Erik Palladino was supposed to join the family's heat contracting business. Raised in Yonkers by his schoolteacher mother and contractor father, the 12-year-old Palladino caught the acting bug from Robert De Niro's famed performance as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. He quickly joined a local children's repertory company and soon began hosting a heavy metal television show in New York. But like many actors, the adult Palladino took the long road to success. He built an arrest record, struggled through New York's Marymount Manhattan College, sang in a mediocre indie rock band, and survived several canceled television shows. By the late '90s, Palladino had a familiar face -- as a regular on Comedy Central, a voluble MTV video jockey, an indolent stepson on Murphy Brown, and Jennifer Love Hewitt's unctuous cousin in Can't Hardly Wait (1998) -- but not a well-known name. However, perseverance and ubiquity will lead to stardom and, in 1999, Palladino scored two plum roles: the part of an American sailor opposite Matthew McConaughey in U-571 and a coveted slot as Dr. Dave Malucci on NBC's top-rated ER. Both characters are Italian-American; both characters pigeonhole Palladino as the insolent, self-important bastard. Yet, his performances project the strength of an actor who has been around the bend and can create brazen men that are not simply ogres, but refreshingly forthright, occasionally tender, and always heroic. Despite a public outcry and an Internet petition to keep him on the show, Palladino left ER in 2001. He then added to his movie credits -- which already included This Space Between Us (2000) with fellow ER star Alex Kingston and Finder's Fee (2000) with James Earl Jones -- by starring in the "Disco Inferno" segment of the VH1' Strange Frequency (2001). He also began racing cars in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Though his career forced him to relocate to California, Palladino remains a die-hard New Yorker and a loyal Yankees fan.