Why Danny DeVito is happy in the shadow of his comic creations
Eternal sunshine boy: Danny DeVito on the set of a revival of The Sunshine Boys in London last year. He plans to shoot The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle in Ireland next year. Photograph: Andrew Testa
Ever since his early days on 'Taxi', Danny DeVito has wanted to direct, yet despite a string of solid films, he'll always be best known as Arnold Schwarzenegger's brother, writes TARA BRADY
Danny DeVito is, in many ways, a serious man. His production company, Jersey Films, has helped with the development of such eye-catching films as Erin Brockovich, Get Shorty and Garden State. He directed The War of the Roses, Matilda and the seriously underrated Hoffa.
Last year, he braved the West End stage for a revival of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys. He’s the real deal. He deserves his pending Volta award – presented for lifetime achievement – at this week’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Still, he’s the sort of fellow whose very name still triggers a smile.
Since he broke through as the aggressive, comically unpleasant Louie De Palma in the television series Taxi, he has been seen as a man with irresistibly funny bones. “I don’t know the difference between comedy and drama,” he cackles in his largely unaltered New Jersey twang. “It’s hard to put your finger on it. I have never done any stand-up. That seemed like a nightmare. But I do the other funny stuff.”
How did he end up this way? “Well it’s just what comes naturally,” he says. “I guess it always seemed like fun to get that sort of reaction from an audience. But I didn’t really set out to do any particular thing apart from act. A doctor sometimes does the heart. Sometimes he does the feet. Sometimes he does the brain. But he’s still a doctor.”
His mention of areas of medical interest triggers a comic riff. “I could go other places. Ha ha! I’m not going there. I can tell you which one I’d pick.”
The diminutive, spherical polymath, now 68, was born and raised in a working-class corner of the Garden State. He comes from a big Italian family. Large parts of the clan ended up in Ireland (more anon), but his branch slotted comfortably into the largest community of Italians outside the Mediterranean. He doesn’t remember any performers in the clan.
“Oh no, no. Not at all,” he says. “My father had a candy store and my mother was a housewife. My grandparents are all from Italy. One of my grandfather’s brothers, instead of going to Ellis Island, went to Belfast. That’s where the Irish connection comes from.”
It is said another branch of the family opened an ice-cream parlour and amusement arcade on O’Connell Street in Dublin. When, on Friday night before a screening of War of the Roses, he receives his Volta at the Savoy Cinema on that thoroughfare, he will, in some mad sense, be returning to the family manor.