Plenty of actors invest time doing research for their roles, but most of them had nothing on Dennis Farina. Farina, who died July 22 of a blood clot in his lung, spent nearly two decades as a Chicago cop, a career that led him to work as a consultant for director Michael Mann. Mann saw something in the raspy-voiced burglary cop, giving him a small part in his movie Thief in 1981, then casting him as star of his hard-boiled TV drama Crime Story.
Farina became a fixture in movies and TV, playing cops, mobsters, and connected guys in classics from Midnight Run to Get Shorty to Law and Order. There’s no substitute for experience; Farina’s Chi-Town voice, his creased face, his tough bearing suggested he’d been around and seen action. As a cop, he could make make threats that were not strictly legal and make them sound credible (see video, below); as a crook, he could promise to end a rival and make it sound almost charming. He was the thespian equivalent of a weathered silver dollar or a V-8 getaway car; a durable classic they don’t make anymore.
Yet Farina was a real actor, not jut a lucky beneficiary of casting. He could swear like a poet but also do comedy and play the nice guy. Late in his career, he held his own with Dustin Hoffman as a mobster’s empathetic confidante in HBO’s Luck, and one of his last roles was a comic turn in Fox’s sitcom New Girl. The law made him, and his most memorable roles brought the law, and law-breakers, alive. That he was taken at age 69 was a crime. RIP.