WORD TO THE WISEGUYS
As Tony Soprano, the late, great James Gandolfini gave the performance of a lifetime. He was also handed some juicy lines by a team of crack writers . . . This whole war could have been averted: cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this
It’s not a nursing home: it’s a retirement community! Why don’t you get the fuck outta here before I shove your quotations book up your fat fuckin’ ass!
When you’re married, you’ll understand the importance of fresh produce
They say every day’s a gift, but why does it have to be a pair of socks? You don’t shit where you eat; and you especially don’t shit where I eat
It’s not a retirement community: it’s a nursing home!!
1 Apr–31 May 2020 THE LIST 50
‘Someone once said to Michael that their son had a heroin addiction, so how did he beat his?’ recalls Schirripa. ‘Well, he just had to tell them that he wasn’t a drug addict, his character Christopher was. And some have asked us questions about the mob, and they’ve said to Vinnie, “how could you become a rat?” Well, it wasn’t him, it was Big Pussy. They get a little confused at times.’ There’s no confusion when both Imperioli and Schirripa discuss the merits of their show’s boss, creator David Chase. ‘Three things make him a singular talent,’ states Imperioli. ‘He has a really out-of-the- box imagination. He has a tremendous sense of humour. And he has incredible attention to very minute detail, leaving nothing to chance.’ ‘He was very hands-on and involved in every aspect of the show,’ adds Schirripa. ‘He was in the writers’ room and he was involved in the casting; nothing got by him. David put a lot of people with similar backgrounds together and the writing was incredible. And here we are: the show really holds up 20 years after the first episode aired, and not a day goes by without someone stopping me to ask a question or call me Bobby.’
In different ways, both actors were pushed to the limits at moments across the show. ‘I always had a tough time when Christopher got violent with Adriana,’ admits Imperioli of some horrible scenes with Drea de Matteo, the actress who played his long-term girlfriend. ‘We became very good friends, so that kind of stuff is hard; it’s a hard place to go to, and every time that happened it was difficult.’
Schirripa describes himself as being ‘a bit green’ when he arrived onto The Sopranos in its second season, and his lack of experience doing drama meant that emotional scenes were tricky for him to pull off. Luckily he had his own teacher on set in the shape of Dominic Chianese whose CV includes the part of Johnny Ola in The Godfather Part II. As Uncle Junior Soprano, Chianese played a senior mob figure with a short temper who ruthlessly cut off relations with a long-term partner after she gossiped about his talent for oral sex. ‘Dominic was very patient with me,’ recalls Schirripa. ‘He’s soothing, sweet and nice, not some crazy guy throwing shit around. We talked a lot about acting and he became a mentor to me all those years we worked together.’
Both Imperioli and Schirripa also bonded with James Gandolfini (pictured), the beloved actor and activist who died in 2013. ‘He gave a shit about people and he was nothing like Tony Soprano,’ says Schirripa. ‘He wasn’t a gangster, he wore Birkenstocks and he loved music. Lots of people thought he would be like Tony Soprano in real life, but he wouldn’t go onto any talk shows and prove to them that he wasn’t like that. He was shy when it came to that; he didn’t think he was interesting enough.’
‘He was just a very good friend,’ notes Imperioli. ‘I acted with him more than I had done with any other actor and probably will ever again. He always gave 100%, really committed himself to every scene and raised the bar for everyone. I miss him a lot.’ There’s one memory that Schirripa has of working with Gandolfini that leaves him wincing to this very day. The pair had a big fight scene in a final-season episode after Tony insulted Bobby’s wife one time too many during a drunken party. ‘That took a day and a half to shoot, and I was extremely sore for days afterwards. This wasn’t Steven Seagal, it was a real fight scene because that’s how two fat sweaty guys fight.’
The live show is designed to reveal as much of the inner workings of The Sopranos as they are allowed, and some myths might be busted along the way. For example, did Schirripa really wear a fatsuit for the role as Bobby? ‘I wore one for the first two seasons I was there, but in the next season I must have got fat enough on my own because they made me take it off. There are two versions of that suit: initially it was a makeshift one and the next year it was a nice costume. I still have that one in my garage in California. Maybe I’ll bring it over to the UK.’
In Conversation With The Sopranos, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Tue 12 May; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 13 May; the Talking Sopranos podcast is due to launch in April; prequel movie The Many Saints of Newark is due for release in the autumn; The Sopranos is available to watch on NOW TV.