Family & Companions
"Hey, I'm short and sorta fat. I can make people laugh. That's about it" is how character actor Ernie Sabella describes himself. A specialist in low-level sleaze and surliness, he has spiced up productions on stage, TV, and increasingly, on the big screen. Sabella established himself on Broadway and regional theater before becoming a familiar TV face in sitcoms, busted pilots, and occasional TV dramas since the mid-1980s. Teen sitcom cultists may remember him as the cheesy building super who continually attempted to thwart junior grifter Jason Bateman on the uproarious "It's Your Move" (NBC, 1984-85). Sabella has also managed to amass an impressive list of guest spots including a subway nudist in a memorable "Seinfeld" outing; a member of the Short Guys Club who demands an apology from "Murphy Brown"; and a P.I. hired by Norm to follow his possibly errant wife on "Cheers."
Sabella worked with rising stage star Nathan Lane in the acclaimed 1992 Broadway revival of "Guys and Dolls." While the musical was still in rehearsals, the pair insisted on reading together for two roles in Disney's "The Lion King" (1994)--and the results were deemed magical. Sabella and Lane were given free rein to improvise and both their expressive vocal and physical mannerisms were incorporated into the animation. Sabella was Pumbaa the flatulent warthog to Lane's Timon the meercat. The scene-stealing comedy team was also a hit on the road as they promoted the latest Disney behemoth. Sabella had previously appeared in just a few small film roles but several other assignments quickly followed, including Robert Redford's period TV drama, "Quiz Show," and the family drama "Roommates" (both 1994).
Cast (Feature Film)
TV debut, playing a troll in "13 Thirteenth Avenue", an unsold horror-comedy pilot
Feature debut, "City Heat", starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds
TV series debut as a regular, "It's Your Move"; played Lou Donatelli on the NBC sitcom
Cast as a regular character, Vito Carteri, on the short-lived (two episodes) sitcom, "Roxie"
Cast as a regular character, George Shipman, on the short-lived comedy-adventure, "A Fine Romance"
While "Guys and Dolls" was still in rehearsals, auditioned for "The Lion King" role of Pumbaa the warthog with Nathan Lane performing Timon the meerkat
Worked with actor Nathan Lane in the Broadway production of "Guys and Dolls"; played Harry the Horse
First substantial feature role, the voice of Pumbaa in Disney's blockbuster animated feature, "The Lion King"
Succeeded Lane as the star of a series of Nyquil TV ads (on Lane's recommendation)
Co-starred with Lane in Broadway revival of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
Made cameo appearance in "Mousehunt", starring Lane
Replaced Joel Grey in the role of Amos Hart in the Broadway revival of "Chicago"; co-starred with his brother David who was featured as Little Mary Sunshine