Watch CBSN Live

Joe Pantoliano, Emmy Winner

Showing he had a handle on acting and grabbing the television audience's attention, actor Joe Pantoliano was rewarded with a starring role in the CBS series, "The Handler."

"The Sopranos" star, who recently won an Emmy for best supporting dramatic actor, tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith holding the trophy was surreal for him.

Pantoliano says, "The event, for me, was like, I get to dress up. I was looking really forward with that and sharing it with my wife, Nance, but when they said my name and I just walked up the stage and they had just done an honor to Gregory Hines...and all these people who mentored me in a way when I was a kid and my cousin Florio who I talked about who was a career criminal, spent his life in prison, came out and saw me the future that he had squandered…

"For me, it was about the journey, not the destination. When I got there, there I was and it was like 33 years later. And it was monumental moment. All of the people out there sobbing for me, that choked me up, too," Pantoliano says having stepped out of the projects in Hoboken, N. J.

The actor who won the Emmy for his role as psychotic mobster Ralph Cifaretto, who met a violent end last season in "The Sopranos" on HBO, says, "That's the dream, the bliss. I wanted to get there. Everybody has these dreams. We don't get to fulfill our dreams often most of the time. And that thing (trophy) was in my hand. It was surreal."

And now he has a new television drama. In "The Handler," Pantoliano plays FBI Agent Joe Renato, who helps operatives to infiltrate and tackle crime both in the underworld and in the high-tech financial world.

Pantoliano says, "I love the show. I love 'The Handler' and the people I'm working with. It's very 'Soprano' like in terms of the irreverence that's on the set and a freedom and natural ebb and flow to it and I'm hoping people watch it so we get to stay employed.

As Renato, Pantoliano directs a revolving cast of undercover agents, including Lily (Anna Belknap), a rookie undercover agent; Darnell (Hill Harper), the ambitious veteran; Heather (Lola Glaudini), a transfer; and Marcy (Tanya Wright). It is his job to help his agents get out of tight spots during their dangerous undercover work.

Pantoliano explains, "This is an elite unit of undercover agents. I have the ability to cast it - I get a case, I cast it. I put together the scenario of how I'm going to get the bad guy and I use my agents: FBI; I use informants; I'll use a bad guy to get a bigger bad guy. I go undercover."

Facts About Joe Pantoliano

  • 1954: Born Joseph Pantoliano in Hoboken, N. J., on Sept. 12.
  • 1968: First professional stage appearance in New York at age 17.
  • 1972: Portrayed Billy Bibbit in a stage production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
  • 1976: Moved to Los Angeles.
  • 1977: TV acting debut, "McNamara's Band", a sitcom pilot.
  • 1978: Recurring role in the summer replacement series "Free Country", a period sitcom about the immigrant experience from co-producer, co-writer and star Rob Reiner.
  • 1978: Worked with Rob Reiner again in the TV-movie romantic comedy "More Than Friends."
  • 1979: Gained notice for his interpretation of Angelo Maggio - Frank Sinatra's role in the original movie - in the NBC miniseries version of "From Here to Eternity."
  • 1980: Feature acting debut, "The Idolmaker."
  • 1982: Portrayed Tommy MacMillan in "Brothers" at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, Calif.
  • 1983: Originated the lead role of Philip in "Orphans" at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles.
  • 1983: Breakthrough feature supporting role as Guido "The Killer Pimp" in the surprise hit "Risky Business;" acted off-Broadway in "The Death Star" and "Visions of Kerouac."
  • 1985: First role in a Steven Spielberg production, "The Gooonies."
  • 1987: Portrayed anti-Communist attorney Roy Cohn in the CBS miniseries biopic "Robert Kennedy and His Times."
  • 1990-1991: Cast as a regular in the short-lived sitcom "The Fanelli Boys."
  • 1993: Portrayed Cosmo Renfro in "The Fugitive."
  • 1994: Provided a voice for the CBS animated version of the children's movie "Beethoven."
  • 1995: Played the recurring role of stoolie Vinnie Greco on the ABC cop drama "NYPD Blue."
  • 1996: Cast as a regular on the CBS crime drama "EZ Streets."
  • 1996: Was Jennifer Tilly's gangster lover in "Bound", directed by the Wachowski brothers.
  • 1998: Reprised role of Cosmo Renfro in "U.S. Marshals."
  • 1999: Cast as the renegade Cypher in the blockbuster "The Matrix."
  • 2000: Played an oddball, slightly mysterious figure shadowing a man who cannot form new memories in the stylish thriller "Memento."
  • 2001: Joined the cast of the HBO series "The Sopranos", playing Ralph Cifaretto. Made feature directorial debut with "Just Like Mona" (released 2001)
View CBS News In