For any fellow aficionados of both Child’s Play and The Sopranos, our favorite Jersey worlds are about to collide. Joe Pantoliano, who portrays the iconically sociopathic mobster Ralph Cifaretto on the latter, is set to appear on Chucky season 2, coming to SYFY and USA on October 5, 2022. As Chucky (Brad Dourif) wrecks havoc with his army of possessed Good Guys, viewers will enjoy an exciting cast reunion from Bound, the 1996 mob-drama-meets-lesbian-love-story starring Child’s Play legend Jennifer Tilly, Pantoliano and Gina Gershon, who is also heading to Hackensack this season. Other newcomers include Meg Tilly, Saw star Tony Nappo, and Sutton Stracke of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fame.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, we had the pleasure of chatting with Pantoliano, aka Joey Pants, about joining Don Mancini’s Child’s Play family despite his fear of horror flicks, highlights of filming Bound, comedic projects on the horizon, and much more.
PopHorror: How did the Bound reunion come to be?
Joe Pantoliano: Jennifer [Tilly] has been a friend since before Bound. I think we’ve done about five projects together over the years, with Bound being the first time we ever worked together having known each other prior. She and Don [Mancini] reached out and said, “Hey, we’d like to do something, but if you’re not interested, we’re not gonna put our team out there and develop something.” I said, “No, it sounds like a lot of fun to reunite with Gina [Gershon] and Jen.” And it really was a lot of fun.
PopHorror: How was it working with creator Don Mancini for the first time?
Joe Pantoliano: When you do episodic television, more than 90 percent of the time, the script’s already done. They send it to you, and maybe you have some suggestions that they can implement before you start shooting. But Don would send the script, a draft, and then say, “What do you think?,” and we’d talk about it. And a benefit was that he was directing it. With a showrunner, it’s a lot of work, and usually, they have somebody else directing it.
So to be able to work with him and Meg. I’m an enormous fan of Meg—I don’t know Meg as well as I know Jen, and I only know her through Jen— and it was a blast. The Tilly girls, they’re amazingly talented. Jennifer is extraordinarily gifted, and I think her persona tricks people into not knowing how really bright she is.
PopHorror: She’s a really good poker player, too!
Joe Pantoliano: She’s a student. She really works hard at everything she does and makes it work effortlessly.
PopHorror: What was your knowledge of the Child’s Play franchise prior to joining the cast?
Joe Pantoliano: Not at all, and I still have no idea (laughs). Scary movies frighten me. I recall when I was a kid—it was The Mummy—and how something that moves that slow could scare me that much. So I tend to stay away from frightening things. Life is frightening enough for me.
PopHorror: That’s definitely true. Did they explain to you the whole concept of Jennifer Tilly becoming Tiffany? It gets confusing.
Joe Pantoliano: Yes, and they had to explain it and remind me throughout. That’s not on them, that’s on me. But it was a lot of fun. I don’t want to give anything away! From all the years on The Sopranos, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction not to give anybody anything. You want the surprise to be there.
PopHorror: Totally understandable! I definitely want to be surprised. How was it filming in Canada?
Joe Pantoliano: I loved it! Toronto’s a great city. It’s very diverse and fun, and you can walk everywhere. My wife, Nancy, came up for the beginning. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I had to do some wardrobe fittings for the glasses that I wear. They actually drove me from the airport to the eyeglass place where the prop guy met me. But before he could meet me, the COVID team was there, and they tested both Nancy and I.
The following Friday, I had the wardrobe fittings, makeup, hair tests, and all of that stuff. They tested me again. Then we had the weekend and Monday morning. I went to work for the first day of shooting. They tested me again. Nancy, at that point, had gone back home Sunday evening, and we worked for 12, 13 hours. When I got home, I got a call saying that I tested positive for COVID,and so they shut me down for five days. That whole week, I was in quarantine trapped in this hotel room, and I couldn’t enjoy Toronto.
PopHorror: That’s awful! Hopefully you didn’t feel too bad. Did you interact with Chucky at all while on set?
Joe Pantoliano: I met Chucky! I had the opportunity to meet Chucky, and also I had the opportunity to take a photograph with him. Unfortunately, the way I was dressed would be a dead giveaway to the ending of the episode, so we were not able to take that photo.
PopHorror: I’m sure you’ve realized that Chucky fans take the franchise very seriously. Have you gotten any welcome messages yet?
Joe Pantoliano: A little bit on my Instagram. People saying that they can’t wait, and it’s great news. I think there’s more of that on the Chucky and Jennifer Tilly pages.
PopHorror: Circling back to Bound, have you, Jennifer, and Gina been in anything together since?
Joe Pantoliano: No. I’ve seen Gina over the years socially, but this was the first time that we were back working together. It was like nothing changed after—what is it—25 years? 30 years? I don’t even know, do you?
PopHorror: It came out in 1996.
Joe Pantoliano: Wow, how did that happen?
PopHorror: Given the reunion, a lot of Chucky fans will probably become interested in Bound. How does it feel knowing the film is reaching the next generation?
Joe Pantoliano: Oh, I think that’s great. It’s such a good movie. It’s so interesting. The Wachowskis [Lana and Lilly], that was their first film, and they were incredibly gifted and great to work with. I was really lucky having first time directors choosing me. Apparently, they’re doing a play version of Bound now. They’re developing it. But it was ahead of its time in terms of LGBT+.
PopHorror: Did you enjoy filming Bound? I watched it last week. The part where the cop is walking on the rug and blood is seeping through is so cool.
Joe Pantoliano: I learned a lot from their insistence of wanting to get things right. Unbeknownst to me, there’s that sequence where my character, Caesar, believes that Johnnie [Chris Meloni] has set me up, but it’s actually the ladies that have done it. I wind up killing everybody in the room, but there’s that scene where Gino the Don gets shot, and he’s falling backwards. His arms are flailing, and then he hits the ground, and the dust comes up and all of that. Richard Sarafian was a large man, and to be able to get this shot the way that they wanted, slow motion… they were told by the stunt coordinator or someone that it couldn’t be done.
Long story short, the Wachowskis go, “But you said you could,” and they rigged this apparatus, and it took a whole day. So we pretty much lost an entire day to get the shot that they wanted that they wouldn’t compromise on. That was always an amazing lesson to me and also the lesson of preparation that occurs in pre-production, where the actor’s not privy to that. Even when the bullet goes by my head and into the glass, it’s fascinating to see how they did all that. It was all in little teeny pieces, so you couldn’t really appreciate the technical aspect of it until it was edited together.
PopHorror: Did Caesar influence your role of Ralph Cifaretto at all?
Joe Pantoliano: I don’t think so. I think that the writing’s always influencing what inspires me in playing the character. The writing’s always incredibly helpful. There are occasions, unfortunately more times than not, where the writing is so weak that you have to try to pump life into a character that’s underwritten, a kind of anemic character that you try to make interesting. But that wasn’t the case with Caesar, and it certainly wasn’t the case with Ralph.
PopHorror: You’ve been in a ton of projects over the years. Is Chucky your first campy horror one?
Joe Pantoliano: I actually did a horror movie at the very beginning of my career that got lost. Andy Davis directed it. He was a camera operator, and he had made a really good independent movie about jazz musicians in Chicago called Stony Island. Based on that, Joe Roth put together this horror project with his father-in-law, Sam Arkoff, and they made this little horror movie called The Final Title, I think. They called it 1,000 different things. Penny Perry, who is an incredible casting director, put together a cast of these unknown kids like Daryl Hannah and me. We made this little horror movie up in Northern California. Andy was the DP, too. It was a lot of fun and scary… a lot of fake blood.
PopHorror: I know some actors don’t like to watch their own projects. Do you think you’ll watch your Chucky episode(s)?
Joe Pantoliano: I don’t know… I don’t like it either. That’s why I like to do all these cartoon movies for my grandkids. Nobody in my family has ever seen The Sopranos, because it’s a terrible character that I play. It was a lot of fun to play, but I’m always looking ahead, too. I’m always looking toward the future and not backward. Like the great Billy Wilder once said, “Some of my movies I loathe less than others.” I’m never satisfied, so it’s best not to.
PopHorror: Looking toward the future, is there anything else upcoming for you?
Joe Pantoliano: I have a couple episodes on Tacoma FD‘s new season. I do recurring on that. It’s a half-hour comedy. And then I did a comedy that’s coming out the end of this year or the beginning of next called Home Delivery, which is a really funny movie about a plus-sized model who is having a baby and wants to do it at home, a natural childbirth with the entire family being there to support her. It’s a very dysfunctional family. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and it makes for some hilarious situations, so I’m looking forward to that coming out.
PopHorror: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Joe Pantoliano: Tell the Chucky fans that I’m excited and happy and grateful to be part of the family.
PopHorror: Thank you so much!
Joe Pantoliano: Ciao, Bambino!
Thanks for speaking with us, Joe (and for the helpful tips as yours truly battles a certain global illness)! As we add bone broth and Gatorade to our shopping list, stay tuned to see if Pantoliano survives everyone’s favorite demonic doll on Chucky season 2, beginning October 5, 2022, at 9 p.m. EST.