Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa really have delivered the “Definitive Oral History” of “The Sopranos” in their new book, “Woke Up This Morning”.
The tome weaves in interviews with dozens of cast and crew (and series creator David Chase) for an unprecedented, flat, behind-the-scenes look at the iconic crowd drama, airing on HBO’s 1999 to 2007 with star James Gandolfini as troubled North Jersey gangster Tony Soprano.
The nearly 500-page book, which borrows its title from the show’s theme song by Alabama 3, is comprised of interviews, both from “Talking Sopranos” – the popular podcast hosted by Imperioli and Schirripa – and from ‘more in-depth interviews with the duo. Imperioli played Tony’s “nephew”, Christopher Moltisanti; Schirripa played Tony’s (eventual) brother-in-law, Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri (both characters had bloody endings).
âThis is not a book on the podcast,â said Schirripa, 64, who told The Post about âWoke Up This Morningâ with Imperioli. âWe spoke to a lot of people again. There is so much material. On the podcast, we go scene by scene; in the book, it’s season by season, so it’s completely different.
âThis is the 50% plus podcast over. “
âWe went back to a lot of people and went further into the interviews,â said Imperioli, 55. âWe spoke to many members of the crew, who have specifically different views than the actors. Allen Coulter, who directed the college episode, which is one of the best – when Tony takes [daughter] pre [Jamie-Lynn Sigler] while on a college tour and kill a guy – said during the early years Jim never spoke to him. I did not know. Jim was very cold to him and one night Allen and his wife were at a play and Jim was thereâ¦ and suddenly they started talking. Jim apologized to him and they became very good friends from that point on.
“Jim”, of course, is the star of the James Gandolfini series, whose shadow looms large in the book. As it should be: Gandolfini, who died in 2013 at the age of 51 while on vacation in Italy, won three Emmy Awards for his nuanced performance as Tony Soprano, which balanced his two families – domestic and mafia – while seeing her shrink, Dr Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The book is dedicated to him.
âWe talk a lot about Jim,â Schirripa said. âHe was a great guy, not without flaws, but he was a great actor and a very generous guy financiallyâ¦ and as good as you think after watching ‘The Sopranos’ he was even better than that. same scene, he’s sad, he’s happy – it’s so layered, color after color, Jim was the leader in front of and behind the camera.
In one case, Gandolfini showed up, alone, at the funeral of a New Jersey police officer he did not know after the officer’s wife reached out and told Gandolfini that her husband was a big fan. Schirripa also said Gandolfini “paid off people’s mortgages” and “gave people money”, sometimes anonymously.
He was kind in other ways too.
“When they wanted Robert Iler [who played Tonyâs son, A.J.] to shave his eyebrows, Jim said, “I don’t think you want to do that.” They may not grow back. Speak. Another time, Robert Loggia [Feech La Manna] was struggling with his linesâ¦ and Jim sent his actor / dialect coach, Susan, to help him perform lines at night. He gave us $ 33,000 each, “Schirripa said, referring to the bonus Gandolfini handed over to 16” Sopranos “cast members after he had a contractual dispute with HBO (which was resolved) and said:” Thank you for staying with me.
Imperioli said Gandolfini “was more like the captain of the team” who looked after everyone and felt a huge responsibility for the cast and crew as the star of the series.
âHe wanted people to be appreciated and respected, not just the cast, but the crew as well,â he said. âHe and the crew had a special bond because they were there all the time. He would show his appreciation: he would bring a masseuse to the set and the team could have a massage for 20 minutes. Every Friday he would have a sushi chef prepare sushi for the crew or he would rent an ice cream truck.
âHe really appreciated the hard work behind the scenes of people who weren’t paid as much as the stars and didn’t have the opportunity to see their families, like him, for nine months out of the year. That was. very important to him. “
“Woke Up This Morning” is full of gossip about “The Sopranos” – and there is page after page of so far unpublished (and, in some cases, exclusive) information.
Steven Van Zandt almost played the role of Tony
Three actors were vying for the lead role of Tony Soprano: Gandolfini, Steven Van Zandt and Michael Rispoli. âThey all tested for the role of Tony and [series creator] David Chase wanted to give it to Stevie, âSchirripa said. “It played out on the wire, but HBO said no, they wanted a more experienced guy.” Van Zandt ended up playing Tony’s right-hand man, Silvio Dante; Rispoli played Jackie Aprile Sr.
Jerry Stiller was supposed to co-star in the series
“Seinfeld” star Jerry Stiller was originally hired to play Tony’s unofficial “consigliere” Hesh Rabkin. “He ended up backing down at the last minute because he got some publicity right before we started shooting the pilot,” Imperioli said. Jerry Adler continued to play Rabkin.
Lorraine Bracco turned down the role of Carmela
Bracco was initially offered the role of Carmela Soprano, but declined to play Tony’s conflicted wife. âShe said she made the ‘crowd woman’ in ‘Goodfellas’ and she didn’t want to do it again,â Imperioli said. Edie Falco took on the role and won three Emmy Awards as Carmella.
Many “Sopranos” co-stars initially auditioned for other roles
Tony Sirico was 55 and was sleeping on a cot in his mother’s living room in Brooklyn when he was cast as Paulie Walnuts – although he initially auditioned for the role of Uncle Junior (played by Dominic Chianese ). Chianese read for the role of Big Pussy and didn’t get the role – which went to Vincent Pastore, who was killed in season 2. “He never made a lot of money,” Schirripa said about Pastore. âThe show exploded after he left. It’s a blow, man.
There was almost a spin-off of the sitcom Bobby-Janice
“Michael [Imperioli] told me that David [Chase] thought of a spin-off, âThe Bacalas,â for a brief moment, âSchirripa said. “It would have been a half hour sitcom with myself and Aida [Turturro, as Bobby and Janice Baccalieri]. I did not know. And Pierre Riegert [Assemblyman Ronald Zellman] tells the story of how they wanted him to be naked when Tony whips him with a belt and he doesn’t want to. Jim came over and said, “I’ll do whatever you want.” This is the kind of generosity I’m talking about.