Danny Pino never forgets where he came from. The actor is in town to visit his college alma mater (FIU), as well as friends and family, on a break from the NYC set of Law & Order: SVU. We talked to the father of two, 38, about his roots (he graduated from Miami Coral Park Senior High), his current TV gig and working with legends like Madonna.
You really are a local. How often do you come back to town?
I try to get here four to five times a year. I met my wife [actress Lilly Bernal] at Rockway Middle School. It was pretty much love at first talk. For us going home means going back to the 305. I’m very involved in FIU. I’m class of ’96 and my wife is class of ’97. I’m a member of the foundation board. We talk about where the university is strategically and the evolution of programs for the near and distant future.
What is it like joining such an established show?
I had been on another procedural show, Cold Case, for seven years, and I certainly respected the legacy of Law & Order, even though I had only seen a handful of episodes. Being a dad meant the reality was that I probably knew more about Dora and Diego [laughs]. But I saw the show with fresh eyes, and I wasn’t coming in with a bunch of baggage.
How different is “Cold Case” vs. “Law & Order?”
The centerpiece of L&O is the crime, and it starts with the writing. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. It allows the audience to watch any given episode and can drop right in and not feel lost. I think the stark, raw structure has a lot to do with its longevity. There’s also incredible chemistry that has changed but in a way gotten deeper and more interesting. With Cold Case, there’s a much more poetic use of storytelling time, with the flashbacks and music and montages at the end. They are two different flavors.
You have worked with a diverse group of actors, in film, on stage, and on TV. How has that shaped you?
Thankfully I studied acting as a profession [at NYU] like anyone would study law or medicine. For me being in front of a camera is a matter of practicing and refining your art. I think if you’re telling a story worth telling it’s worth investing the time into developing.
What was it like acting with fellow Miamian Andy Garcia in the indie thriller “The Exodus of Charlie Wright?”
We watched Dolphins games together off set! He’s become kind of like a mentor to me. A sounding board is so important to have in this business, which is often difficult to understand. I’ve always watched him and paid attention to his career. I have a lot of respect for him as an actor, musician, director, a family man, the Renaissance Man that he is. How he carries himself and his business. To call him a friend, well, you hate to say it’s an honor, but you can’t help it.
It must have been something to act alongside Madonna in the 2002 London play “Up for Grabs.”
Everyone wants to know about that. She played an art dealer, and I was a dotcom millionaire cranked out on coke. What I can tell you is that she’s incredibly professional. She works as hard as anyone I’ve ever worked with. I think her approach is different given she’s a performer and been in front of an audience probably more than any actor could hope for, whether it’s in concert or making appearances or whatnot. She’s strong-willed, funny, generous. I grew to respect her process very much and learned a lot from her. You have to be on your toes; she never took a night off.