He’s Got Something Going On: David Proval on Mean Streets, and Acting for Martin Scorsese | MZS

Proval came to screening of “Mean Streets” at the Texas Theatre in Dallas April 20. I interviewed him after the show about his experiences making the film, his collaboration with Scorsese and costars Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel, and his reaction to watching it again on a big screen, for the first time in a long time.

When was the last time you saw “Mean Streets”?

A while ago, on Turner Classic Movies, but it wasn’t this print. It’s an amazing movie. It truly captures this particular genre—you’ve probably heard this a thousand times—the soul of it. The madness of it. These characters, and their rage. I don’t know—I get affected by great films. 

You grew up in New York, right? In Brooklyn?

Brooklyn, New York.

Did you ever know guys who were like the ones depicted in Mean Streets?

I used to look at them on the street and say, “Mom, what do they do?” And she’d say, “They hold up the building. They lean against the building, and they hold it up.” She knew what they did!

Was there anybody in your family who was in the performing arts, or the arts generally?

My mother was somewhat of an actress. She came to this country when she was in her early twenties, from Romania. She did some theater in Bucharest. And then she gave it up. She had to. She came to the golden land, New York City. Brooklyn, New York. But she was a natural actress. She inspired me. She inspired me to celebrate my imagination, put it that way. I loved it from the beginning.

When was the first time you performed in front of an audience?

I was seven years old. In front of an audience in Lakewood, New Jersey, an old age home, I guess. I sang for them. An old lady came up to me and put $20 in my hand. It was an enormous amount of money. I looked down at my hand and said, “I just had a great time, and I got paid for this? I should do this for a living.” That’s a true story. [Laughs] “So, people pay you to have fun? That’s fantastic!”

As a kid, were you, even then, thinking that this is what you wanted to do?