Bobby Cannavale answered his own door. There was no assistant hovering. We had to be quiet, Mr. Cannavale said, because on the first floor of their new house, the first proper house in which he has lived, his fiancée, the actress Rose Byrne, was tending to their baby, Rafa, two weeks old.
Softly up the stairs (stairs! Mr. Cannavale had always been confined to one floor, a lifelong apartment dweller) we went. Mr. Cannavale, 47, half Cuban and half Italian, grew up in New Jersey with a stint in Florida in the middle, and spent years looking longingly toward Manhattan until finally he lived there. But life intercedes, and he and Ms. Byrne had a son, Rocco, 22 months, and then another. So he did what dads with their hands full do: He moved to Brooklyn.
There’s a star-studded section of Brooklyn, but this isn’t exactly that: Around the corner, a beverage distributor was noisily loading Coronas into a street-side warehouse. Though Mr. Cannavale, who has been working as an actor for about 20 years, isn’t exactly a star.
He’s a workhorse (three movies coming out in December alone), with carpet-thick brows and hair he’ll take with him to the grave, and has been in so many things that he’s easily recognizable, if not always placeable.
“I’m the guy you went to high school with when I walk down the street,” he said.
Actually, many believe he is one of the most talented actors of his generation, a syringe of adrenaline in whatever he appears. Two Emmys, but who’s counting. Two Tony nominations, but no hard feelings.
There’s too much work to do. Every morning lately, he gets picked up at 6 a.m. by a chauffeured car to head to the set of the film “The Irishman,” his third collaboration with Martin Scorsese — what’s that guy know about talent? — the latest in a line of mentors. The playwright Lanford Wilson was another, along with his ex-father-in-law, Sidney Lumet.
“He likes saying to me, ‘I feel like we’ve worked together our whole lives,’” Mr. Cannavale said. “And I say, we haven’t, because I’m 40 years younger than you.” (28, technically.)
It wasn’t always thus. The young Bobby Cannavale used to come to the city from Jersey with just enough money for the bus and maybe 10 extra bucks for a slice and a soda, and audition and audition and audition.
“I always wanted to make a living as an actor living in New York,” he said. “A New York actor. What’s better than that?”
He offered a tour of his new pile, a three-story 19th-century house in brownstone Brooklyn, which he and Ms. Byrne renovated and then moved into in the final moments of her pregnancy.
In the early days, untrained (aside from church-group productions as a child), it was slow. “I did so many acting jobs for nothing,” he said. “I was in a play that opened on Christmas Eve above a police precinct on 54th Street. Three people showed up. One of them was an agent. It was my first agent.”
In person he is gentle and accommodating — did I want a coffee? Something to eat? — not the tough he’s often called to play. He settled onto a pink couch (the color scheme is, in the main, green and pink) in his living room to talk. “I don’t mind pink,” he said. “I can handle a pink couch.”
But in his work, Mr. Cannavale has a boiling intensity his hangdog jowls and puppyish eyes belie. He was raised on the greats, worshiping Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in their primes. (His current co-stars: Mr. Pacino, Mr. De Niro.) He has a sly way of becoming the best part of whatever he’s in, however good or bad it may be.
“Vinyl,” the 1970s-rock series created by Mr. Scorsese and Mick Jagger with Rich Cohen and Terence Winter, was Mr. Cannavale’s first starring screen role. “I was always very impressed by his work,” Mr. Scorsese said, in a note sent from the production of “The Irishman.” “When I saw him in ‘The Station Agent,’ ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and ‘Blue Jasmine,’ I knew he had the power, the range and intensity I wanted for ‘Vinyl.’ He threw himself into the role and he found something so extraordinary—a kind of young boy’s sadness that men can carry within them.”
The show was not, on the whole, well received; it was canceled after a single season. Yet Mr. Cannavale, one review said, was “a hairy life force of an actor who improves even misbegotten shows.” He has a brute-force presence that radiates, whether from the center or the sidelines.
“The thing that’s so infectious about Bobby — you see it in his work and you see it in his life — is wherever he is is the best place ever,” said the director and screenwriter Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”), who wrote Mr. Cannavale’s breakthrough film role in “The Station Agent” for him. It allows him to elevate even what ought to be throwaway roles — Will’s thick boyfriend in “Will & Grace” (Emmy No. 1), say — into something more.
“He’s entirely un-self-conscious,” said Olivia Wilde, who played his wife on “Vinyl.” “He’s never trying to look cool, which holds back a surprising amount of people, I find. He’s never trying to maintain some sense of control. He gives in completely. It allows the scenes to become really thrilling. You don’t know where he’s going to take it. He doesn’t know. He’s just very present.”
Maybe because his gift is his presence, he is even more at home, and more alive, on stage. He was a trembling tour de force in “The _______ With the Hat” in 2011 (the full title is unprintable here), him and Chris Rock together on a Broadway stage. It led to his Emmy-winning role on “Boardwalk Empire” with Mr. Scorsese.
“He’s ferocious,” said Ethan Hawke, a friend since they appeared together in “Hurlyburly” in 2005. “It’s a great combination when somebody is wildly intelligent with a wicked intellect who also works from their gut. He’s just all in, wherever you find him.”
The roles aren’t always the plum ones. On stage, Mr. Cannavale is a lead, who spent the spring carrying Richard Jones’s much admired production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape” on his broad shoulders. On screen, more often than not, he is a supporting player.
This month, he is a hard-boiled “Hard Copy” producer in “I, Tonya,” trailing Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly through their tabloid travesties. He is a glowering supervillain in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” facing off with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart for ownership of a mystical jewel. He is the voice of an animated bull in “Ferdinand.”
“I don’t think I’m on the studio president’s list: ‘The movie’s going to star Cannavale,’” he said. “That’s not happening.”
With film and television, the ancillary calculus that drives projects forward — what does your name mean in foreign markets? Will your casting secure financing? — doesn’t favor him. The variables that govern every element of its making don’t interest Mr. Cannavale. And, unlike with a play, he has no sense of how good or bad it may be until it’s out.
“If I did, maybe ‘Vinyl’ would still be on the air,” he said. “I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t really disappointed by that decision. It didn’t hit me for a few months, and then it hit, and it hit hard.”
“This game is baseball,” he said, leaning back on the couch. “You’re not going to bat a thousand. We all have things that missed. You never know. You keep trying and trying. The best hitters are .300 hitters, right?”
After “Vinyl,” he went to Sydney, Australia, to spend time with Ms. Byrne, who was performing there, and Rocco. (The two have been together since 2012.) He licked his wounds. Then came the call for “The Hairy Ape,” and he threw himself into it and it brought him back from the brink.
“It allowed me to feel like I was part of something again,” Mr. Cannavale said. “I felt like it was contributing to the culture. They don’t all feel like that. Sometimes it’s ‘Snakes on a Plane.’”
Mr. Cannavale has also found himself navigating the tsunami of sexual harassment and abuse claims embroiling the entertainment industry.
Last week his ex-wife, Jenny Lumet, the mother of his older son (Jake, 22) came forward with an allegation of sexual assault by Russell Simmons. Mr. Cannavale, asked about it after the interview in his Brooklyn house, said he stood by her.
“I didn’t know anything until everybody else did. I think it was an extremely brave thing for her to do.” he said. “She doesn’t have to be quiet about this anymore. People can stand up and have their power, take back their lives. I support Jenny.”
The widespread revelations of sexual misconduct dominating the news have changed the entire conversation for him and those in his orbit. “It is something that we have never really sat and talked about socially,” he said. “And now I am. I feel so stupid. I’m reading these accounts and really rethinking my behavior, my silence and all those things — it’s a good thing, but it comes with a lot of regret.”
Back at the house, the baby had begun to cry. The next day, Mr. Cannavale would cook Thanksgiving dinner for the four of them; Jake, also an actor and now a sometime co-star, was elsewhere. Then they’d head to Los Angeles, where Mr. Cannavale will soon begin shooting “Homecoming,” a new Amazon drama by Sam Esmail, the creator of “Mr. Robot,” with Julia Roberts.
The prospect of escaping the cold of the New York winter was appealing, but Mr. Cannavale has always preferred to live here, not in Los Angeles “The big business, Hollywood? I don’t really work in that business,” he said. “I peripherally work in it, but I’m not involved in it the way some people are.”