If You Can Quote The Rules, Then You Can Obey Them. The Sopranos Revealed
One Last Request
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One of the main conflicts throughout The Sopranos premier season was between Tony Soprano and his mother, Livia. Interestingly enough, Sopranos creator David Chase had originally planned on killing off Livia at the end of the first season. Those plans were changed, however, when Nancy Marchand (Livia) approached Chase with a request to keep working. Marchand was battling cancer at the time, so Chase decided to honor Marchand’s wish.
Not Meant For Television
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While rumors of a Sopranos movie persisted throughout the shows tenure, many may not realize that Sopranos creator David Chase originally sought a movie deal for his brainchild. Similar to a major plot line early on, the pitched movie focused on a mobster whom entered therapy due to problems with his mother. Thankfully, Chase’s manager convinced him to consider television instead.
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While David Chase lovingly extended Nancy Marchand’s role on the show, the creator and his team had to get creative when Marchand lost her battle with cancer. Marchand passed away whilst filming her final storyline. Unfinished, showrunner’s decided to CGI Marchand’s head onto a body double in order to complete her narrative. Needless to say, the scenes did not sit well with many critics.
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The dynamic between Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi became an integral part of the series. With so much time dedicated to the pair, it is no surprise to find out that Melfi’s character was inspired by a woman in David Chase’s life. When Chase began to flesh out his idea for The Sopranos, he was actively seeing a therapist. Chase went as far as saying that his therapist not only influenced the character of Dr. Melfi, but became involved in furthering the character’s psyche.
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Ray Liotta and the mafia go hand-in-hand thanks to his work in Goodfellas. It wouldn’t have been a stretch to envision Liotta as a part of the Sopranos universe, but the actor wasn’t up for the task. Initially offered a part, Liotta turned the gig down because he knew the show would be focused on Tony Soprano. The accomplished actor acknowledged that his ego was “as big as anybody’s” and that “there was no way I was gonna shine.”
Lorraine Bracco’s Decision
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As previously discussed, Lorraine Bracco’s character, Dr. Malfi, was incredibly important to the series. However, the Sopranos producers originally had a different vision for Bracco. Producers sought Bracco’s talents for the role of Carmela Soprano, Tony’s wife. Bracco decided that she would rather play the role of Tony’s therapist — a decision that would net her four Emmy nominations and three Golden Globe nominations. Good choice, Ms. Bracco.
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Considered one of the greatest shows of all-time, it makes sense that those in charge with creating The Sopranos would go on to enjoy great success. Tim Van Patten — who directed a series-leading 20 episodes — has also directed episodes of Game of Thrones, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire. Matthew Weiner created Mad Men. Terence Winter developed the smash-hit Boardwalk Empire. Even the great Steve Buscemi got in on the action, directing four episodes. It is no wonder The Sopranos did well.
Fit For The Role
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Once you appear in one mobster role, there is a high likelihood that you will be cast in another. According to IMDb, an astounding 28 cast members appeared in both The Sopranos and Goodfellas. Six were regulars (Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Frank Vincent, Joseph R. Gannascoli), ten more were recurring characters, and the remaining 11 actors made only one appearance. Ray Liotta wasn’t kidding about having too big of an ego…
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It’s a good thing David Chase didn’t get his way when it came to casting the role of Tony Soprano. Chase was determined to cast Steven Van Zandt — guitar player of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and a man with zero experience acting. While Chase was eventually convinced to hire James Gandolfini for the role of Tony, Van Zandt was brought on to play the character Silvio Dante. Van Zandt performed well, but Gandolfini was the clear choice to play Tony.
Life Without Michael
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Christopher Moltisanti, one of The Sopranos most recognizable and beloved characters, was brought to life by the talented Michael Imperioli. And while it is hard to imagine the show without Imperioli, the actor didn’t believe he had done enough to get the job. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Imperioli stated, “I met with David (Chase). I thought he hated my audition, because David’s a poker-faced guy. He kept giving me notes and giving me direction, and I walked out of there, and I was like, ‘I blew that one.'”
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Due to the name Sopranos, a main concern amongst HBO executives was that the audience would be misled. It was reasonable to expect some may believe the show was about music. So, in order to get the true theme of the show across, executives decided to replace the ‘R’ in Sopranos with an image of a gun. Bada-bing.
Moving Up In The World
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If you blinked, you would have missed it. In the pilot episode of The Sopranos, Drea de Matteo appeared as a hostess for a brief exchange. Although de Matteo originally read for the role of Adriana La Cerva, the actress was deemed “not Italian enough” to land the role. In a sudden role reversal, de Matteo was introduced as Christopher’s girlfriend during the second episode. Her exaggerated annunciations won over the production team as well as the audience.
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If you watched The Sopranos, you remember Bada-Bing. The famed gentleman’s club in which many conversations took place became a quick fixture on the show. And while HBO utilized sound stages at Silvercup Studios in Queens for parts of the show, every scene featuring Bada-Bing were shot at Satin Dolls, a gentleman’s club in New Jersey.
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One of the main reasons why The Sopranos succeeded was due to the show’s authentic feel. In fact, FBI agents informed Sopranos‘ higher-ups that legitimate mafia members believed the HBO team had somebody on the inside giving them information. The mobsters were allegedly so up-to-date with the show, that they could be heard discussing The Sopranos on wire taps in the days following an episode.
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In today’s media landscape we have seen networks go to great lengths to prevent show’s like Game of Thrones from being spoiled. David Chase had a similar mindset when it came to The Sopranos. While it was far less likely for an outside entity to spoil a show at that time, Chase made sure even his own cast and crew were left in the dark. In order to keep big moments a secret, Chase would have multiple versions of the same scene filmed — leaving the cast, crew, and media members unsure of what would ultimately reach the air.
The First Of Its Kind
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Before The Sopranos broke through in 2004, not one cable television series took home an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. The series earned a multitude of nominations throughout its tenure, but somehow failed to win the Emmy despite being up for the award five times previously. The Sopranos would go on to win the award for a second time in 2007 — the show’s final season.
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Paulie Walnuts was one of the show’s most convincing characters — and for good reason. Before becoming an actor, Tony Sirico became well known to local law enforcement. The Sopranos star had an unbelievable 28 arrests on his criminal record. During his final prison stint, Sirico was inspired by a group of ex-con actors to take a swing at the profession. Another fun tidbit — Sirico only agreed to play Paulie once he was assured his character would never become a ‘rat.’
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Much like you and me, Tony Soprano was most relaxed while at home. Soprano was often seen wearing shorts during his well-known backyard parties. However, when a real-life mobster called James Gandolfini and told him to never wear shorts onscreen again, the show took note. “A don doesn’t wear shorts.”
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Due to the massive success of the show and the weight of being the main character, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the stress ultimately got to James Gandolfini. While filming in 2002, Gandolfini allegedly disappeared for four days. Panic set in (understandably so) and production was halted. To the relief of everyone, Gandolfini got in touch after four days and continued on with the show.
All About The Benjamins
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The Sopranos operated like a machine. In lieu of its popularity, cast members believed they were being underpaid towards the end of the show’s run. Following the conclusion of season four, production on the upcoming season was delayed due to the cast sharing its opinion. In an effort to calm the situation, Gandolfini opted to split his bonus amongst the regulars, giving each person $33,333. Talk about a team player.