When Robert De Niro had trouble finding a suitable actor to portray Eddie Mush, he asked Chazz Palminteri if they could find the real Eddie Mush to play himself. They found Eddie Montanaro in the same neighborhood still losing bets. After casting him, they became worried that Eddie Mush would "jinx" the film. On Montanaro's first day of filming, it rained.
The story, written by Chazz Palminteri, is adapted from his autobiographical one-man play. His real name is Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri. Several studios approached him to purchase the film rights, with at least one offering one million dollars, but Palminteri refused to sell to them unless he could write the screenplay, and play the role of Sonny. None of the studios agreed as they wanted to hire another actor. Then Robert De Niro offered to go into a 50/50 partnership, with all of Palminteri's conditions met, as long as De Niro could direct and play Lorenzo. Palminteri agreed, and their contract was sealed on a handshake.
Casting scouts searched around New York City and Long Island for a teenager to play the role of Calogero. A scout noticed Lillo Brancato on Jones Beach. For most of his childhood, Brancato had done impersonations of Robert De Niro and was often told that he resembled De Niro. When he performed an impersonation for the scout, she immediately cast him.
Although it was "A Bronx Tale", virtually all of it was filmed in Astoria and Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. It was easier to capture the period in those locations where many buildings from the 1920s, to the 50s; still stood.
Kathrine Narducci brought her nine-year-old son to the open casting call to audition for the role of young Calogero. When she saw that the role of Calogero's mother was available, she asked if she could also audition, and got the part.
In the biker bar fight scene, a curly haired character with a goatee is often mistaken for an early cameo appearance of Rob Schneider. This is actually a real New York City member of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club.
The original 1988 Broadway production of "A Bronx Tale" by Chazz Palminteri re-opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre on October 25, 2007, ran for one hundred eleven performances, and closed on February 24, 2008. Chazz still performs "A Bronx Tale" as his one-man play in approximately twenty-five cities a year.
At one point in the film, Sonny tells Calogero that he read "Niccolo Machiavelli" during his time in prison. He later tells Calogero how he runs his gang, that he'd rather be feared than loved, because Fear lasts longer than love. Sonny then goes on to stress it's important not to give his people so little that fear crosses over into hatred. This concept of leadership stems directly from Machiavelli's most famous book, "The Prince". Chazz says it's better for Chazz to be loved, but for Sonny to be feared.
Robert De Niro had to get a commercial driver's license, class"B" with a "passenger" endorsement to drive the buses in the movie. Boston, Massachusetts MBTA turned him down for training for his commercial driver's license, citing he was not an employee. NYCTA happily instructed him, and he received his commercial driver's license, class "B" with air brakes and "passenger" endorsement for this movie.
According to an interview with Lillo Brancato on 20/20 (1978), he began using drugs during the making of this film. He stated that the first time he used drugs was right before the scene in which Calogero asks Sonny, "Is it better to be loved or feared?" Palminteri and De Niro cautioned Brancato numerous times, but to no avail.
The actors who play the Italian-American Calogero are Partially of Latin American descent. Francis Capra is of half-Dominican descent. Lillo Brancato is of Colombian descent, and was adopted by an Italian family.
The fictional motorcycle gang "Satan's Messengers" is based on the notorious and real Hell's Angels. There have been dozens of fictionalized versions to the Hell's Angels in movies and on television shows with convoluted variations on their name. Here, in this movie, the word "messenger" comes closest to the true intent of the real name. The literal translation of the Greek word "aggelos" from which the word "angel" is derived, means "messenger".
The horse designated in the stock footage as "Kryptonite" (in the Aqueduct scene) per the jockey's silks, was owned by Harbor View Farms. Harbor View Farms owned and campaigned Triple Crown winner Affirmed.