Robert Davi was born in Astoria, Queens, New York, the son of Maria (née Rulli) and Sal Davi on 26th June 1953. His mother was an Italian American and his father was a native of Southern Italy; Davi spoke Italian during his childhood and attended Seton Hall, a Catholic high school in Patchogue, New York. He has two sisters, Yvonne Davi (deceased), and Michelle (Davi) Queal. He graduated from Hofstra University, the alma mater of fellow James Bond villain Christopher Walken. Davi was drawn to Hofstra because of the University’s strong drama department as well as its unique reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Davi made his motion picture debut in Contract On Cherry Street, in which he shared the screen with Frank Sinatra. He subsequently worked with Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Benicio del Toro, James Franco,Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, and Roberto Benigni, among others. He has appeared in movies including The Goonies, Die Hard, Showgirls, Son of the Pink Panther, and in the Bond film Licence to Kill (1989) as the villain Franz Sanchez, a South American drug lord and murderer.
On television, he made appearances in TJ Hooker, The A Team, Charlie’s Angels, Hunter, The Equaliser, L.A. Law and later starred as Commander Acastus Kolya on Stargate Atlantis, appeared in two-part episodes of Criminal Minds, and played Supervisory Special Agent Bailey Malone of the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force in 88 episodes of his own NBC series, Profiler. In 1989, Davi appeared as Mafia Albert Cerrico on the television series Wiseguy, in the 10 episode Mafia arc titled Garbage Wars. He also sang in the first installment of the arc, called Le Lacrime de Amore Part I.
In 2007, Davi made his directorial debut with The Dukes, a parable regarding the mid-2000 economic crisis and its impact. In addition to Davi, the film stars Chazz Palminteri and Peter Bogdanovich. The Dukes was selected for the premiere section at the Rome Film Festival, along with films by Francis Ford Coppola, Sean Penn, Robert Redford, Sidney Lumet, and Gavin Hood. Davi was the only first-time director in the premiere section. At the Monte Carlo Comedy Film Festival, the film received awards for best first-time director and best screenplay. Later, The Dukes was invited to the Alpe d’Huez International Comedy Film Festival in France, among other festivals.
In 2011, Davi appeared alongside Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken in the gangster movie Kill the Irishman. The film, in which Davi played Mafia hitman Ray Ferritto, is a biopic of Danny Greene, an Irish-American mob boss who warred with the Cleveland crime family during the 1970s. Released the same year, he was also in Game of Death with Wesley Snipes. He followed up these projects with crime thriller The Iceman (2012), co-starring alongside Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder and Ray Liotta.
In 2014, Davi appeared as Goran Vata in The Expendables 3. In 2015, Davi appeared in a music video for Bob Dylan’s recording of “The Night They Called It A Day”, from Dylan’s album Shadows In The Night, a selection of songs which had been recorded by Frank Sinatra. Rolling Stone suggested that Davi’s role in the video may be a nod towards Davi’s having made his acting debut alongside Sinatra in the crime film Contract on Cherry Street, and Davi’s release of his own album of Sinatra covers.