a post­hu­mous credit as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.)

With this week’s episode, Stone comes into his own — as does Tur­turro. Ac­cord­ingly, “The Night Of ” tight­ens its grip with the same ad­dic­tive prop­er­ties of true-crime pod­cast “Se­rial” and the Net­flix do­cuseries “Mak­ing a Mur­derer.” Co-cre­ated by Richard Price (“The Color of Money,” “The Wire”) and Steven Zail­lian (“Schindler’s List”), it lands Tur­turro in a role that, once again, demon­strates his peer­less gifts for au­then­tic­ity and the un­ex­pected as pre­vi­ously dis­played in such films as “Bar­ton Fink,” “Quiz Show,” “The Big Le­bowski” and “O Brother, Where Are Thou?”

Now 59, Tur­turro grew up in a work­ing-class Ital­ian house­hold in Brook­lyn sur­rounded by fam­ily mem­bers he re­mem­bers as larg­erthan-life. The act­ing bug seemed to come from an urge to en­ter­tain his friends the way he loved amus­ing him­self: “Even when I played bas­ket­ball, I’d in­vent the char­ac­ter who was play­ing.” And, early on, he sussed out a key prin­ci­ple of act­ing: “You have to keep peo­ple’s at­ten­tion. That’s your job. Your au­di­ence is tired by the end of the day. You have to keep them awake.”

In his first school play, “I didn’t know what I was do­ing,” he re­calls, “but I re­al­ized I could hold their at­ten­tion.”

Rec­og­niz­ing that wasn’t enough, he con­tin­ued to ex­plore the ac­tor’s craft, in­clud­ing en­rol­ment in the Yale School of Drama.

Even now, af­ter more than three decades, he’s still learn­ing.

“Ev­ery time, it’s new,” he says. “But by now you have the con­fi­dence that you will fig­ure it out, that you’ll find what’s truth­ful and what’s not.”

To pre­pare for “The Night Of,” he met with a va­ri­ety of lawyers, “some suc­cess­ful, some not so much, and even­tu­ally I felt like I got lost in what I was do­ing. That’s what you strive for.”

In Tur­turro’s hands, Jack Stone has carved out an ac­cept­able if mar­ginal life for him­self rep­re­sent­ing clients from whom cash is usu­ally de­manded (though, ac­cord­ing to his ads in sub­way cars, there’s “No Fee ‘Til You’re Free”).

The case of this young mur­der sus­pect could mean a bet­ter-thanusual pay­day. But there’s more than money driv­ing Stone this time. De­spite telling Naz, “The truth can go to hell, ‘cause it can’t help you,” he be­gins to see this as a right­eous cause. The sys­tem is stacked against Naz in ev­ery way. Stone de­mands jus­tice for his client who, rightly or wrongly, he be­lieves in.

Stone sus­tains his air of im­pla­ca­ble no­bil­ity even while tor­mented with un­sightly, itch­ing eczema on both feet, a con­di­tion that obliges him to plod about in san­dals, even in the court­room, and draws stares wher­ever he goes.

“Any trou­ble with your feet changes your whole pos­ture,” says Tur­turro, who found a cer­tain lum­ber­ing gait to suit Stone’s plight.

“Then ev­ery day we had to do the makeup,” he says with clear sym­pa­thy for what his char­ac­ter en­dured. “It was dis­gust­ing.”

It gets ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion, all right. But as with any per­for­mance by Tur­turro, that’s only the start.


From the boiled egg in his pocket to the un­sightly rash on his feet, John Tur­turro’s Jack Stone is mas­ter­ful.

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