For the better part of his career, Joe Pesci starred in movies that were strictly adult fare, and it wasn't until he took the role of burglar Harry Lime in 1990’s Home Alone that a younger generation discovered his acting talents. In Home Alone, Pesci was one half of the comedic, bumbling criminal duo known as the Wet Bandits, and he and his partner in crime Marv (Daniel Stern) are consistently bested by nine-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) as they attempted to rob his home.
Audiences lapped up Home Alone. It was a massive hit and even set a record for “the biggest single-territory total for a live-action comedy” that lasted for 27 years! In addition to earning a place among the best ‘90s comedies, many now consider the film a non-traditional Christmas classic.
But what of Joe Pesci? He hasn't been seen much in the 21st century. In 1999, he announced his retirement from acting to pursue music. Flash forward a couple decades, and you’ll find he made a small comeback in a 2019 Google commercial where he revisits his Home Alone character. On top of that, he's back in front of the cameras in Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, part of Netflix’s fall 2019 programming block.
Take a step back in time to the Home Alone set and check out Pesci's work as Harry
Before taking the role of Harry Lime, Pesci was known for his tough guy parts in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Once Upon A Time in America, none of which are particularly child-friendly. For that reason, he wanted to stretch his wings in a comedic role. "I thought Home Alone was a great script," he said in 1992. "I wanted to play it for the kids because I never get to work for children, you know?"
According to Pesci’s Wet Bandit partner Daniel Stern, "Harry and Marv were always intended to be a classic comic duo." The men had worked together on a 1982 film I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can and were already friends when cast in Home Alone.
Neither one thought the movie would be as big as it now is, so when it came time to shoot, they went over the top in their slapstick portrayal of its villains. Although Pesci has largely been out of the public eye since the late ‘90s, he and Stern still maintain a close friendship.
When Harry is hurt by Kevin's homemade traps and barricades, he lets out what seems to be a series of curse words as he nurses the pain. Those swear words aren’t words at all, but gibberish created by Pesci for the family-friendly film. “You'll notice Joe even invented his own cartoon language that he spews when he gets really frustrated,” co-star Daniel Stern said.
At one point, director Chris Columbus told Pesci to say “fridge” in place of the f-word.
In creating Harry Lime, Pesci turned to the Warner Bros. cartoon universe for inspiration. "It was my idea to... play him like a cartoon character," said Pesci. He was most inspired by Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny's fiery-haired arch nemesis who’s always outsmarted by the Looney Tunes rabbit.
According to Home Alone co-star Daniel Stern, Wile E. Coyote's adversarial, slapstick relationship with the Road Runner was also an inspiration, as was the early Hollywood comedic duo Laurel and Hardy.