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Killing Time with Frank Vincent

The Sopranos' actor has a knack for portraying wiseguys who clip—and get clipped.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Vegas, Mar/Apr 2006

(continued from page 1)

The oft-pummeled Vincent says violent scenes can be fun to film (it comes as no surprise that his son, Anthony, is a stuntman), but have elements of danger as well.

"To do what we did in Raging Bull, to do that scene, where he hits me with the glass, I probably couldnt have done it with a different actor," he says about Pesci. "We were very close, and I trust him a lot. It is a breakaway glass, but still, you have to take a shot."

Scenes with firearms worry him in particular. In the HBO movie Gotti, Vincent acted in a complex death scene where his character is shot in the back of the head while holding a cup of espresso. The cup was wired to explode as if the bullet had passed through his head and into the cup. The gun—a real pistol, loaded with blanks—would be placed right at the back of his head and fired by an extra. The idea made Vincent nervous. He insisted that the on-set technician known as the gun guy take extra precaution before the scene could be shot.

"Now the gun guy, I say to him, 'Get the pistol and shoot yourself in the head so I know the pistols not going to hurt me,'" he explains. "He says, 'I guarantee it.' I say, 'You fucking guarantee it? Shoot yourself in the head!'" The gun man acquiesced, reluctantly, and the weapon performed as expected. "You have to be very careful with firearms," says Vincent. "It's dangerous work—I always make sure that its right."

Sometimes, what happens off-camera on a movie set can be even more threatening. Real mobsters inspired the film Casino. Some acted as on-set consultants, including one who was in the witness protection program. He offered to drive Vincent back to the hotel after a day of shooting, but his pre-drive ritual spooked the actor. "He gets to his car, he looks under the car, under the hood…I said, 'I'll take the van,'" Vincent says.

If the three Scorsese films made Vincent a Mob movie icon, "The Sopranos" has brought him back to the forefront. Vincent recalls being asked to read alongside Dominic Chianese and Tony Sirico for the role of Corrado Soprano, Tony's "Uncle Junior," in the pilot episode. He arrived knowing only the title. "I thought it was a show about singers," he says.

Chianese landed the role and Sirico was cast as Paulie Walnuts, one of Tony's captains, but there was no home for Vincent. He came back for another reading three years later, and show creator David Chase eventually found him a role as Leotardo, a killer who gleefully mixes humor with violence.

Vincent enjoys the show. "It's fun to do," he says. When pressed for details about the upcoming season, he offers little. He allows that his character will be developed further, as we learn Leotardos history with Tony Soprano. "We grew up together, we knew each other from the beginning and we always clashed," he says.

His silence may not only represent reticence to spoil the plot, but also his ignorance of events to come. On this series the actors don't always know what's going on, says Vincent—not even after rehearsing the script for an upcoming show. The show is veiled in secrecy that would be the envy of most Mob families.

"Every episode, you sit down at the big table with the entire cast of that show and you read the script. They give you the script, you read it, then you have to give them the script back. You can have your pages. Now, if [David Chase] doesn't want something known, he omits it from the read-through," he says. One example from the previous season was the end for the character Adriana La Cerva, who is executed for communicating with the Feds. "When Drea de Matteo [who played La Cerva] got shot, that wasn't in the read-through. In the read-through, it said she got in the car and drove away to live with her girlfriend in California. Nobody knows."

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