As ‘Sinatra Meets The Sopranos’ heads back to Atlantic City, Michael Imperioli talks Scorcese, Lou Reed and the series that changed his life
Ace character actor Michael Imperioli’s resume includes stints—regular and one-offs in such television series as Californication, Blue Bloods, and even The Office, in which he memorably appeared in an episode as Dwight Schrute’s karate sensei. But he will likely forever be best-known for his role on The Sopranos as Christopher Moltisanti, mob boss Tony Soprano’s tightly wound, drug-sucking nephew who was one of the most compelling and (usually unintentionally) humorous characters in a series full of such individuals.
Although The Sopranos ended more than a decade ago, it remains extremely popular nationwide. In the Northern New Jersey/New York City area, it has long been a cultural touchstone. And because the same could be said for Frank Sinatra, it’s no wonder the Sinatra Meets The Sopranos program scheduled for Aug. 10 at Golden Nugget Atlantic City, is the presentation’s second AyCee visit this year.
Once again, the show will feature singer/producer Michael Martocci handling the musical part of the proceedings while Imperioli, Steve Schirripa (who played Bobby Bacala) and Vincent Pastore (Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero) will take questions from interviewer Bill Spadea (of the Jersey-centric Chasing News TV show) as well as audience members.
Bettors Insider recently chatted up Imperioli, 53, in advance of the Nugget gig.
BI: How did you originally come to The Sopranos? Was it just another audition for you? Imperioli: It was another audition. I knew the casting people. I had done some indie movies with them and they would bring me in on anything I was remotely right for. What did you think when you realized that the show’s main character was a mob boss undergoing therapy?
I wasn't that impressed by it. It was around the time of Analyze This, so it wasn't an outrageous idea. And you know, when you read a pilot script, it's hard to really imagine the scope of a series that comes behind it.
I really was a little bit confused by the tone. I wasn't sure if it was a drama or comedy. I kind of thought maybe it was a spoof. It was very hard to tell just from the pilot what the show was going to be.
But I was very impressed with who they cast. There were a lot of actors that I'd worked with before, that I liked a lot.
When the show debuted, there were some Italian-Americans who saw it as encouraging the stereotype of Italians from New Jersey being mob-connected. Did you ever feel that way?
No. No. I mean it's not a show that was supposed to represent the entire Italian-American experience. The proof to me is The Sopranos is something that is beloved by most Italian-Americans and especially those of a certain generation, like my generation who were, when the show is on the air, in their 30s and 40s and 50s. They have very fond memories of, you know, Sunday night and getting together with family--eating pizza.
Italian-Americans get it. My dad was a bus driver. The show's not meant to necessarily represent him, although he does relate to it in a cultural way because he grew up in the New York area and understands a lot of the life and the rituals and the family stuff.
Did you know anyone like Christopher? Was he based on a real person? Not necessarily a mobster but just someone in your life?
I don't know where [series creator David Chase] got him from, but I based him on somebody I know who wasn’t a Mafiosi, but who did have some brushes with organized crime, and he did have brushes with show business. I never told him, and I've never told anybody who it is, and nobody knows that. Nobody knows. Nobody ever will. But by the middle of the first season, I stopped thinking about that and [Christopher] just kind of took on a life of itself.
In Goodfellas, you played Spider, a young mob “gofer.” What impact did Goodfellas have on you?
Well, professionally it was my first featured role in a huge movie that everybody in show biz saw. It's very hard to get a foothold in show business. So, when I was auditioning after that, I could say, “Well, I was in Goodfellas.” I was new to everybody, but once you're in something like that, it's just very helpful to get a foothold.
On an artistic level [director Martin Scorcese] was so kind to me and treated me like an actor, with respect. I was no different than the other actors there. I was part of that group. Not all directors treated me like that in the beginning. And he did. For somebody very young, that can give you a lot of confidence. So, I'm very indebted to him for that.
Last year, you published your first novel, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, which is a coming-of-age novel set in the mid-1970s about a boy who develops a friendship with, of all people, Lou Reed. Where did the book—and the premise--come from?
I've had a parallel career as a writer for a long time, so writing was always there. I've also been involved with music, both as a musician and as a fan. I've played guitar. I've sung in a band. I started playing in two different bands in my early twenties.
There was a point where I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into music or acting. Then my acting career started taking off, so I didn't really play music for a long time. And then I started playing again with a band in 2006. So that's always been a part of my life.
And Lou Reed was a big artistic hero of mine and wound up becoming a friend of mine. He died three months after I started writing it.
It's definitely meant as a tribute. It comes from a place of love and respect. One of the things [Reed] tried to do as a musician was to bring literary qualities to rock music because he was such a lover of literature and poetry and stuff and he did actually do that. So, in some ways, I think it's a fitting tribute to put him in as a character in literature.
What’s up next for you, acting-wise?
I’m in a movie called Primal with Nicholas Cage that comes out in November. And I am also am starting a new series called Lincoln for NBC. It's based on the Bone Collector series of books. We're shooting in the fall, so it probably won't come on the air until January.
Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Huron Avenue and Brigantine Boulevard; 9 p.m. Aug. 10; $69, $59 and $49; for tickets, click here.