Famed for her Oscar-winning comedy role in My Cousin Vinny, her dramatic work in the likes of The Wrestler and In the Bedroom, her turn as Aunt May in Marvel’s Spider-Man films, as well as TV performances in As the World Turns and A Different World, Marisa Tomei has had a long and critically-acclaimed acting career. Here are 20 things you may not know about the star.
20. Her greatest fear was tripping up while receiving an Oscar – which she did
During the run-up to the 1993 Oscars ceremony, Tomei was in the running for an award thanks to her critically acclaimed performance in My Cousin Vinny.
Speaking to Entertainment Tonight before the show, Tomei joked that her worst fear was that she might trip while collecting the prize.
On the night itself, as she won the award for Best Supporting Actress, Tomei actually did trip up as she ascended the steps to the stage.
Thankfully, it was only a little stumble, and Tomei neither injured (nor hugely embarrassed) herself.
Tomei isn’t the only star to have taken a tumble at the Academy Awards. In 2013, Jennifer Lawrence famously fell over on her way to collect her Oscar.
More recently, Bohemian Rhapsody star Rami Malek dramatically fell from the stage after the 2019 Oscars ceremony ended.
19. Mona Lisa Vito was almost entirely cut out of the My Cousin Vinny script
Tomei’s big break came in 1992 when she starred in My Cousin Vinny as Vinny Gambini’s (Joe Pesci) fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito.
Her performance saw the young actress bag the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – but Tomei was almost cut from the film completely.
Back in 2007, screenwriter Dale Launer told Writer Unboxed that the studio initially wanted to cut Vinny’s sassy girlfriend from the script.
Launer had to add in another scene to give the character some more screen time. “He wanted Vinny’s girlfriend to complain that he’s not giving her enough attention,” Launer said.
“You often see movies where some guy is hell bent on accomplishing something, and you’re on the ride with him – and his wife/girlfriend/mother is feeling neglected. And she complains. And I HATE this!”
However, the scene was funny enough to save Mona Lisa’s character and ended up becoming one of Launer’s favourites in the whole film.
18. She was roommates with A Different World co-star Lisa Bonet in real life
In this sitcom about a historically black college, Tomei starred as Maggie, with Lisa Bonet playing Denise, her roommate.
The duo became the best of friends during the show’s production, and they ended up sharing a home in real life while filming in Georgia.
Even though the two actresses only worked together for a relatively short time, their friendship has proved long-lasting.
Tomei is godmother to all three of Bonet’s children – including Zoë Kravitz – and was present at the birth of two of them.
- Credit: NBCU Photo Bank
A 2017 InStyle article saw Tomei and Kravitz sit down and discuss everything from friendship to beauty.
Both women spoke about their belief that beauty is “what’s on the inside” and revealed that this bit of wisdom was something they’d both learnt from Bonet.
17. She turned down the role of Carrie in Four Weddings and a Funeral
Tomei knew that Four Weddings and Funeral was an amazing opportunity, but she chose to turn down appearing in the 1994 comedy.
Her grandfather was unwell at the time, and she wanted to remain close to him.
Tomei has since described missing out on the classic film as her only regret when it comes to her career.
Before Andie MacDowell was cast as Carrie, several other actresses were in the running for the role.
Jeanne Tripplehorn was actually cast in the role but then had to drop out due to the death of a family member.
Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker was also reportedly director Richard Curtis’ top choice for the female lead.
16. The Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky was Tomei’s high school friend
In the acclaimed drama The Wrestler, Tomei stars as the female lead: a struggling stripper called Cassidy.
This part secured her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, with some critics heralding her performance as a standout in her career.
Tomei and co-star Mickey Rourke were directed by Darren Aronofsky, who actually attended Edward R Murrow High School in New York City alongside Tomei.
“I went to high school with Darren [Aronofsky], so it was a little dream come true for us to work together,” she said in a 2017 interview with The Guardian.
Tomei went on to explain that she was glad she’d waited until her 40s to shoot nude scenes.
“I’m not sure I could have handled it [when I was younger], emotionally and psychologically,” Tomei said.
15. Before she got her first film role, Tomei was working as a waitress to make ends meet
Before she won fame as an actress, Tomei was enrolled at Boston University. She studied there for one year before dropping out to pursue her acting career.
During her time at Boston, Tomei took a summer job waiting tables at Tony Roma’s, a US steakhouse chain.
In that same summer, she started auditioning for theatrical roles. She never went back to university after signing on for her first job.
Her first credited movie role was as a waitress named Mandy in The Flamingo Kid, for which she had only one line.
She then went on to feature in 1984’s trashy horror comedy The Toxic Avenger, portraying a girl working in a health club.
Tomei went uncredited for this tiny role, but just eight years later she made a serious movie breakthrough with her performance in My Cousin Vinny.
14. She’s godmother to X-Men star Zoë Kravitz
Tomei became such close friends with Lisa Bonet while they co-starred in A Different World that Bonet chose her as godmother to daughter Zoë Kravitz.
In a 2018 InStyle interview between Tomei and Kravitz, Tomei affectionately referred to Bonet as her “best friend.”
Kravitz went on to say that Tomei played a huge part in her life and that she considers her part of her infallible “support system.”
“My mother has always surrounded herself with fantastic women who have paid such wonderful attention to me from an early age,” she said, referring to Tomei.
Kravitz, whose father is the singer Lenny Kravitz, has followed her mother and godmother onto the big screen.
She plays Angel in X-Men: First Class and has starred in the Divergent series, Big Little Lies and Mad Max: Fury Road, and will soon be seen as Catwoman in 2022’s The Batman.
13. Lady Gaga wants Tomei to play her in a biopic
- Credit: Picassa via Wikimedia Commons
In a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone, Lady Gaga was asked who she’d like to play her in a film.
“I would have Marisa Tomei play me,” Gaga answered. “I am such a Marisa Tomei fan.”
“All my friends call me Marisa when I get angry,” she said. “Because my New York accent just flies out of my body and I start smacking my gum.”
When Tomei heard this, the actress responded: “I love her. I love her music. And she’s an awesome businesswoman.”
- Credit: Yne Van De Mergel via Wikimedia Commons
“So I was so touched, really. I think it’s incredible that she likes my work and that she’d think of me.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t any immediate plans for a Lady Gaga biopic starring Tomei – but we’d love to see it happen.
12. She’s a keen belly dancer
Tomei has long practised belly dancing, yoga and tai chi to wind down after a day’s work.
In a 2010 interview with Shape, Tomei said that belly dancing “not only keeps you in incredible shape, it’s good for women’s reproductive organs and hormones too.”
Tomei told Shape that she is taught once a week by Nita Rubio, a teacher of “devotional dance and body movement.”
The actress regularly attends all-female classes run by Rubio that combine meditation, music and dance.
“There’s such a sense of freedom,” she says. “It’s not like jogging, where you’re working on your exterior.”
“It’s about feeling the interior and being at home in your body. Movement is truly transformative!”
11. She feuded with SNL producers during her time on the show
Tomei once clashed with some of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry – the Saturday Night Live producers.
The producers brought in Tomei to guest host back in October 1994 – but things quickly went south.
Tomei asked the SNL writers and producers to pull the segment she’d filmed for the show’s sketch Good Morning Brooklyn.
Tomei was concerned that the skit portrayed her in a negative light and she wasn’t pleased with the idea of being stereotyped.
This irked the SNL team given the fact the show largely revolves around satirising and poking fun at celebrities.
Tomei did ultimately go on to perform a parody of her role in My Cousin Vinny, in a skit which spoofed the OJ Simpson murder trial in 1995.
10. She has the eye of Ra tattooed on her right foot for good luck
Tomei doesn’t have any big tattoos, so you’d be forgiven for never noticing the small symbol she has inked on her foot.
Tomei has an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph, the eye of Ra, tattooed on her right foot. It’s only a small tattoo – but it’s very meaningful.
- Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
The symbol represents the god’s eye and is supposed to protect and bring good luck to the person bearing it.
Given the fact that Tomei has had an abundance of success and good fortune, the tattoo is clearly working its magic.
That’s not Tomei’s only tattoo – she has at least one other (although we don’t know where it is or what it’s of) which she’s far less proud of.
Speaking to InStyle in 2017 with goddaughter Zoë Kravitz, Tomei revealed that she had a “bad tattoo” – but she doesn’t mind it so much as she got it with best friend Lisa Bonet and cherishes the funny memory.
9. She’s the subject of a wild Oscars conspiracy theory
Back in 1993, Tomei took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress after dazzling as Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny.
Tomei was up against some legendary actresses – including Joan Plowright and Vanessa Redgrave – and was a relative newcomer by comparison.
Tomei certainly wasn’t tipped to win, having only appeared in a grand total of five movies at that point.
This gave rise to a massive conspiracy theory that Tomei wasn’t actually meant to win the award, and that her name was read out by mistake.
The theory supposed that presenter Jack Palance was either given the wrong card or couldn’t read the card, panicked, and read the last name off the teleprompter – Marisa Tomei.
The Academy have always flatly denied the rumours and have stated that they have people on standby to intervene if the wrong winner is announced – as happened in 2017 when La La Land was wrongly announced as Best Picture.
8. Her Italian great-grandfather died in mysterious circumstances
Tomei appeared on an episode of NBC’s genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are? back in 2012.
In a bid to find out more about her great-grandfather, Tomei flew to Tuscany in search of answers.
- Credit: NBC
She found out that her great-grandfather – named Francesco Leopoldo Bianchi – was brutally murdered in 1910.
Apparently, Tomei’s great-grandfather was gunned down and killed in a bar in Tuscany over 100 years ago.
It came to light that Bianchi was wanted dead either because of money-lending issues or else because of an affair he was having.
Tomei also found out in the programme that she can trace her roots back to Tuscany, Sicily, Campania and Calabria.
7. She learnt she’d been nominated for an Oscar while her friend was on the verge of giving birth
Tomei’s Oscar nomination for My Cousin Vinny was not only her first, but it was the only one of her nominations to date to translate into a win.
Tomei remembers clearly where she was and what she was doing when she found out she was in the running – not least because she was a bit preoccupied at the time.
Tomei found out that she was up for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress while her friend was on the verge of giving birth.
The actress was actually asleep on her friend’s couch when she woke up to the sound of shouting.
Tomei told David Letterman in 1993, “I didn’t know if she was going into labour or what.”
She wasn’t – the shouting was prompted by her friends’ discovery that Tomei had been nominated for an Oscar.
6. Her first role post-Oscar was as a silent film actress with then-boyfriend Robert Downey Jr
Tomei won her first Oscar at the young age of 29 for her performance in My Cousin Vinny. Back in the early 90s, the world was truly her oyster.
Tomei was in high demand after her portrayal of Mona Lisa Vito and could have afforded to be picky with her next role.
Rather than star in a blockbuster hit, Tomei plumped for something a little more unorthodox for her next gig.
After securing her Oscar, she appeared as silent film actress Mabel Normand in the biopic film Chaplin.
Tomei’s then-boyfriend Robert Downey Jr starred as the legendary British comic actor to great acclaim.
He won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor and also received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.
5. She called Pete Davidson’s mother for advice on portraying her in The King of Staten Island
One of Tomei’s most recent roles involved her portraying SNL cast member Pete Davidson’s mother in The King of Staten Island.
The film is a semi-autobiographical depiction of Davidson’s difficult young adulthood in New York City.
Tomei plays Davidson’s mother – named ‘Margie’ in the film – and even called the comedian’s real life mother on several occasions to ask how she put up with her son.
“I did have to call Amy Davidson and ask her on multiple occasions how she managed to stay so patient,” she admitted in a 2020 interview with Vogue.
“What? Why is this okay with you? And why was this okay with you? I could not wrap my head around how patient she is, but she’s a very different person than I am.”
In both the film and in real life, as an adolescent Davidson struggled with mental health issues that arose after his firefighter father’s untimely passing on 9/11.
4. She’s outspoken about addressing the gender pay gap
Back in 2014, Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence spoke out against the Hollywood gender pay gap.
Lawrence was prompted to make a statement on the issue after the Sony email hack revealed that she’d been paid a lot less than her male co-stars in American Hustle.
Tomei leapt to Lawrence’s defence. Speaking in the Guardian in 2017, Tomei revealed how frustrated she was at the state of sexism in the industry.
“Why should we get paid 75 cents on the dollar and be told we’re lucky to have that?” she said.
“It’s wonderful that someone like Jennifer speaks out. Why should she be pilloried? I don’t understand why it’s even controversial.
“We should get paid on parity. And by the way, Jennifer was the strongest element in that whole package. She should have got paid more, if anything.”
3. She has a reputation for being a great on-screen kisser
Tomei has quite the reputation in the film industry for being a great kisser – not a bad reputation to have!
Tomei has certainly kissed a fair few men in her time as a Hollywood actress.
She shared a few smooches with her then-boyfriend Robert Downey Jr in 1994 film Only You.
She also won an MTV award for Best Kiss for her clinch with Christian Slater in Untamed Heart.
“It’s nice that I’m considered a great kisser,” she said in an interview with the Guardian back in 2017.
“It’s all about the partner, isn’t it? And it’s only on screen. In real life, I’m sh*t,” she confessed.
2. She played herself on Seinfeld
A 1996 two-part episode of the US sitcom Seinfeld saw Marisa Tomei make a guest appearance – as herself.
In the show, self-proclaimed ‘Lord of the Idiots’ George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander) romantically pursues Tomei.
Costanza seeks to win a date with the help of his friend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
In the end Costanza does manage to wangle a date with the Oscar-winning actress, and the two meet up in a park.
Tomei is smitten with George – however, things quickly turn south when Costanza reveals that he’s actually engaged.
The date ends with Tomei punching George in the face before furiously storming off.
1. She had never appeared in a sequel until Captain America: Civil War
Although opportunities came up to reprise many of her popular early roles, Tomei wasn’t interested in returning to them.
She dropped out of the proposed sequel to My Cousin Vinny, which was meant to take place in the UK.
It was only when she was asked to reprise her role of Peter Parker’s Aunt May, for Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, that Tomei agreed to join a sequel.
Tomei’s casting as Aunt May triggered a backlash on social media back in 2015 as staunch Marvel fans claimed she was too good-looking to play the role.
Tomei herself agreed with the response, as she revealed in a 2017 interview with The Guardian.
She said: “It’s lucky I didn’t know much about Aunt May, because I might have been horrified if I’d seen the original image of a grey-haired pensioner. Don’t toy with my heart, Marvel. Is that really how you view me?”