A true milestone in TV history, The Sopranos celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. As part of the celebrations, three of its stars – Michael Imperioli, Steven Schirripa and Vincent Pastore – are touring Australia for a series of ‘In Conversation with The Sopranos’ nights. STACK had the great pleasure to speak with Imperioli, who many will know better as Christopher Moltisanti.
You’ve been in the mob, you’ve played cops, even an angel in Lucifer – so, which is most like the real you?
None of them [laughs]. None of them are like me! I don’t know if I’ve ever played anybody that was like me, to be honest. I mean, there are universal things and emotions that you feel, but the stories are unique to that character. Yeah, I wouldn’t say any are like me.
The Sopranos really was a game changer for incredible television drama, with hard-hitting, high-bar shows the likes of The Wire, Deadwood and Breaking Bad all following in its shadows. 20 years later it remains one of the all-time TV highlights. How do you feel about its legacy, and being a part of it?
It’s awesome. You know, it’s really been exciting this year, I mean this is the 20th anniversary so there’s been a lot of attention on the show. What’s been very cool is a whole generation of kids who were too young – hopefully – to see the show when it was first on, now are watching it and getting into it. Which, I’ll be honest, doesn’t happen with every show. Whether or not something’s going to have that kind of longevity to another generation is not a given, so that’s been really fun. Like 20-year-olds, 25-years-olds who were too young when it was on – and especially people who are into film and aspire to be in the business and stuff like that, I think they really, really get what we tried to do on the show.
Do you think that despite his many issues, there was still good in Christopher?
I think – that’s a good question – there were traits in him that I found admirable. Like, he was very ambitious and he was willing to work really hard. You know, good and evil is a whole other kind of moral judgment, but still he killed a lot of people and he was a thief and… But I like the fact, for instance, everyone always says, ‘Oh, I’ve got this great story, and I should be a writer, and my life is so interesting, and it would be great if I wrote this script, and blah blah blah’, but Christopher actually sat down and did the work, and learned how to write the script, and took classes in acting ‘cos he was interested in it. He was ambitious in wanting to rise up the ranks in the family, and he was willing to put the work in that was necessary to do that – and he also, I think, to some extent really loved his girlfriend and believed in love and wanted to make that work. But obviously we know what happened there…
There seemed to be some bits of your real life in the character of Christopher – from nods to roles in the likes of Goodfellas (the shot foot) to the scriptwriting. Were you just reading your next script one day and came across these, or did you have any sort of hand in it happening?
Well it was interesting, because in the pilot script, which was obviously written before David Chase wanted me or had met me, there were a few lines about Christopher telling Tony that he’d sold his story to Hollywood. That his cousin has a girlfriend who works in development in Hollywood, and if he sold his story he could make a lot of money, and I think Tony like smacks him in the head and says, ‘Just shut up, what are you thinkin’ about?’ So that aspect of Christopher was there before I got there, and before I did The Sopranos I was writing a screenplay with Spike Lee, and we actually shot Summer of Sam the first week that The Sopranos was shooting. So, I had been writing for a number of years. After the first season I really fell in love with the show. I fell in love with all the characters and the writing, so I wrote a sample script between season one and two, and I had David come to the premiere of Summer of Sam and a lot of what’s in that spec script was used in the episode that I first wrote, and I continued to write four more after that. So, whether or not that storyline increased because of my own interest as Michael, it’s hard to say yes or no. Probably – I mean I’m sure the more that he saw I was doing that made him lean into going that way. I mean maybe he had that planned out?
We’re guessing that the cast of The Sopranos was pretty tight – as evidenced by three of you touring together, just for starters…
The cast was very tight, I always say that doing The Sopranos was like walking down the street hanging out with your friends. One of the main reasons is that a lot of us knew each other before The Sopranos because the Italian American acting community in New York is not that big. I knew mostly everybody – I didn’t know Jim Gandolfini – but I knew Edie, I knew John Ventimiglia, I knew Vinnie Pastore, I knew Tony Sirico, I knew Lorraine Bracco and Dominic Chianese. Some of us, John Ventimiglia and Sharon Angela, were in acting school together when we were barely out of our teenage years. So that, factored in with the fact that the success just happened to all of us at once, really bonded us together. We just liked being around each other – still do.
“The cast was very tight, I always say that doing The Sopranos was like walking down the street hanging out with your friends.”
There was often a fun vein of humour in the show, despite all the drama. Do you have any particular funny memories from your time on the show that have really stuck in your memory?
One of the things that we had to do on The Sopranos a lot was eat. When you eat on camera you have to eat many, many, many times, right? Especially if it’s a complicated scene that took hour and hours. There were days when you wouldn’t want to look behind the scenes and see what went on when you had that much food all day long, like ten of us at once. It could get pretty ugly and horrific!
So, you’d eat a lot of cold food then?
They were pretty good about keeping it fresh, that was one thing they would be on top of. Things were usually of high quality, too – you know, it’s Italians making Italian food, so it had to be done right. But it doesn’t matter, when you eat that much it all becomes disgusting!
So, what’s been your favourite mob role – Goodfellas, The Sopranos or going up against Fat Tony in The Simpsons?
Oh, I did that for my kids, really. They were big fans, so I did that for them. But I don’t really like doing voice stuff, I find it very hard and I prefer acting with other people in life, I didn’t find that particularly rewarding or interesting, actually. You’re sitting in a studio, and you’re by yourself and you’re doing the voice stuff and it’s kind of antithetical to acting as I know it in a way, which is about communicating to the person that you’re acting with in the scene.
As an Italian American, how do you feel about the Italian American stereotypes that The Simpsons perpetuate in characters like Fat Tony and his crew?
I don’t know, they stopped doing the Apu character because people were offended, maybe they should stop doing the pizza guy too? I mean I’m not Indian, but to be honest I never thought of Apu as an offensive character – but maybe I would think otherwise if I was Indian American? I don’t particularly think Fat Tony, or Luigi the chef or whatever, is offensive, I get the joke. It’s a good question, they took Apu off the show, I guess they should take all the stereotypes off? It’s a cartoon, you know what I mean? If it was offensive then we’d feel it as offensive. But I can’t speak for Indian Americans, they might feel differently about it – maybe they feel discrimination on a different level? It’s an interesting argument though.
We love that the three of you touring Australia all have something in common, you all got whacked!
Well, that wasn’t so unique – being whacked was an occupational hazard!
The ‘In Conversation with The Sopranos’ dates are:
Saturday, May 25 – Enmore Theatre, Newtown NSW – TICKETS
Sunday, May 26 – The Star, Gold Coast QLD – TICKETS
Wednesday, May 29 – Crown Theatre, Perth WA – TICKETS
Thursday, May 30 – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA – TICKETS
Saturday, June 1 – Palais Theatre, St Kilda VIC – TICKETS