Pete Davidson explains how he got Joe Pesci to star in his new show ‘Bupkis’

Publicly, Joe Pesci is a man of few words. When Pesci won Best Supporting Actor for “Goodfellas” at the 1991 Oscars, his acceptance speech was memorably brief. “It was my privilege. Thank you,” Pesci said. 

Since stepping back from Hollywood in the late ‘90s – after a prolific period where he appeared in numerous hit films – the acclaimed performer has rarely sat down for press interviews, instead allowing his collaborators to speak on his behalf. So before the new Peacock comedy “Bupkis” premieres in May on the streaming service, it perhaps makes sense that its star, writer, and executive producer, Pete Davidson, is the one talking about how Pesci got involved.

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Speaking to Jon Bernthal as part of his podcast “Real Ones,” Davidson said the famously picky Pesci simply warmed to the script, which finds the actor playing Davidson’s grandfather. “He liked the material enough to do it,” Davidson said. “We had a really great conversation. It was really honest and organic and we kind of hit it off. And it was out of love he did it because he doesn’t need to do anything.”

Davidson added that having Pesci’s seal of approval for the series meant a lot to the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and frequent tabloid fixture. 

“I needed that validation from someone like that, like so badly,” Davidson said. “Because, like I said, when you’re going online, I can deal with trolls, but Oscar winners, and presidents shitting on you? You’re like, ‘Damn, I’m a fucking loser.’ I got the guy no one can get. And that changed my life. I owe him everything.”

Pesci has very rarely appeared onscreen since the late ‘90s. In fact, other than a brief appearance in Robert De Niro’s “The Good Shepherd” (2006) and the HBO movie “Love Ranch” (2010), the only significant role the Oscar winner has taken since 1998 is in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” For his work in the 2019 film, Pesci was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.

But even coming back to reunite with Scorsese and De Niro after “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” and “Casino” was no sure thing. As Scorsese and De Niro explained in 2019, Pesci had said no to the project numerous times and had to be convinced to star. “A lot of what I was saying was, ‘Come on, who knows if we’re ever going to have this chance again?’” De Niro said. “Let’s just do it. And he loves Marty and greatly respects him and knows that if he’s in Marty’s hands, it’s going to be okay.”

Pesci was finally convinced, Scorsese said at the time, once Netflix got involved. “It’s not even about the money or about being compensated and appreciated for your value. It’s about the physicality of [making a film] where nobody’s giving you anything. At a certain age and physicality for the actors, it may not be worth it,” Scorsese said.

“Bupkis” is Davidson’s first major project since leaving “Saturday Night Live,” and the actor once again is working with Lorne Michaels, who is an executive producer of the new comedy. Davidson has long credited Michaels for his support – even though, as Davidson explained to Bernthal, it stung when “SNL” would goof on his public persona.

“I’d be sitting in the back watching the cold open — the cold open [is] topical, political humor, whatever’s in the culture — and then making fun of you,” he said. “Then you’ve gotta walk out and do a sketch next and hit your mark and the show just made fun of you. So, why are they gonna laugh at you? Like, they just dogged you in front of everyone. … And you’re like, ‘I’m a fucking loser, man.’”

In the interview, Davidson spoke highly of Michaels (“I owe that man my life”) and said he later addressed the “SNL” jokes and put a kibosh on the material. “Luckily, we squashed it, we talked about it and fixed that part of it, but it took me a while before I even felt comfortable to say that. It was fucking weird,” Davidson said.

This isn’t the first time Davidson has discussed his conflicted feelings about “SNL.” In a 2020 interview with Charlamange tha God, Davidson discussed being a punchline on Weekend Update after his missed episodes of the show while filming “The Suicide Squad.” 

“I’m like, cold open, political punchlines. I’m like, Weekend Update jokes. When I’m not there, they’ll be like, ‘Huh huh huh, Pete’s a fucking jerk face.’ And you’re like, ‘Whose side are you on?’ I have a weird feeling in that building where I don’t know whose team they’re playing for, really – if I’m the joke or I’m in on the joke,” Davidson said at the time.

In that interview, Davidson again praised Michaels but said the show’s environment was lacking in his view. “It’s not like a loving, caring [environment]. You’re not going to get coddled over there. They don’t give a fuck, at the end of the day,” he claimed.

“Bupkis” stars Davidson, Pesci, and Edie Falco, and features appearances from Chase Sui Wonders, Charlie Day, Simon Rex, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, and Kenan Thompson. Peacock has said previously that all eight of its episodes will debut on May 4, putting Pesci in the conversation for the 2023 Emmy Awards. If he were to receive a nomination from the academy, it would be his first.

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