Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is a month away from its international Netflix release, but audiences are already clamoring to see it. Not only has the movie received almost universally positive reviews from critics in advance screenings, it also features Joe Pesci in his first movie role in nearly a decade.
The actor is perhaps best known for playing menacing “funny guy” Tommy DeVito in Scorsese’s 1990 hit Goodfellas — and to a whole other generation as the burglar in Home Alone. But despite a spate of hits in the ’90s, Pesci hasn’t appeared on-screen in nearly ten years, since 2010’s Love Ranch. His last movie before that was 2006’s The Good Shepherd.
The 76-year-old actor is so happy not acting in movies that he reportedly had to be asked 40 times before agreeing to join the cast of The Irishman — and according to director Martin Scorsese, it took his old friend and former co-star Robert De Niro to convince him.
“Bob and Joe, they have their own language,” Scorsese told Entertainment Weekly.
“A lot of what I was saying was, ‘Come on, who knows if we’re ever going to have this chance again?'” De Niro says. “Let’s just do it. And he loves Marty and greatly respects him and knows that if he’s in Marty’s hands, it’s going to be okay.”
Scorsese admitted that he didn’t know why Pesci was reluctant to take the role of Russell Bufalino in the movie, or why he eventually accepted. “These are individual choices and sometimes people don’t want to do something for different reasons,” he said. “It could be financial issues. You could have that — I’m not saying he did, right? It could be family issues. It could be health. It could be boredom from doing a certain kind of film. Playing a certain character.”
He also conceded that, as he and his stable of actors get older, the likelihood of them turning down projects might increase. “It’s not even about the money or about being compensated and appreciated for your value,” he said. “At a certain age and physicality for the actors, it may not be worth it.”
Pesci is not doing press for The Irishman so we’ll probably never know what swayed him, but given the way critics are raving about his performance as Bufalino, it may have been the tempting challenge of playing another compelling character, and adding another iconic performance to his legacy.