A show about the mob has entertainment gold written all over it. The Sopranos turned out to be one of the greatest television shows of our era, and the funny part is that it started out as a movie pitch. Here are some little-known facts about the hit series, and what made the real mob mad when they saw it.
It was going to be a movie
The creator of the show, David Chase first threw the idea of the hit show being a movie about a mobster that goes into therapy to discuss his mother.
Chase’s manager, Lloyd Braun, told him to put more thought into TV. “I want you to know that we believe that you have inside you, a great television series,” said Braun. And now look what we have. Fans are completely content with the story being stretched over seasons of viewing pleasure instead of compiled into one film. In fact, the series was named “best wrtten TV series of all time” by the Writers Guild of America. The Sopranos also won 21 Emmys, and five Golden Globes.
Michael Rispoli was going to be Tony
It was originally supposed to be actor Michael Rispoli playing the role of Tony. You know how these things go, the producers or creators always have a different vision for how they see the show that goes against what the actors want sometimes. And in this case, Chase thought Rispoli would be a better fit for Jackie Aprile Sr.
Chase changed the role so it could fit Rispoli’s age because the character was supposed to be way older. Jus another day in the life of creators and writers. They always seem to be adjusting things even well into the season.
It might be a common misconception to think about music when you hear the word sopranos. That is what HBO executives thought was going to happen with audiences when they heard of the show title. You might be thinking, that is quite crazy but executives need be sure that they get the most viewers and there is no confusion.
They came up with a simple fix. That is to put a gun in the logo. Replacing the “r” with the pistol is subtle yet effective so that way no one will get confused about what the show is about.
In a class of their own
It all makes sense why some shows are more amazing than others. Yeah, it comes down to the acting because without any good actors then the show is a waste. Imagine your uncle playing the role of George Costanza on Seinfeld. Would have been much different, right?
However, one thing that separates the good shows from the great shows is more than just the acting, it is the people who are in charge behind the scenes. The Sopranos writing and producing team were a talented group of people. Matthew Weiner created Mad Men, Terence Winter was behind Boardwalk Empire, to name a few.
No shorts for a don
There are always those people who have something to say. Getting their two cents in just seems to make their day for some reason. Having said that, there are those who listen to remarks and run with it and there are those who just brush it off like it doesn’t matter.
James Gandolfini took what a wise guy had to say to heart. After the pilot aired, someone told James that he should never wear shorts on screen again. That altercation made its way to series when Carmine scolded Tony after catching word of the backyard party saying, “a don doesn’t wear shorts.”
David Chase only yelled “action” on two occasions
Imagine you were a writer of fantastic music and you had an idea for an album. You sat down and laid the blueprint for the songs on the album and wrote the lyrics as well. Then when it comes to actually record the songs and share them with the world, you don’t even record the songs yourself. That is essentially what Chase did as the creator of the show.
It is said that he only directed two episodes and those two were the pilot and the final episode. We’re assuming he felt better leaving it in the hands of others that might do the show more justice.
No Snitching, Paulie
You know that snitches get stitches and apparently so does Tony Sirico. He only agreed to play the role of Paulie Walnuts if he would not be turned into a rat, an informant, snitch or whatever you want to call it. With the real mob already watching, that could be cause for trouble.
Sirico made a deal with Chase that Paulie would not be a rat and it is speculated that is because of his past in prison due to a robbery arrest. His total arrests run up to 28. He has been arrested so many times, he doesn’t even want to come close to that in the TV world.
Sharing Cast members
Many can argue that The Sopranos got some ideas from the movie Goodfellas. Well, even if they did not get ideas they sure did get something. What they got were a few cast members. and when we say a few we mean 28! Such a large number of cast members to recruit for your show.
Not all of them were regular cast members with only six falling into that category (Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Frank Vincent, and Joseph R. Gannascoli.) There were 11 guests with one-time appearances and another ten who were recurring characters.
Silvio Dante was created by…
It is not uncommon for creators to take ideas from other avenues and add to what they are creating. Essentially, nothing is original because ideas are constantly being taken from elsewhere. Chase is no exception to this process as he was creating the characters for the show.
Silvio Dante was created in a short story by Steven Van Zandt. He had the same name in the short story and it was brought to Chase by Steven. Chase immediately added the character to the show. That must of been one great story for Chase to just up and add him like that.
Ray Liotta was an almost
Back in 2001, Ray Liotta said he was extended an offer to play a role. It’s common for shows to have a particular actor in their mind who might be their first choice for casting but they don’t always secure them for the role. Liotta didn’t say which part he was offered but didn’t take it because he wanted to focus on his movie career.
“There was no way I was gonna shine,” Liotta said. It just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I love him [James Gandolfini] as an actor. I think he’s great. But my ego’s as big as anybody’s.” Ego does matter to some people.
Profanity in the hundreds
For mobsters, using curse words is a given right? They are people on a mission and slipping profanity is second nature to them. Can you blame them for the type of business they are in? Would you be able to guess how many times curse words were used in season one alone?
Well, if you were bored and sat down to tally just how many times that word was used you would get to a huge number. 437 times was count for one curse word used in season one. Tony alone said it 134 times. In season two it jumped up to 715.
Liv could have been gone
The obvious conflict between Tony and his mother was the plot for the show’s first season. That is loosely what the movie would have been about so it makes sense that the first season revolved around that. Tony was supposed to have completed the job of suffocating Livia Soprano but things did not happen that way.
Nancy Marchand, the actor who played Livia was actually sick with cancer and she had a wish to ask creator Chase. She asked, “David, just keep me working.” And like the gentleman he is, he conceded and allowed her to keep working. What would it have been like if she didn’t stay on?
The real mob heard about it quick
If there was a show made about the bloods and crips of Los Angeles, chances are they are going to catch wind of it. No different here with The Sopranos. Real-life organized crime mobs heard about the show and even shared conversations about it. This was all caught thanks to the FBI.
A wiretap from 1999 got four members of the DeCavalcantes crime group discussing how the show was just like them. The transcript went like this; “Is this supposed to be us?” His buddy replies, “You’re in there, they mentioned your name in there.” That guy is either really mad or happy that they are making a show about him.
Steven Van Zandt
Again, we have another person who was supposed to play a role. Steven Van Zandt was originally Chase’s first choice to play Tony! The musician was his choice because of his face. Does that mean he didn’t care what his acting skills were like and if he was just somewhat decent he would have got the part?
“I used to listen to music a lot on headphones and look at [Springsteen’s] LP, and Steven Van Zandt’s face always grabbed me, Chase said. He was very, very funny and magnetic. I said to my wife, ‘That guy has got to be in the show!'”
Joseph R. Gannascoli
Joseph R. Gannascoli had a longer run then he was supposed to and it wasn’t because he had cancer. That is a trend that happens in many of your favorite shows. Some characters only come for one episode as an extra or a minor speaking role, but end up being recast for more episodes.
Joseph R. Gannascoli was only meant to be a customer in season one at the bakery but Chase chose to bring him back as Vito Spatafore in season two. He was on the show all the way up to his run in with Phil Leotardo.
As we went over a few slides ago, Tony’s mom was diagnosed with cancer in real life, so unless she beat it, she did not have much time left to live. The great part is, she got her wish and kept working until her last days. The sad part is that she passed away one day before her 72nd birthday.
Also, she passed away before what would have been her last scenes so the show had to get creative in figuring out how to add her in. What they did was use old footage and special effects like CGI her head onto a body double. Critics thought it was awkward.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
In his mind, Chase didn’t see Tony being the tough guy that we know him as today. James Gandolfini was the one who saw it that way. Looks like we finally got a situation where the actor gets what he or she wants instead of being left out.
Chase said, “Jim showed me early on how much of a prick that guy would have to be. The first day we shot, there was a scene where Christopher said he was going to sell his story to Hollywood. He picked Michael Imperioli up by the neck, by the collar. I thought, of course, he’s not a fun guy.”
Adriana La Cerva the Hostess?
Adriana La Cerva is for sure beautiful. It would seem to be a waste if she did not at least hold some sort of continuity in the show. Well, at first she was only going to be a hostess and an unnamed hostess at that. That was in the pilot, but once the second episode came things changed.
When the second episode was filmed, Chase must have realized the true potential and beauty of actress Drea De Matteo because she went from one-time appearance to being Christopher’s girlfriend. Smart move, Chase. Many people loved seeing her grace their TV screens.
Lorraine Bracco wanted a challenge
Here is one of the actresses from Goodfellas we mentioned earlier. Lorraine Bracco was supposed to be the person who portrayed Carmela, Tony’s wife. Bracco had other visions for herself as she wanted to be Tony’s therapist instead. She had her own reasons but kudos to her for asking for the switch.
Bracco felt that the therapist would be a more challenging role to play. She said, “I was not ready for how [expletive] difficult Dr. Melfi was to play. I am an explosive girl. I am loud. I am full of life.” Well, you asked for a challenge and you received it, Bracco.
Dr. Melfi was based on…
Now the secret is out. Dr. Melfi was based on a real-life person. She was modeled after Chase’s actual therapist. Chase revealed in an interview almost ten years ago that Dr. Melfi was an inspiration from his life. Did you know Chase needed therapy?
“She had the same way of cutting through your [expletive],” he said. She even became involved in the character’s psyche. “After three or four seasons, she wrote me a breakdown of the Soprano family,” Chase said. “This is not a bible, but every once in a while we get it out. Strangely enough, these fictional characters have, in fact, behaved in the way she predicted they might.”
It was almost a movie again
You thought that you heard it all regarding The Sopranos becoming a movie instead but there is more drama to it than that. After the pilot was filmed, the showed was put on hold, almost as if the network pressed pause on their TVs at home. And it was not just a couple of weeks this happened, either.
After being on hold for a couple of months, Chase was upset and he proposed they shoot an extra 45 minutes and released it as a movie. (That is what he wanted in the first place.) During the last month of the year, HBO decided to finally shoot another 12 episodes.
Michael thought he blew it
Whenever you go up for something you really want, it is natural to think you did not do well even when you probably did a good job. That goes for any high-pressure situation, especially when trying out for a huge role. Michael Imperioli had reason to believe he didn’t do well if you let him tell it.
“They brought me in, and I met with David. I thought he hated my audition because David’s a poker-faced guy,” said Imperioli. “He kept giving me notes and giving me direction, and I walked out of there, and I was like, ‘I blew that one.'”
The tragedies of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are something Americans have to live with forever. It leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people whenever it is brought up or remembered. For the first three seasons, you can see the Twin Towers pictured in the opening credits. That only lasted the first three seasons.
After that fateful day, the image of the World Trade Center was taken out of the start of the fourth season. It only makes sense for them to do it. We wouldn’t want to be reminded of it while watching one of our favorite shows.
Tony had a huge net worth
Have you ever wondered what Tony Soprano’s net worth is? Well, if you haven’t you are about to find out. David Chase had teamed up with a technical consultant, Dan Castleman so they could try and fully uncover how the mob works. Castleman was a New York assistant district attorney so if anyone knew it would be him.
They wanted to see how the mob made their money and according to Castleman, you won’t believe how much Tony is worth. He was estimated to be worth anywhere between five and six million dollars. That number went up and down because of his gambling.
The fat suit
Have you ever seen anyone in real-life wearing a fat suit? It is one of the funniest things you will ever see. Just a fat suit alone and nothing else is a sight to be seen. Steven Schirripa got his script and thought it was a mistake because there were a lot of fat jokes directed at his character.
No mistake, pal because a couple days before they started filming he was fitted for a fat suit that he wore in the first several seasons. “And then I guess, in season 4, David thought I was fat enough on my own, so he let me get rid of it,” Schirripa told Vanity Fair.
The strip club is the haven that many men traverse to on a lonely or drunken night. The Sopranos may have been filmed on sound stages in New Jersey and New York but didn’t the scenes at the Bada-Bing seem a little bit too real? That is because they are!
Scenes that took place there were shot at a real strip club by the name of Satin Dolls on State Route 17 in Lodi, New Jersey. We’re willing to bet that the guys got a kick out of it whenever they had to go shoot there for the day.
The Real Mob was Fishy
Apparently, this show hit the nail on the head so well, that the real mob was starting to gain suspicion. It’s like when a baseball player suddenly gains unbelievable skills one year after not being so good, people will start to think that he is using steroids. In this case, the real mob thought someone was feeding information.
Earlier we mentioned how the police would wiretap the mob so this time they got more information and told Terence Winter. Winter said, “We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn’t believe how accurate the show was.”
Settle the Dispute
When it comes to business you can always count on two things. One is that someone is always trying to get ahead and the other is there will always be money problems. And following season four, money problems started to happen for the actors. The smart thing to do is handle it like the cast of Friends did and negotiate for an equal salary among all main cast members.
Instead, James Gandolfini handled it the way a real mobster might have. What he did was cut $33,333 of his own money and give it to the main cast members. It was his bonus money so maybe he did not care as much.
Mike thinks Tony is finished
The season finale of The Sopranos is arguably one of the biggest cliffhangers to ever be released on TV viewers. No one knows if Tony was shot, arrested or if the family just got up and went home like a normal day. Michael Imperioli seems to have a theory of his own because only Chase knows the truth.
“I think he’s dead, is what I think,” Imperioli told Vanity Fair in 2012. “David was trying to put us in the place of the last things you see before you die. You remember some little details and something catches your eye and that’s it.”
Initially thought to be “too dark”
Getting a great idea off the ground does not always go as smooth as we might hope. That is what Chase had gone through trying to pitch The Sopranos to networks. Chase recalls what was happening vividly.
“They always say that ‘Oh, it was well-written but too dark’ is what they say,” Chase said. “They said- and I remember going to a network where a very important man nowadays said, ‘You know, I got no problem with the shooting and the killing and the robbing and all that, but does he have to be on Prozac’?” Good thing someone believed in it.
Did you notice the similarities between the Pilot and Finale?
This is writing at its finest. David Chase planned out the whole series to be an embodiment of the pilot. There was a reason that the finale had a similar vibe to the pilot and Chase explains why that is. “In a way, I think the pilot is the series,” he said. “The series is the recapitulation of the pilot, a longer version of the pilot.” He added, “I noticed that too, that everything [Tony] said in the pilot kind of happened in the last episode. But I probably went back and read the pilot. Yeah, in fact, I did. I went back and read the pilot.”
Nancy Marchand based on Chase’s own mother
When someone reminds you of a person you hold dear to your heart, you almost become biased for that person. Once Chase saw Marchand audition he instantly compared her to his mother and the rest is history. “And [Marchand] came up the stairs to the casting office, she could hardly breathe ’cause she was ill then,” Chase said. “And I thought, ‘This lady, oh I know, she was in The Naked Gun.’ And she just did it. And you know, this was based on my mother. It was so close. And when my cousins saw it, they said, ‘David, my God, who’s that lady? That’s Aunt Marma!’ And I said, ‘I know.’”
For those who don’t know, filming outside of the Los Angeles area is not common practice. Many shows and movies are shot in Los Angeles even if the movie or show is based somewhere else. Chase wanted it to be authentic.
Chase explains, “it’s funny, we went to all the networks with it and they would always say ‘It says it takes place in New Jersey, you’re gonna shoot it in L.A., right?’ — that’s where people used to shoot. Hollywood. ‘And you’re gonna shoot it here in L.A., right?’ and I’d say ‘No, I want to shoot in New Jersey.'”
No tattoos, please
The beautiful Drea de Matteo had plenty of time to be in her thoughts before filming. The show had certain stipulations for her and how they wanted her character to be viewed. As the case with any show but it seems like this could be a little too much.
Matteo would spend at least four hours getting her hair and makeup done prior to each episode. Four hours is a long time! And to make the time longer, if there were any scenes where she had to expose any skin, she had to spend even more time in makeup to cover her tattoos.
The opening theme song
David Chase had a different vision for the opening credits. Many shows, if not all shows have the same opening song every time it comes on. Which is great for the most part because they are usually catchy and when you hear it, you just want to sing along with it. However, Chase wanted the show to open up with a different song each episode! HBO wanted the show to be identified by the theme song so they said no to that idea. Chase compromised by ending the show with a different song each episode. Not too bad of a compromise.
The hardest to get rid of
With shows that involve getting rid of characters or killing them off, it can’t be an easy thing to do. Especially for the character, he is getting the boot. They find out in the reading and it just becomes awkward.“I’ll tell you who had it the hardest, it was the guy who played, in the first season, Mikey Palmice,” said Chase. “He really did plead for his life. More than once. ‘Isn’t there some way…?’ I said ‘Al, we can’t. That’s not the way it goes.’ All the actors were getting ready, and he walks in and Tony Sirico is sitting there at the table and he goes [mimics gun noises]. He was trying not to cry.”
A movie could still come out
You have read plenty of talk about how it could have been a movie instead of a whole series. Now that it is finally over, Chase still flirts with the idea of making a movie after all. The fans would certainly appreciate that idea and it might do big numbers at the box office. “A lot of people have talked to me about it,” said Chase. “I still, frankly, flirt with the idea sometimes. If I had a really great way to do it, I would do maybe like a prequel.” Sometimes flirting doesn’t get you anywhere so it might be time to make a move sooner than later.
Awkward is running into your ex with a new partner after you told them you wanted to focus on yourself and be alone. Awkward is also when you barely find out you’re going to be cut from a show the day of that episode’s filming. That is what happened to Drea de Matteo. That’s awkward, isn’t it?
The silver lining that came from that situation is that she performed very well in her last unexpected season, so well that she earned herself an Emmy! She won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. At least she has something to show for her work.
She had no clue
The gorgeous Jamie Lynn-Sigler must have just had her eyes on the prize with no wish at knowing about the details. She played Meadow Soprano in the series but if you ask her, she could have been a singer, just as long as she got the role.
Jamie went into the auditions not knowing that the show was about gangsters. She assumed that it was about opera singers. Granted, she got the part but it would have been better to come to a job interview knowing what the role you are about to take entails. Maybe she is just that good.
We’ve already said how the creative team behind this show is top notch, but let’s talk about them a little more shall we? If you have heard of the show Northern Exposure then you might know that David Chase was a part of that show as well during it’s last few seasons.
Many of The Sopranos main staff members also worked with Chase on the quirky Northern Exposure. Robin Green, Diane Frolov, Andrew Schneider and Mitchell Burgess are some of the writers that helped Chase during the last three seasons. Seems like they were a tight pack.