By Betsy Rothstein - 06/02/08 04:34 PM EDT
Joey Pantoliano is the anti-Washington. He cusses like a sailor. He loves polka dots, as shown by his tie and socks. He’s never politically correct, and we like him that way.
Just before last week’s congressional recess we met at The Monocle, where, in the late afternoon, he sprawled out on a leather banquette, propping his legs up to relax. The ex-“Sopranos” star (he played Janice’s boyfriend) had a long few days of lobbying on Capitol Hill. He was here to discuss his organization, No Kidding! Me Too! which aims to remove the stigma from a disease he has: depression. More information can be found at www.nokiddingmetoo.org .
Pantoliano, who lives in Fairfield County, Conn., made several TV appearances and met with several lawmakers while he was in town, including lengthy discussions with the staffs of Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Pantoliano is a no-nonsense kind of guy with various demands. At The Monocle he ordered an iced coffee with three espressos, after which he grilled the waiter on snack options. “Whaddayagot? Whaddayagot?” he asked. He settled on chocolate raspberry cake.
As for the nickname, it was bestowed on him in childhood. Pantaloni means “pants” in Italian.
There are so many celebrities in Washington these days it’s hard to keep them and their causes straight. Why is there such an onslaught of celebrities, such as yourself, getting involved in politics?
I don’t know — because it works. Depending on the cause, I’m not doing anything different from what [the next] guy is doing, but I’m better-looking and I actually have the disease I’m lobbying for.
Your whole family has been affected by this disease.
I’ve been living with mental illness for 13 years — it’s going to be three years in January since I’ve been on medication.
And before three years ago, what was life like?
It was dreary, it was scary. I was angry. I was an alcoholic. I was trying anything to make me feel better. I was shopping, I was f-----g. I was filling up a void in my soul that was unfillable. I literally could not feel the love for my wife. I couldn’t understand why I was such a c--k-----r. “What is wrong with you?” I would literally have these conversations in my head.
You didn’t know you were depressed?
I knew I felt horrible, but I didn’t know it was a disease.
What led to your getting help?
My best friend killed himself. He slit his throat. The last thing he said was, “I’m tired.” I was doing a movie. It was over. I was scared I was going to do something stupid.
Kill myself. When I was not at my worst with the Vicodin and the pills I would be like, “F---k, I’m still here.” When death becomes a viable option, you are no longer hopeful, you are hopeless.
I innocently mentioned it to my doctor. I probably wanted to talk to him about it, but I didn’t have the balls to. I told him I felt bad, like I was walking through quicksand. The doctor said, “You should see a psychiatrist.” He said, “You have clinical depression and we can fix this.”
So what are you taking?
An antidepressant. After I [began taking it], I got my next job. Because of the film’s insurance, I had to get examined by the film’s doctor and he asked, “So what medicine are you taking?” I said, Lipitor, an aspirin, antidepressant. They wanted to know how much.
How much is it?
It’s a minimalist amount.
So what happened?
They wouldn’t insure me. I said, “There’s got to be a f-----g way.” They said if I had a nervous breakdown I’ll be responsible for the [film] stoppage and loss. They said they would cover my heart, not my brain.
Tell me about your family.
My mother hated her father. He was a drunk. He choked her mother and gave her cancer. My grandma died of throat cancer. In the ’30s they called Grandpa Gus “Dopey Gus.” My grandmother smacked my grandfather across the face. ...
Aunt Tilly, who was crazy, was an alcoholic. The addictions [in my family] were food, gambling, pills. My mom used to run around saying, “Where are my f-----g tranquilizers?”
So you came by this depression disease honestly.
You got it.
Do you think you’ve had this disease your whole life?
I used to watch my mother punch herself in the face and scratch her face. It’s a learned behavior.
How else has it affected you?
I have no edit button.
So how has the medication helped?
I don’t have that feeling of dread anymore. I have serenity.
It must be a relief.
Yes, it was a relief to know it was something that could be fixed. And I’m no longer drinking or taking pain pills.
So you must think it’s absurd that there’s such a stigma attached to it.
It’s perpetuated by the media, by Hollywood. They romanticize this disease. They demonize it and all forms of mental illness.
How did you stop drinking?
Now I do 12 Step. I have sponsorship and friends.
Let’s talk politics. What’s your favorite political talk show?
[MSNBC’s] Keith Olbermann. I love him [snorts, laughs]. He’s f-----g great.
Which political party do you belong to?
Independent. I was a lifelong Democrat. I’m not a party person. I’m an issue person.
Do you intimidate people because of the mafioso role you played on the “Sopranos”?
Yes. I could be really crazy.
What was it like to work with James Gandolfini?
Oh, I love him and I haven’t seen him in a long time. Edie Falco is fascinating. I never had a scene with Lorraine Bracco, which really pissed me off.
What’s your impression of politicians?
You know, they’re all different sizes and shapes. I met some really interesting guys yesterday that really gave a s--t about the subject.
Your take on the presidential race?
Fascinating. Fantastic. I like all three of them. I think it’s down to [Sen. John] McCain [Ariz.] and [Sen. Barack] Obama [D-Ill.] now.
Do you think Sen. Clinton should drop out?
I don’t know. S--t happens. In three weeks they could find him in bed with Eliot Spitzer and she’d f-----g kick herself in the leg.
Would you ever run for office?
I don’t know. I know I could win.
Who do you socialize with here in D.C.?
I have some friends here. That was part of the disease, too — you don’t want to go out, you don’t want to socialize. When I like it too much [not being around people], it scares me.
To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or e-mail her at email@example.com.