'Do The Right Thing' Cast: Where Are They Now? | NBC New York

'Do The Right Thing' Cast: Where Are They Now?

As the cast mourns the passing of Bill Nunn, a look back at the film, controversial in its day, that was a major showcase for then-unknown talent like Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez and John Turturro



    Getty Images
    Left to right: Rosie Perez, Giancarlo Espositio, John Turturro and Samuel L. Jackson.

    Bill Nunn, who passed away Saturday, starred in over 71 film and television roles over the span of his career. His roles ran the gamut from newspaper editor Joseph Robertson in "Spider-Man" (2002) and its sequels to playing opposite stars like Harrison Ford, Whoopi Goldberg and Hugh Grant in films like "Regarding Henry," "Sister Act" and "Extreme Measures." 

    But to a generation of film fans, Nunn will forever be immortalized as 'Radio Raheem' from Spike Lee's 1989 classic, "Do The Right Thing." 

    "Do the Right Thing" (DTRT) may have been controversial in its time, yet it plays alarmingly contemporary in light of recent deaths of black men at the hands of police. The scene featuring the death of Nunn's character could be ripped from today's headlines and, with little tweaking, be substituted with Eric Garner, Terence Crutcher or Keith Lamont Scott. But beyond its lasting social significance, the film was also a showcase for a group of largely unknown actors who have gone on to become major players on both the big and small screens.

    Samuel L. Jackson: To kids today, Jackson may be Nick Fury of "Avengers" fame or the guy pitching you Capital One Credit cards, but at the time of his casting as Mister Senor Love Daddy in DTRT, Jackson had less than a dozen film credits to his name. One film, "Sea of Love," listed him simply as Black Guy in the credits, while he had a memorable turn as Hold-Up Man in Eddie Murphy's "Coming To America." He's come a log way in the years since, playing everything from his Oscar-nominated role as Jules Winnfield in "Pulp Fiction" to Mace Windu in "Star Wars" episodes I, II and III. At one point, Jackson was recognized as the highest-grossing actor of all time, but he was recently surpassed by Harrison Ford.

    Jackson now has 166 film credits to his name and counting. He'll reprise his role of Nick Fury in "Avengers: Infinity War" in 2018. 

    John Turturro: A veteran actor of more than 100 film and television productions, Turturro actually made his screen debut as an uncredited extra in Martin Scorsese's 1980 classic "Raging Bull." He had small roles in big films including "The Color of Money," with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, and Woody Allen's 1986 "Hannah and Her Sisters" before catching the eye of director Spike Lee, who cast him as Pino in DTRT. He quickly became a favorite of the director, appearing in no less than seven Spike Lee "joints" over the course of his career.

    Turturro most recently captured raves and critical acclaim in the HBO miniseries "The Night Of."

    Martin Lawrence: Lee cast Lawrencein DTRT for his first film role, although the character he played, Cee, didn't have much screen time. Lawrence went from that bit part to major Hollywood roles starring opposite Will Smith in "Bad Boys" and "Bad Boys 2" and spawned his own "Big Momma" movie franchise. The comedian also starred in a TV series "Martin" from 1992-1997.

    Lawrence recently confirmed he and Smith will be partnering again for a third film in the "Bad Boys" franchise.

    Danny Aiello: With the exception of stage and theater actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, many of the actors appearing in DTRT were relatively new to their craft. Danny Aiello was the other notable exception, having already been a movie veteran when he appeared in the film. With credits including "The Godfather: Part II" and "Fort Apache the Bronx," Aiello added a certain amount of gravitas, complexity and humanity to what could have been a two-dimensional role of pizzeria owner Salvatore "Sal" Frangione.

    Aiello was rewarded for his effort with the only acting nomination bestowed on the film at the Academy Awards: best actor in a supporting role. 

    Now 83, Aiello is still acting. He most recently appeared in the 2014 film "Reach Me" with Kyra Sedgwick and Thomas Jane. 

    Giancarlo Esposito: Long before he terrified TV audiences as drug kingpin Gustavo Fring on the hit "Breaking Bad," two-time Oscar nominee Giancarlo Esposito brought the character Buggin' Out to life. He had his "brand new white Air Jordan's" stepped on by a Larry-Bird-T-shirt-wearing neighbor in DTRT, and the rest was history. 

    Esposito has gone on to have a prolific career in both television ("Breaking Bad," "Once Upon a Time," "Revolution") and movies ("Derailed," "Sherrybaby" "Waiting to Exhale"). Nominated for a supporting actor Emmy for "Breaking Bad," Esposito is currently one of the stars of the Netflix musical drama "The Get Down." 

    Rosie Perez: Rosie Perez burst into the public consciousness in the musical intro of DTRT, which was her film debut. Perez has gone on to a long career in films like "White Men Can't Jump," "Fearless" and "It Could Happen to You." 

    In 2014, fans got to see another side of Perez as she joined the hit daytime talker "The View," opposite Whoopi Goldberg and then co-host Rosie O'Donnell, before departing the program in 2015.

    Spike Lee: Lee wrote, directed and starred in DTRT, which was nominated for two Academy Awards, including best original screenplay. It was Lee's third major film production and the first to deal head-on with the issues of race and police brutality. His two preceding films, "She's Gotta Have It" in 1986 and "School Daze" in 1988, only flirted with the idea of sexual politics and racial inequality.

    Lee now has 66 directing credits under his belt and was also nominated in 1998 for his documentary "4 Little Girls." Lee received an honorary Oscar in 2015, but still called for an Oscar boycott in 2016 to protest the lack of diversity in Academy Award nominations. 

    Upon hearing of Nunn's death, Lee took to Instagram and Twitter to mourn the passing of his friend.

    "My Dear Friend, My Dear Morehouse Brother- Da Great Actor Bill Nunn As Most Of You Know Him As Radio Raheem Passed Away This Morning In His Hometown Of Pittsburgh. Long Live Bill NUNN. RADIO RAHEEM Is Now RESTING IN POWER. RADIO RAHEEM WILL ALWAYS BE FIGHTING DA POWERS DAT BE. MAY GOD WATCH OVER BILL NUNN."