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The Fringe

Prolific actor Domenick Lombardozzi still believes his career role—and round—is ahead of him

January 30, 2024
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Golfers often talk about that one good shot that keeps them coming back, and a similar mentality exists for actors. A single line can steal a scene and make a career. Domenick Lombardozzi, 47, has been acting since age 16 when Robert De Niro cast him in “A Bronx Tale,” a movie set in the Arthur Avenue neighborhood where Lombardozzi grew up. His character, Nicky Zero, spent about one minute on screen, but it wound up being a big break in a career that’s thriving three decades later.

Having earned a SAG card before his driver’s license, Lombardozzi was hooked on acting, but the roles didn’t come right away. While going to auditions, he juggled various jobs from construction to waiting tables to selling cars. The first-generation American credits his parents, who emigrated from Italy in 1969, with inspiring his strong work ethic. It wasn’t until Lombardozzi got the role of a Baltimore detective named Herc on the HBO series “The Wire” in 2002—nine years after “A Bronx Tale” was released—that acting became his full-time gig.

“That was my film school,” says Lombardozzi, who was a regular on “The Wire” for all five seasons. “I learned so much from watching all those guys. I was like a sponge, and I would take things in that would work for me. Ultimately, you have to create and mold your own thing.”

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HBO Series 'The Wire' cast members including Dominic West, Wendell Pierce, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Doman, Michael Kenneth Williams and Clarke Peters, at the HBO Presents A Night at "The Wire" Benefit for The Ella Thompson Fund.

Lisa Lake

During filming of the TV show’s third season Lombardozzi also learned how to play golf. Needing an escape from some intense scenes and wanting to be able to “hang better” with New York pals Brian Strnad and Chris Nyikos, who introduced him to the game, Lombardozzi bought a used set of clubs and started playing at a Baltimore-area public course called Pine Ridge. He was a sponge there as well, picking up tips from random playing partners. Lombardozzi fell in love with what he refers to as “field chess”—a fitting description for fans of “The Wire”—and promised to buy himself a new set of clubs when he broke 100 for the first time, which he did by summer’s end. Lombardozzi still has goals for his game—he’ll treat himself to his next set when he breaks 80 for the first time—but his passion for golf goes beyond numbers on a scorecard.

“I love just getting away and being with somebody,” Lombardozzi says. “I’ve never been a person for small talk, and being on the golf course allows me to have a conversation with somebody about anything—about what’s going on in the world, about work, about family, about your cholesterol medicine or whatever. We have three and a half hours to talk.”

That is about the length of two normal feature films—or one directed by Martin Scorsese, like “The Irishman,” in which Lombardozzi plays mob boss Tony Salerno. Despite it being one of his meatier roles, it’s not one he gets recognized for as much as Nicky Zero or Herc or even the tow-truck driver who does Kevin Costner a favor in “For Love of the Game” because of all the makeup he wore for the part. More importantly, though, he earned plenty of praise from his peers.

“I don’t really care about the box office because movies don’t ride on my shoulders,” Lombardozzi says. “I facilitate a certain type of function, and I’m fine with that, but if I get a compliment from an actor who I really respect, it goes a long way with me.”

Speaking of going a long way, Lombardozzi can crush a golf ball, which I witnessed when we played in the fall of 2023. However, I was more impressed by something else. Though we played on the day the movie “Reptile,” a Netflix crime thriller starring Benicio Del Toro and Justin Timberlake, was released, Lombardozzi didn’t mention it once despite (spoiler alert!) having what turns out to be a significant role.

Even if there had been a big premiere event for the movie, that is not Lombardozzi’s scene. He says he would rather go out for a nice dinner and then meet up with some cast members instead of watching his work. In fact, he has never seen an entire episode of “The Wire,” widely considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s all part of a personalized process that has him nearing 80 acting credits.

“You create these backstories because very few times you’re given all the information, so you kind of create your own little world,” Lombardozzi says of digging into a role. “Why do you do this? Why do you act this way? What are your ambitions? What’s your favorite color? I don’t really follow a method, and I don’t recommend anybody do my method, but it seems to work for me.”

In the real world, Lombardozzi lives with his fiancée in Westchester, N.Y., where he enjoys playing golf, working on home projects (he particularly loves carpentry), cooking and gardening. He knows a lot more about aeration than most golfers, and he is better suited to handle a few bad shots since he is in a business that involves so much rejection.

“It’s hard not to take it personal when you prepare for an audition, put yourself on tape, work endlessly on the lines, work with other people, go in there and you feel like you killed it, and you don’t get it,” Lombardozzi says. “Some people could write it off, but I can’t. It lingers with me.”

Much like many of the characters he plays, Lombardozzi’s self-taught golf game can be a bit rough around the edges. The self-described “scrambler” maintains a 9.2 Handicap Index with a career-best score of 81. When listing his golf highlights, however, he focuses on his playing partners instead of scores or courses.

In addition to a weekly game with his buddies, Lombardozzi enjoys teeing it up with fellow actors Kurt Fuller, Jerry Ferrara and Mark Wahlberg, a notoriously fast player.

“I don’t even think the sun bent the blades of grass by the time we finished,” he says. Then there’s Ray Romano, who Lombardozzi calls, “The most honest golfer I’ve ever played with,” while sharing the comedian’s interesting method of self-motivation. “He writes a number down on the scorecard, and he says, ‘If I don’t break that number, then I probably won’t watch TV this week,’ ” Lombardozzi says with a laugh. “He punishes himself.”

Lombardozzi says Oklahoma’s summer heat was too brutal to play golf while filming season 1 of “Tulsa King” in 2022. He hopes to return to his role as Charles (Chickie) Invernizzi in the crime drama starring Sylvester Stallone now that the actors’ strike is over.

Like a golfer always hoping for a career round, Lombardozzi is still in pursuit of the role of a lifetime. “I still feel like playing that one role that nobody would expect,” he says. “I want my ‘Raging Bull.’”