His first big break came when Robert De Niro saw him (and Turturro) in an off-Broadway production of a Sam Shepard play, leading to a small speaking role in "Raging Bull" (1980). His acting career was slow to take off, however, and over the next decade and a half he continued to work behind-the-scenes, often doing double duty by playing bit roles for directors like John Badham and Nora Ephron.
Dark-haired and slightly pudgy, Badalucco had the perfect "look" for the character bits as policemen, drivers, food workers and other assorted blue collar personnel in which he was cast. College buddy Turturro, however, came to the rescue by casting him as the garrulous middle brother in an Italian family of construction workers in Turturro's directorial debut, "Mac" (1992). Badalucco shone in the role, particularly in a humorous monologue about the importance of a man's charisma and size in his appeal to women. He brought the same gifts to the thankless role as the oldest virgin in his neighborhood in the uneven comedy "The Search for One-Eyed Jimmy" (lensed in 1993; released in 1996). While playing yet another cop in "One Fine Day" (also 1996), Badalucco caught the attention of star Michelle Pfeiffer who in turn recommended him to her husband, writer-producer David E Kelley. Badalucco had auditioned for a small role in "The Practice" (ABC, 1997- ), one of Kelley's proposed legal dramas. But after Pfeiffer's intervention, Kelley tailored the part of Jimmy Berluti to the actor's unique gifts. Introduced as a slightly shifty, scrappy lawyer with questionable morals and little courtroom experience, the character has gradually shifted to one of the moral centers of the staff in part because of Badalucco's natural charm. He went on to portray the notorious 'Son of Sam' killer David Berkowitz in Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam" (1999) and offered a fine cameo as George ("don't call me Baby Face") Nelson in the Coen brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000). The following year, he reteamed with the Coens to play a barber in the noirish drama "The Man Who Wasn't There".