<b>Steve Schirripa as </b>Bobby “Bobby Bacala” Baccalieri in <b>“The Sopranos”</b>
Steve Schirripa as Bobby “Bobby Bacala” Baccalieri in “The Sopranos”|Steve Schirripa

Steve Schirripa reflects on 20 years of ‘The Sopranos’

Co-star of ‘mob hit’ will be part of Saturday’s Sinatra/‘Sopranos’ mashup at Borgata

Chuck Darrow

Chuck Darrow

It started as an unknown-filled, daring take on the ever-popular organized-crime saga. Eight years later, it ended its run as one of the most honored and influential television series of all time. Today, 20 years after it premiered, “The Sopranos” resonates within our popular culture as few TV shows ever have, while its cast members remain entertainment-industry commodities. And Steve Schirripa harbors no doubts about the reasons for its status as a show business touchstone.

“I think people can relate a little bit to [Tony Soprano], said Schirripa, who portrayed the put-upon and eminently likable mob soldier Bobby “Bobby Bacala” Baccalieri on all but the show’s first season. Schirripa was on a recent phone call to talk up Saturday night’s “Sinatra Meets The Sopranos” program at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa. Also appearing are Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) and Vincent Pastore (“Big Pussy” Bonpensiero). Handling the Sinatra end of things will be singer Michael Martocci.

“You know,” continued Schirripa, [Tony Soprano, portrayed by the late James Gandolfini] had problems. He had problems with the kid, he had problems with his wife. Mostly, when you watch a mob movie, you never see them with the family, the kids. You see them at the club, and the killing. But this guy could have been a plumber. He had the same problems” as the viewers.

Interestingly, Schirripa, 60, who portrays Detective Anthony Abetemarco on the Tom Sellick-topped “Blue Bloods,” was first recruited by the “Sopranos” braintrust to portray an FBI agent. But, he recalled, they quickly decided that physically, he was far more mob type than law enforcement type. So, he got the role of Bobby, a low-level wise guy who, when he was introduced, was basically the caregiver for ailing mob boss Corrado “Uncle June” Soprano Jr., (Dominic Chianese ) the brother of Tony’s late father.

His importance to the series increased when the widowed Bobby wound up marrying Tony’s sister, Janice (Aida Turturro). Throughout, there was a sweetness and vulnerability to Bobby that made him stand out among the thugs, lowlifes and sociopaths who populated “The Sopranos.”

“This guy had a heart in him,” said Schirripa. “He wasn't the brightest guy in the world, but he just went with the flow.”

So, was Schirripa – who got into acting as a “hobby” in the early 1990s after years as the entertainment director at Las Vegas’ defunct Riviera hotel-- jealous that the juicier, more action-packed roles went to other actors?

“Nah, no jealousy at all,” he insisted. “If you're going to start with that crap, you're doomed. You don't demean. You get what you get and be happy to do it.”

It’s not uncommon for actors who become successful and famous playing a specific character on TV to ultimately grow resentful because it often puts them in a typecasting box, or too narrowly defines a career. But if Schirripa harbors any ill will toward “The Sopranos,” he’s invoking a vow of omerta.

“I have no problem with that because I had no [acting] career before ‘The Sopranos,’” he said. “So, what are you going to do? You're going to fight that thing? To be on any show is incredible. To be on that show is like hitting the lottery—twice!”

According to singer Martocci, who is also the event’s producer, Saturday’s performance will begin with an eight-minute “Sopranos” video presentation. The three cast members will then take the stage for more video clips and a Q-and-A session with audience members. Martocci will follow with his Frank Sinatra tribute.

The pairing of the of the two pop culture titans is a natural, suggested Martocci, who has been friends with Schirripa since they were kids in Brooklyn.

“The two most powerful names in entertainment, Italian-wise, are ‘Sinatra’ and ‘The Sopranos,’” he reasoned. “What a great idea to blend the two. The fans cross over: Most ‘Sopranos’ fans like Sinatra--and vice-versa.”

Borgata, One Borgata Way, Atlantic City; 8 p.m. Saturday, $69-$29; www.theborgata.com.

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