‘Law & Order’: Paul Sorvino Compared Working on the Show to the ‘Russian Gulag’

by Chris Piner

On July 25th, news broke that legendary character actor, Paul Sorvino, passed away at 83 years old. Known for his iconic role as Paulie Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, the actor was more than a mobster, he was also the father of Mira Sorvino, who won an Oscar. Sadly, at the time of his passing, his wife, Dee Dee, wrote, “Our hearts are broken, there will never be another Paul Sorvino, he was the love of my life and one of the greatest performers to ever grace the screen and stage.” While Sorvino graced every available format to showcase his talents, he always remembered his time on the first season of Law & Order

Given that Paul Sorvino received the role of Detective Phil Cerretta in season one of Law & Order, the show barely had a budget and according to the actor, it wasn’t the best of times. When recalling his time on set and working with the production, Sorvino described it as being in a Russian Gulag. “I felt like I was in the Russian gulag. There was absolutely no communication with the writers and the producers, and we had to work under the worst conditions.” 

Paul Sorvino On Finding The Look In GoodFellas

As for his performance in Goodfellas, the Brooklyn native detailed the excitement and fear that came with a Martin Scorsese film. Paul Sorvino said, “I’d done a lot of comedies as well as dramas, but I’d never done a really tough guy. I never had it in me. And this [part] called for a lethality, which I felt was way beyond me. I called my manager three days before we started shooting and said, ‘Get me out. I’m going to ruin this great man’s picture, and I’m going to ruin myself.’ He, being wise, said, ‘Call me tomorrow, and if necessary I will get you out.’”

It didn’t take long for Paul Sorvino to change his mind after finding the perfect look. “I was going by the hall mirror to adjust my tie. I was just inconsolable. And I looked in the mirror and literally jumped back a foot. I saw a look I’d never seen, something in my eyes that alarmed me. A deadly soulless look in my eyes that scared me and was overwhelmingly threatening. And I looked to the heavens and said, ‘You’ve found it.’”

Mira Remembers Her Father And Legendary Actor

Passing away from natural causes in Jacksonville, Florida, Paul Sorvino’s daughter, Mira, shared her loss on Twitter, writing, “My heart is rent asunder — a life of love and joy and wisdom with him is over. He was the most wonderful father. I love him so much. I’m sending you love in the stars Dad as you ascend.”

While living a fulfilled life, Paul Sorvino said in a 1995 interview that he never received the chance to be a leading man. “I’ve been to the mountaintop, but I haven’t been the guy. I’ve been a passenger on the bus, but I haven’t been the driver.”