- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Dennis Farina's most memorable roles are tough cops or criminals but he's no stranger to comedy. "I think there is something very nice about going to work to try to make people laugh," he says.

Yes, it's nice work if you can get it, and the 58-year-old actor has it now in his first sitcom, NBC's new cross-generational comedy "In-Laws." The series premieres next Tuesday at 8 p.m. on WRC Channel 4.

Mr. Farina plays Victor Pellet, a self-made man who's not particularly fond of his son-in-law, Matt Landis (Elon Gold). To make matter worse, Pellet's daughter, Alex (Bonnie Somerville), and Matt live at home with Pellet and his wife (Jean Smart).

The comedy is inspired by Mr. Gold's real-life experiences.

Mr. Farina, though no longer married, is the father of three grown sons, five times a grandfather and, of course, a father-in-law. "Not a meddlesome one," he avers, grinning, but he understands Pellet's control-freak ways.

"I'm set in my own ways. I like to do the things I want to do when I want to do them," Mr. Farina admits.

He hopes his depiction of Pellet will be witty in the subtle, realistic style of the 1950 movie "Father of the Bride," starring one of his favorite actors, Spencer Tracy, rather than the broader satirical style of the 2000 hit movie "Meet the Parents," with Robert De Niro.

•••

Born to Italian immigrant parents, Mr. Farina grew up in Chicago, where he still lives.

"My friends are still the guys I met 40 or 50 years ago," he says, chuckling over the "unsolicited reviews" those pals sometimes leave on his answering machine.

"They'll call up to say, 'Boy, I saw that last night. You were horrible,' though sometimes they call to say, 'That was really good, that was fine.' Or they will say, 'You are getting old-looking' or stuff like that," he says during breakfast on the rooftop of a Los Angeles hotel.

As has been told often, he was a policeman for years and became a full-time actor after a meeting with Michael Mann led to a small role as a henchman in the director's 1981 crime drama "Thief," which starred James Caan. In the years since then, he has been successful in both comedy and drama.

In Barry Sonnenfeld's 1995 comedy "Get Shorty," he played mob boss Ray "Bones" Barboni. Seven years earlier, he filled another funny role, in the Robert De Niro-Charles Grodin vehicle "Midnight Run." He also played opposite Bette Midler in Carl Reiner's 1997 film "That Old Feeling." He can be seen in the new movie "Stealing Harvard."

His serious films in recent years include "Saving Private Ryan" and "Reindeer Games."

Mr. Mann cast Mr. Farina as Michael Torello, a detective challenging the mob, in the television series "Crime Story," which ran from 1986-88.

His last TV series was "Buddy Faro," in which he played a private eye who returns to work after a long hiatus with his outmoded values intact.

"I loved 'Buddy Faro.' I loved the whole idea," Mr. Farina says.

The show ran for just a few episodes on CBS in 1998. "It still bothers me it failed. I don't think anything was done to boost it," the actor says.

Mr. Farina says he thinks "In-Laws" will do better, particularly because it has "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer as executive producer. Mr. Farina is impressed by Mr. Grammer's involvement.

"It sounds very cliche, but Kelsey's been around, done it all, pretty much knows what works and what doesn't with those forces working with you, it creates a relatively safe environment," Mr. Farina says.

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