Povinelli was born in Elyria, Ohio, and is the youngest of four children. His parents and siblings are average-size. He is of Italian descent. Povinelli graduated from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Wheaton, Maryland in 1989, and then graduated in 1993 from Miami University (as a member of Kappa Alpha Order) with a degree in Mass Communications and a minor in Theatre Acting. His repertory encompasses drama, comedy, and fantasy. He has appeared in a wide range of productions, from stage plays by William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson to roles in television series such as Modern Family and Boardwalk Empire, as well as in popular movies including The Polar Express (2004, directed by Robert Zemeckis). Onstage in 2003 in Lee Breuer's production of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, retitled Mabou Mines DollHouse, Povinelli drew praise from The New York Times: "The men embody small-minded convention and stunted possibilities...Mr. Povinelli makes us feel Torvald's repressive sexual virility at every turn." He has characterized his approach to acting for The Village Voice: "Being so tremendously different provides you with an analytical depth ... Like any actor, I try to bring as much of myself to the role I'm playing as possible. Every day I go out I'm made aware of my size. Why should I deny myself the richness of that experience when I go onstage?"