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The Sopranos: Mob Rule

The wiseguys of HBO's "The Sopranos" take a shot at another season of the award-winning show.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

(continued from page 2)

Chianese says he decided when he was six years old that he wanted to be an actor. But I kept it inside. When I was about 21, I asked my father if I could get off the bricklayers' bus one day to go to an audition. And I got the job.

Then, at age 30, he says, I had to make my mind up again. It was tough trying to act and trying to be a father, to have a family. That part didn't all work out at first. But in the end it all worked out. I have wonderful children -- Chianese lives in Manhattan and has four daughters, two sons and nine grandchildren -- and I'm friendly with my ex-wives. What more can a man want?

An alumnus of Brooklyn College, he began his professional theater career in 1952 Off Broadway in New York in Gilbert and Sullivan, and through the years he has been on Broadway, in regional theater and in the movies. He portrayed Johnny Ola in The Godfather, Part II, and his other films include Dog Day Afternoon, Night Falls on Manhattan and And Justice for All.

Not a major career, he admits -- until now. Forty-eight years in the business, he says. And I finally made it!

Michael Imperioli has made it as well. And there is one thing he has in common with Christopher Moltisanti, Tony Soprano's murderous and ambitious young nephew.

Christopher spent much of last season trying to write a movie script before deciding to remain loyal to his organized-crime family in the hope of becoming a made Mob member. Imperioli is already an accomplished screenwriter.

The actor penned a Sopranos episode last season called From Where to Eternity. In it, Christopher, clinically dead for a moment during surgery, has an out-of-body experience. Imperioli also cowrote the screenplay for, and costarred in, Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, the story of the months surrounding the time the Son of Sam killer terrorized New York City.

Christopher is kind of caught between the past and the future, says Imperioli, who is in his mid-30s. He's not really emblematic of his generation. He's still kind of connected to the old guys. He aspires to be like them. He's part of the MTV generation, he's been influenced by pop culture, but at the same time he has a respect for the old traditions. Last season was a crossroads in his life -- he had these aspirations, he tried to be a writer, he took an acting class, met up with these Hollywood people. But Tony forced him to make a choice, and he realized that the world of Hollywood was not for him.

Imperioli says he finds Christopher's loyalty admirable. But of course, there's that other side of him, he says. He's very impulsive. He speaks his mind. He reacts the way he feels he should, just off the top of his head. There's not a lot of deliberation. I find that interesting. It's how I might react without censoring -- if I could just do whatever I wanted all the time, maybe elements of Christopher would come out in me.

Imperioli grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, in a mostly Italian neighborhood near the Bronx. His father, Dan, was a bus driver and acted in community theater. Michael began studying acting when he was 17.

I didn't really start considering it until my last year in high school, when you're really faced with a decision about what you want to do with your life, he says. I was thinking about going into medicine at one time. I always saw a lot of movies, and that last year I started reading plays, and I said to myself, well, if you have only one shot at life I guess this would be a lot more interesting.

Once he made that decision, he says, it was very freeing, because you're in school to think academically, to go to college and get a good job. And I decided not to go to college, but to study acting instead. I realized you could do whatever you wanted to do if you had the guts to go out and try to do it. You didn't have to take the prescribed route that you were conditioned to take.

The acting road led to Off Broadway and a play called Aven'U Boys. And to movies, with roles in Goodfellas and five Spike Lee films, including Clockers, Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. Georgianne Walken and Sheila Jaffe, the casting directors of The Sopranos, had cast him in several previous roles, so it was natural that they would see me, a young Italian guy, for 'The Sopranos,' he says.

The fact that Christopher is a budding writer was purely a coincidence, Imperioli says, because he began to write approximately five years ago.

I'm doing more and more of it, he says. I find it both interesting and gratifying, especially


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