The scene that won Marisa Tomei her first ever Oscar was almost cut from the movie entirely.
‘My Cousin Vinny’ turns 25 today, still being an instant classic that is regularly referenced in pop culture. It was Tomei’s performance as Mona Lisa Vito that helped the low-budget comedy rise to popularity and get noticed by the Academy.
In the scene, Vinny Gambini (played by Joe Pesci) brings in his surprise witness fiancee, Mona Lisa Vito, during the climax of the movie. Mona Lisa Vito takes the stand in a courtroom where Vinny is the legal representation for two young men who are on trial for murder. She shoots an apathetic eye roll at the prosecution’s Mr. Trotter (Lane Smith) before dismantling his “bullsh– question.” She boldly declares that “the defense is wrong” and rattles off automotive knowledge with a spitfire spunk of a Brooklyn hairdresser. The whole scene leaves even the judge dumbstruck at her knowledge of the automotive industry.
The scene is so famous, in fact, that when Bill Belicheck was being grilled during the “Deflategate” scandal, he said he wasn’t “the Mona Lisa Vito of the football world.”
Amazingly, screenwriter Dale Launer, who also spoke with TheWrap, said the studio originally wanted to cut Tomei’s character from the movie altogether. They wanted to give those big moments to Pesci’s Vinny.
“I thought they were looking at the best thing in the movie and wanted to cut it out,” Launer said. “Not only did I not take Lisa out, I decided to put more of her into the movie.”
Before the “Moonlight” and “La La Land” mix-up became the biggest mistake in Academy Awards history, Tomei was the subject of her own Oscars controversy. Rumors continue to this day that she didn’t really win and instead Jack Palance made an error when he announced her name for Best Supporting Actress. She was up against some stiff competition including Judy Davis and Vanessa Redgrave, and it is rare that comedies win this category. The rumor has been debunked, and Tomei even joked about it when she hosted “Saturday Night Live.”
“Everyone I spoke to said, ‘Who is this woman? She’s wonderful,’” Lynn said, confident in her victory.
Now 25 years after its release, “My Cousin Vinny” continues to be shown on cable TV and HBO. It is the kind of movie that you can’t turn off once you start watching.