Michael Imperioli talks 'Sopranos’ with Steve Schirripa, Vincent Pastore at Borgata; Longo’s antipasto
Since the 1999 premiere of The Sopranos, HBO’s game-changing mob series, it’s been an article of faith that it was the tale of two families: Protagonist Tony Soprano’s actual family, and the one he oversaw as the boss of a North Jersey Mafia crew. But according to Michael Imperioli, who portrayed Tony’s tempestuous, ill-fated nephew Christopher Moltisanti, that estimate misses by half.
Instead, he confirmed during a recent phone chat, there’s not only a third family involved, but it exists in real life: The one comprised of many members of the show’s ensemble.
“It’s fair to say that,” said Imperioli, who, along with Steve Schirripa (“Bobby ‘Bacala’ Boccalieri) and Vincent Pastore (“Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bompensiero”) checks into Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa Oct. 30 for a program dubbed In Conversation with The Sopranos.
“A lot of us knew each other from before the show. John Ventimiglia (who played restaurateur Artie Bucco) and I went to acting school together. I know him since I'm 17; we had done a ton of stuff before The Sopranos, mostly in independent films. And Sharon Angela, who played Rosalie Aprile, was also in my class, and I had done stuff with her. I'd also done stuff with Vinnie Pastore and Tony Sirico (who played Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri).
“So, a lot of us were all in a similar place [when the series started], including [series lead, the late James Gandolfini]. Jim and I were in very similar places in our career when we started The Sopranos. We were character actors. We had done some, big movies--he had done True Romance, which he had gotten notoriety for, and I'd done Goodfellas. We had done theater and we'd been kicking around and people kind of knew us. And a lot of the cast were kind of in that [situation], except for Lorraine [Bracco], who had been nominated for an Academy Award [for Goodfellas]. Pretty much everybody else was in a similar boat.
“So to be on this thing together, that we love, that we felt was really great work and it becoming so successful and us achieving that success together bonded us even further.”
According to Imperioli, 55, geography was also a factor in the creation of those bonds.
“This was not only people that had worked together before, but they were people who had come from a very similar upbringing: mostly New York, mostly blue-collar, mostly Italian-American, mostly of a certain generation give or take,” he said. “And these were New York actors who went through New York theater training—Actors Studio-type training. So we all came from the same kind of roots and you don't get that on most series.”
For Imperioli, The Sopranos has truly been the gift that keeps on giving. In addition to making live appearances with other cast members (they have been Atlantic City attractions for years), he has become a multi-media presence thanks to his work as “Christuphuh.” Since April 2020, he and Schirripa have co-hosted the Talking Sopranos podcast, which takes an episode-by-episode deep dive into the program. And on Nov. 2, HarperCollins will release Imperioli and Schirripa's book, Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos. And, of course, he is the only series cast member to appear in The Many Saints of Newark, the ultra-buzzed-about movie “prequel” which takes place during Tony Soprano’s childhood and teen years (although he’s never onscreen; he serves as the flick’s from-beyond-the-grave narrator).
As for the book, Imperioli explained that it is a direct result of the popular podcast which, incidentally, will conclude Nov. 15 with an examination of the still controversial series finale. He promised it will be a bonanza for fans of the TV show.
“It goes beyond [the podcast] into a lot of discussions with various cast and crew people,” he explained. “It's 500 pages. There are a lot of personal photographs and artifacts from the Sopranos days that no one's ever seen before. I think the fans are gonna love it.”
All of this should not lead anyone to believe Imperioli’s whole life is predicated upon a TV series that ended almost 15 years ago. To the contrary, he is keeping busy with projects that have nothing to do with The Sopranos.
One is an upcoming podcast called Kerouac and Me. Imperioli is serving as both host and executive producer of the audio series that will feature celebrities of various stripes discussing how the On the Road author’s life and works impacted theirs.
Another is an in-development TV series being supervised by Alec Berg, whose credits include Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Despite his description of the concept—in which he will play a version of himself a la Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David--he cautioned against expecting wall-to-wall laughs.
“When I say half-hour comedy, I don't mean a sitcom,” he offered. “It's based in a certain reality, but it has dark, dark colors. I'm not trying to do jokes, basically. I'm just acting; if the situation is humorous it'll be funny.”
Nonetheless, the project that may be most near-and-dear to him is the revival of his band, Zopa, after years of inactivity.
Imperioli, who plays guitar and is the unit’s primary vocalist, described Zopa’s sonic blueprint as “indie-rock,” and name-checked influences that include Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements and New York punk progenitors Television as well as higher-profile artists like Patti Smith, Neil Young and the late Lou Reed, who was a friend of his and a lead character in Imperioli’s 2018 novel, The Perfume Burned His Eyes.
“The band was on hiatus for quite a number of years because I was not living in New York where the other band members lived, but we started playing together again in April,” he said. “We have some shows later this year in New York, and we're going to the Freakout festival in Seattle to do two shows in November. We have a new single coming out in the early part of next year called ‘Red Sky.’ It's the first new song that we've recorded since we've been back together.
“We’re going to be doing a lot more shows, in 2022 as well.”
I have gorged on antipasti in Italian restaurants—in and out of casinos--from Atlantic City to Los Angeles and multiple points in between. But I am hard-pressed to recall any that was better than that at Longo’s.
The $29 offering is billed as a meal-starter, but it’s certainly filling enough for a main course (possibly for more than one adult).
The cornucopia Italiano features, among other items, copious amounts of imported prosciutto, mortadella and sopressa (a type of salami), several hard and soft cheeses including Auriccio provolone (an especially sharp variation) and house-made mozzarella (paired with tomato), basil-roasted and long-hot peppers and an assortment of olives.
But what really sealed the deal for me was the undeniable freshness of every item. Talk about a symphony for your taste buds!
I could go on rhapsodizing, but I’m just torturing myself. Check it out for yourself (it’s also available at the Longo’s outpost at Dover Downs in Dover, Del.).