Bruce MacVittie, one of New York City’s quintessential character actors, who made his Broadway debut in David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” opposite Al Pacino in 1983 and was a mainstay on off-Broadway stages for more than 40 years, as well as a familiar face on television and in film, died Saturday in Manhattan. He was 65.
His wife, Carol Ochs, confirmed the death, in a hospital, but said the cause had not been determined.
Mr. MacVittie excelled at playing tough guys with tormented souls, revealing a tenderness at the heart of his characterizations. His casting type was low-life and street-smart, but he himself ran in rarefied acting circles. In the mid-1980s, he helped found Naked Angels, a troupe of young film and theater hipsters (including Matthew Broderick and Marisa Tomei) who immediately dazzled New York with the celebrity wattage and social conscience of their theatrical endeavors.
“Naked Angels was the club that was too cool to let me in,” actress Edie Falco recalled in an interview. “I was just hanging around on the fringes, dying to get my foot in the door, but Bruce was already in. Bruce and I traveled through our actor travails together. We were young together and got less young together.”
Mr. MacVittie’s career began in 1980 at Ensemble Studio Theater in Manhattan with a lead in Edward Allan Baker’s “What’s So Beautiful About a Sunset Over Prairie Avenue?”
In 1988, after bit parts on the series “Barney Miller” and “Miami Vice,” he got his first big television job, partnering with Stanley Tucci in “The Street,” a verite slice of blue-collar cop life set in the Newark Police Department. Claiming to be “the first television series shot entirely in New Jersey,” the show churned out 40 episodes in 40 days but lasted only a season. Still, it cast a stylistic shadow over future TV crime dramas.
“Bruce’s background was working class, like me,” said Frances McDormand, another longtime friend. “There was something about celebrating this in our work that was important to both of us. Bruce had a pride about where he’d come from that he carried with him and was even cocky about. It was very charismatic.”
Bruce James MacVittie was born in Providence on Oct. 14, 1956. His father, John James MacVittie, was a worker at the Narragansett Electric Company; his mother Olive (Castergine) MacVittie, was a homemaker.
Bruce grew up in Cranston, where he began to act in high school, and graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He moved to New York in 1979. Four years later, after understudying for the role of Bobby in the Pacino revival of “American Buffalo,” Mr. MacVittie took over the part on Broadway and ultimately performed it on a national tour and in the West End of London.
“Bruce carried this currency, especially for young actors then, like me, that he’d worked onstage with Pacino,” recalled actor Bobby Cannavale. “The fact that he’d elevated to that role as a ‘cover’ made it even more heroic.”
In 2011, Mr. MacVittie — after more than 75 film and television appearances, including 11 different roles on various “Law and Order” franchises; guest spots on “The Sopranos,” “Sex in the City,” and “Homicide”; innumerable theatrical roles, including his acclaimed performance as a displaced Cuban immigrant in Eduardo Machado’s “Havana is Waiting”; 10 seasons at the Eugene O’Neill Center Playwrights Conference in Connecticut; and an equal number of summers at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts — set aside his acting career to train as a nurse. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Hunter College in Manhattan in 2013.
In addition to his wife, he leaves a daughter, Sophia Oliva Ochs MacVittie. His first marriage ended in divorce. He lived in Manhattan.
Mr. MacVittie returned to acting in his last years, including in a featured role on Ava DuVernay’s lauded Netflix series, “The Way They See Us.” He confined his nursing activities to the palliative care of friends in need.
“I loved Bruce MacVittie,” Pacino said in an interview. “His performances were always glistening and crackling; a heart and a joy to watch. He was the embodiment of the struggling actor in New York City, and he made it work. We will miss him.”