DUAL ROLES Garo. [Photo by Deborah Lopez]
East Providence Police Lieutenant Armen Garo is a senior shift commander in the city’s patrol division with 29 years on the job. An upstate New York native, he remembers being hassled by bullies as a kid until, on his father’s orders, he laid one of them out. No one bothered him again.
Garo played football at the Albany Academy before graduating magna cum laude from Boston’s Emerson College in 1977, where he participated in enough extracurricular activities to be listed in the Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. In 1978, he was named a New England heavyweight kickboxing champion. By 1982, he was ranked among the top karate fighters in the world for three years by the Professional Karate Association.
But chances are you don’t know Garo for any of this; you know him as Salvatore “Coco” Cogliano from The Sopranos. After Coco menaces Tony Soprano’s daughter, Meadow, in a cafe, Tony pays Coco a visit in which Coco is forced to bite down on a foot ledge before Tony kicks in the back of his head. (Later in the episode, Tony is in a therapy session when he finds one of Coco’s teeth in the hem of his pants.) You might also recall Garo as the Providence mobster whom Leo DiCaprio tunes up in the lunch counter scene in The Departed. Or the cop who looks the other way for a $50 payoff in Michael Corrente’s 1994 feature Federal Hill.
This month you’ll see Garo in American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, another Martin Scorsese film startling DiCaprio. (Garo plays a mobster in both.) The Phoenix caught up with the local law man/actor to find out how an Armenian kid from upstate New York found himself on screen with some of the best actors of his generation. The interview has been edited and condensed.
HAVE YOU EVER ARRESTED SOMEONE WHO RECOGNIZED YOU FROM THE MOVIES OR TV? Sometimes. It helps things go a little easier. It takes their guard down a little when you have some sort of celebrity aura about you. They’d rather listen to “Coco” than Lt. Garo.
ARE THERE ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ACTING AND LAW ENFORCEMENT? The [professions] overlap quite a bit. There is a police persona you have to use with people [involving] fair treatment, respect. It’s a very public job and you’re under a microscope. Your actions can have lifelong consequences. But sometimes, you are permitted to shade the truth or to outright lie to get the job done. Much of those ingredients, if you will, apply to acting.
INTHE DEPARTED YOU PLAYED A PROVIDENCE MOBSTER. DID THAT LOCAL ANGLE MAKE THE PART MORE INTERESTING/IMPORTANT TO YOU? No, Except for the [geographical] convenience and the [Rhode Island] dialect.
What I remember about that movie is that [Matt] Damon came right up to me and shook my hand. That’s happened with almost every single star I’ve ever worked with. They rely on you just as much as you rely on them.
WOULD YOU CALL YOURSELF A “CHARACTER ACTOR”? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU? At this point, yes.