Sorvino was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City. His mother, Angela Maria Mattea (née Renzi), was a homemaker and piano teacher, who was born in Connecticut, of Italian (Molisan) descent. His father, Ford Sorvino, was an Italian (Neapolitan) immigrant who worked in a robe factory as a foreman. He attended Lafayette High School, where he was classmates with painter Peter Max, and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
He began his career as a copywriter in an advertising agency, where he worked with John Margeotes, founder of Margeotes, Fertitta, and Weiss. He took 18 years of voice lessons. While attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, he decided to go into the theatre. He made his Broadway debut in the 1964 musical Bajour, and six years later he appeared in his first film, Carl Reiner's Where's Poppa? starring George Segal and Ruth Gordon. In 1971, he played a supporting role in Jerry Schatzberg's critically acclaimed The Panic in Needle Park starring Al Pacino and Kitty Winn. He received an avalanche of critical praise for his performance as Phil Romano in Jason Miller's 1972 Broadway play That Championship Season, a role he repeated in the 1982 TCS film version. In a 1974 ABC Movie of the Week, he played Harry Walters, a stout real estate salesman, who is randomly picked up by a beautiful woman (JoAnna Cameron) and raped at gunpoint as a prank, and left to explain to his friend (Adam Arkin) and wife (Michael Learned) how It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy, a movie considered risqué, even for the '70s. He also appeared in the 1976 Elliott Gould/Diane Keaton vehicle I Will, I Will... for Now. He has starred in the weekly series We'll Get By (1975, as George Platt), Bert D'Angelo/Superstar (1976, in the title role) and The Oldest Rookie (1987, as Detective Ike Porter). He also directed Wheelbarrow Closers, a 1976 Broadway play by Louis La Russo II, which starred Danny Aiello.
In 1981, Sorvino played the role of Italian-American Communist Louis C. Fraina in Warren Beatty's epic film Reds. He appeared in Larry Cohen's 1985 science fiction horror film The Stuff as a reclusive militia leader, alongside his future Law & Order co-star Michael Moriarty. He helped found the American Stage Company, a group that launched several successful Off-Broadway shows, while living in Tenafly, New Jersey in 1986.
In 1991, he took on the role of Sergeant Phil Cerreta (replacing actor George Dzundza in a new role) on the popular series Law & Order. Sorvino was initially excited about the role, but would leave after 29 episodes, citing the exhausting schedule demanded by the filming of the show, a need to broaden his horizons, and the desire to preserve his vocal cords for singing opera. Sorvino's exit from the series came in an episode in which Sgt. Cerreta was shot in the line of duty and transferred to an administrative position in another precinct. He was replaced on the show by Jerry Orbach (as Detective Lennie Briscoe).
In 1993, Sorvino subbed for the late Raymond Burr in a Perry Mason TV movie. He earlier appeared as Bruce Willis' father in the weekly series Moonlighting, and the "Lamont" counterpart in the never-aired original pilot for Sanford and Son. Some of his most notable film roles were caporegime Paul Cicero in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) and Henry Kissinger in Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995). In addition to Goodfellas, Sorvino also played mob bosses Eddie Valentine in The Rocketeer and Tony Morolto in The Firm.
Sorvino founded the Paul Sorvino Asthma Foundation, with the goal of building asthma centers for children and adults across the United States. In 1998, he narrated the series "The Big House" for The History Channel. In 1999, he directed and again starred in (albeit playing a different role) a lower-budget TV version of That Championship Season, which was written by his friend Jason Miller.
He also lent his voice in Hey Arnold!: The Movie as the main antagonist, Mr. Scheck, the evil CEO of Future Tech Industries who wants to convert Arnold's neighborhood into a huge shopping mall.
From 2000 to 2002, he had a starring role as Frank DeLucca in the CBS television drama That's Life. He also starred in the CBS comedy Still Standing as Al Miller, father to Bill (Mark Addy).
He filmed The Trouble with Cali in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania. He is directing and starring in the film which is partially funded by Lackawanna County, of which the city of Scranton is the county seat. His daughter, Mira, also stars in the film. He co-ventured with Peter Margo, the founder of Palmer Video, to form CareFromAll.org to raise funds for his charity.
Sorvino played GeneCo founder Rotti Largo in the 2008 musical film Repo! The Genetic Opera. Working with Repo! director Darren Lynn Bousman again, Sorvino plays God in The Devil's Carnival, a short film screened on tour beginning in April, 2012.
Sorvino lives between Los Angeles and Gilbert, Pennsylvania (in the Pocono Mountains). He has three children: Mira, Michael, and Amanda from his first marriage with Lorraine Davis.
On January 17, 2007, news reports detailed that he displayed a gun in front of Daniel Snee, ex-boyfriend of his daughter Amanda, after the man pounded on her hotel door and made threats. Amanda testified that Snee threatened to kill her at a hotel on January 3 in Stowe, Vermont. She said she locked herself in the bathroom and called both police and her father. Her 67-year-old father showed up before police, she testified. When police arrived, the young man was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, she said. As a deputy sheriff in Pennsylvania, Sorvino was legally authorized to carry a gun in different states. He did not point the gun at Snee or threaten him.
In March 2008, Sorvino and his daughter Amanda lobbied with the Americans Against Horse Slaughter in Washington, D.C., for Congress and the Senate to Pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S311/HR503). The Sorvinos run a private horse rescue in Gilbert, Pennsylvania.
He is also an accomplished sculptor, specializing in cast bronze. In December 2008 his sculpture of his friend, the late playwright Jason Miller, was unveiled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In addition, he guest starred on the 2008 album of Neapolitan singer Eddy Napoli, Napulitanata, performing a duet of the song "Luna Rossa."
In 2007, Sorvino launched "Paul Sorvino Foods", to market a range of pasta sauces. Based on his mother's recipe, product began appearing in supermarkets in the northeastern United States in late 2009. Three years later, Sorvino became part owner in Janson-Beckett Cosmeceuticals.
In December 2014, Sorvino married political pundit Denessa Purvis "Dee Dee" Benkie after meeting her on Neil Cavuto's Fox News program Your World With Neil Cavuto.
In 2005, Sorvino partnered with Lackawanna County to film The Trouble with Cali in Scranton, Pennsylvania. An initial investment by the county of $250,000 was followed by a second $250,000 in 2006. The project drew criticism and media attention over the long production time and apparent lack of progress, and the fact that the county did not protect its investment, which was carried out by county commissioners that were under indictment for corruption, with a completion bond. The Trouble with Cali debuted February 21, 2012, at the Sedona Film Festival, with former Lackawanna County commissioner Robert Cordaro listed as a producer only four weeks after his 11-year sentencing on public corruption charges.
By March 2015, Sorvino had yet to strike a deal with a distributor for the film. He told local reporters that Lackawanna County would receive the first payouts if the film made money. "I'd like to see that money back myself, but first I want to see (Lackawanna County) paid," he said. "If it makes money, (Lackawanna County) makes money." At that time, he said a Canadian company was interested in distributing the film, but would not give the name of the company. Days later he claimed the deal with this company fell through after negative publicity from the local paper.Where's Poppa? (1970) - Owner of 'Gus & Grace's Home'
Cry Uncle! (1971) - Coughing Cop
Made for Each Other (1971) - Gig's Father
The Panic in Needle Park (1971) - Samuels
Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972) - Taxi Driver
A Touch of Class (1973) - Walter Menkes
The Day of the Dolphin (1973) - Curtis Mahoney
Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue (1974) - Ring
King Lear (TV) (1974) - Gloucester
Tell Me Where It Hurts (TV) (1974) - Joe
The Gambler (1974) - Hips
It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy (1974) - Harry Walters
Angel and Big Joe (1975) - Big Joe
We'll Get By (TV series) (1975) - George Platt
I Will, I Will... for Now (1976) - Lou Springer
Bert D'Angelo / Superstar (TV series) (1976)
Seventh Avenue (1977) (TV) - Dave Shaw
Oh, God! (1977) - Reverend Willie Williams
Bloodbrothers (1978) - Louis "Chubby" De Coco
Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978) - Lou Friedlander
The Brink's Job (1978) - Jazz Maffie
Dummy (1979) (TV) - Lowell Myers
Lost and Found (1979) - Reilly
Cruising (1980) - Capt. Edelsen
Reds (1981) - Louis Fraina
Melanie (1982) - Walter
I, the Jury (1982) - Detective Pat Chambers
A Question of Honor (1982) (TV) - Carlo Danzie
That Championship Season (1982) - Phil Romano
Off the Wall (1983) - Warden Nicholas F. Castle
Chiefs (1983) (TV) - Sheriff Skeeter Willis
My Mother's Secret Life (1984) (TV) - Max
With Intent to Kill (1984) (TV) - Doyle Reinecker
Surviving: A Family in Crisis (1985) (TV) - Harvey
Wes Craven's Chiller (1985) - Reverend Penny
The Stuff (1985) - Col. Spears
Turk 182! (1985) - Himself
Betrayed by Innocence (1986) (TV) - Mike Vogel
A Fine Mess (1986) - Tony Pazzo
Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986) - Gino
Moonlighting (1986; TV series - episode 'The Son Also Rises') - David Addison Sr.
Almost Partners (1987) (TV) - Detective Jack Welder
The Oldest Rookie (TV series) (1987–1988) - Det. Ike Porter
Murder She Wrote (TV series) (1989) - Al Sidell
Dick Tracy (1990) - Lips Manlis
Goodfellas (1990) - Paul Cicero
Age Isn't Everything (1991) - Max
Don't Touch My Daughter (1991) (TV) - Lt. Willman
The Rocketeer (1991) - Eddie Valentine
The Last Mile (1992) (TV) - The Tenor
Law & Order (TV series) (1991–1992) - Sgt. Phil Cerreta
The Firm (1993) - Tommie Morolto (uncredited)
A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Wicked Wives (1993) (TV) - Anthony Caruso
Backstreet Justice (1994) - Captain Phil Giarusso
Star Trek: The Next Generation (Episode: Homeward) (1994) - Nikolai Rozhenko
Parallel Lives (1994) (TV) - Ed Starling
Without Consent (aka Trapped and Deceived) (1994) (TV) - Dr. Winslow
Cover Me (1995) - J.J. Davis
Nixon (1995) - Henry Kissinger
Dog Watch (1996) - Delgoti
Love Is All There Is (1996) - Piero Malacici
Escape Clause (1996) (TV) - Lt. Gil Farrand
Romeo + Juliet (1996) - Fulgencio Capulet
Blue Heat: The Case of the Cover Girl Murders (Video game) (1997) - J.J. Davis
American Perfekt (1997) - Sheriff Frank Noonan
Money Talks (1997) - Guy Cipriani
Men with Guns (1997) - Horace Burke
Joe Torre: Curveballs Along the Way (1997) - Joe Torre
Most Wanted (1997) - CIA Deputy Director Kenny Rackmill
Dead Broke (1998) - Harvey
Bulworth (1998) - Graham Crockett
The Big House (TV series) (1998) - Narrator
Knock Off (1998) - Harry Johanson
Houdini (1998) (TV) - Blackburn
That Championship Season (1999) (TV) - Coach (also Director)
Harlem Aria (1999) - Fabiano Grazzi
Scriptfellas (1999) - Paulie
Longshot (2000) - Laszlo Pryce
Cheaters (2000) (TV) - Constantine Kiamos
The Thin Blue Lie (2000) (TV) - Frank Rizzo
The Amati Girls (2000) - Joe
That's Life (TV series) (2000–2002) - Frank DeLucca
Perfume (2001) - Lorenzo Mancini
See Spot Run (2001) - Sonny
Plan B (2001) - Joe Maloni
Streghe verso nord (Witches to the North) (2001) - Gallio
Ciao America (2002) - Antonio Primavera
Hey Arnold!: The Movie (2002) - Scheck (voice only)
The Cooler (2003) - Buddy Stafford
Mafia Doctor (2003) - Nicola
Mambo Italiano (2003) - Gino Barberini
Mr. 3000 (2004) - Gus Panas
Goodnight, Joseph Parker (2004) - Charlie
Still Standing (TV series) (2004–2006) - Al Miller
Mr. Fix It (2006) - Wally
Greetings From The Shore (2007) - Catch Turner
Last Hour (2008) - Maitre Steinfeld
Carnera - The Walking Mountain (2008) - Ledudal
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) - Rotti Largo
The Wild Stallion (2009)
Doc West (2009)
Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe (2009) - Santa
God Don't Make the Laws (2011) - Lewis
Kill the Irishman (2011) - "Fat" Tony Salerno
Night Club (2011) - Himself
Mineville (2011) - Jacob Laremy
The Devil's Carnival (2012) - God
Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012)
Imaginary Friend (2012)
Divorce Invitation (2012)
4Closed (2013) - Bud
Once Upon a Time in Queens (2013) - Mr. Joe
Elementary (TV series) (2014) - Robert Pardillo
The Goldbergs (2014) (TV)- Pop-Pop
No Deposit (2015) - Alfie
Sicilian Vampire (2015) - Jimmy Scambino
Hybrids (2015) - The Count
The Bronx Bull (film) (2015) - Martin Guigui
The Red Maple Leaf (2016)
Rules Don't Apply (2016) - Vernon Scott
The Brooklyn Banker (2016) - Benny Musacchia
The Making of the Mob: Chicago (2016) - Himself
Detours (2016) - Joe DiMaria
Undercover Grandpa (2017)
The Last Poker Game (2017)
Bad Blood (TV series) (2017) - Nicolo Rizzuto