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The Sopranos: The Final Season

After more than eight years and six seasons, the saga of the New Jersey crime family will come to a close after nine more episodes.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Sopranos, Mar/Apr 2007

(continued from page 2)

"One of the reasons the show was successful early on," he said, "is that you were being shown a look into something you had never seen: the domestic life of Northeast Italian-American organized crime. The Godfather was very operatic, and it was in the past. Goodfellas was the story of a crew, not the story of a guy's family. It was fantastic, but it was also in the past. When 'The Sopranos' first started, we were saying, 'This is what's happening now. This is the present. It's not a period piece.' People felt they were looking into the life of a secret society, which they had never seen before."

How, Chase was asked, are he and his writers able to create characters for whom we root so strongly, but who are at their cores so intensely brutal? Well, he said, it's not necessarily the writers who make it so. The real reason audiences have such affection for Tony, Chase said, "is because of the actor who plays that role." Had it been anyone else but James Gandolfini, "I don't think we would have had to worry about a second season."

One example of the superb nature of Gandolfini's craft, Chase said, was evident at the beginning of last season, when Tony is suddenly, and surprisingly, shot by his Uncle Junior, and is nearly killed. "People get shot all the time on television, and we never see how it hurts," Chase said. "When Jim got shot, it really felt like it hurt."

Chase said he actually learned much about the character of Tony just by watching Gandolfini during the filming of the pilot. "Tony was there on paper, but he brought a lot to it. There's something very charismatic about him, and hurting and sad. He also brings a tremendous volatility—not him personally, but as an actor. When that guy gets upset, you get out of the way."

Aspects of the other actors' personalities have also been incorporated into their roles over the years, Chase said. "The character of Paulie Walnuts is very much like Tony Sirico, in certain ways. Tony is germophobic. He had a close relationship with his mother."

Christopher Moltisanti, Tony's nephew, is one of the more violent of Chase's creations. But Michael Imperioli says that Christopher has changed over the years. "I think he's really evolved," Imperioli told Cigar Aficionado. "Which has been great for me as an actor. TV characters tend to stay the same, but not if the writer is David Chase."

In the final episodes, Christopher "is a lot more mature," Imperioli says. "He's been through a lot of experiences regarding life and love. He's risen up the ladder in the business and gained a lot more responsibility. He's had his heart broken. He's had to do things that have marked him as a man. He's kind of come full circle. He's always been pretty unstable, but he's making an attempt at stability. He has married someone not involved in the business, someone not crazy, not a party person. She's simply more of a traditional wife. He's had a kid. He wants to be a good dad. He's trying to make a go at outside success, trying to produce a movie and going about it in a way that has some potential to be a viable enterprise. He's trying to be as normal as possible, to be more even-keeled. He knows that he has a tendency to go off the rails and engage in destructive behavior, and I don't think he wants that in his life anymore."

But Imperioli admits that Christopher is still haunted by Adriana. "He still thinks about her. I think that's something that maybe dims as time goes by, but is never fully erased. It's always somewhere in his consciousness."

When it comes to all that violence—the show's, and Christopher's—Imperioli says it doesn't trouble him. "What would concern me is if we didn't show the violence," he says. "The danger is to sanitize these guys, to make them a little bit more palatable. I think if we did that, people might get the wrong idea about them. We show them for who they are, warts and all, and the public can make up their minds about them."

Imperioli, 40, grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, in a mostly Italian neighborhood near the Bronx. His dad, Dan, a bus driver, acted in community theater. At age 17, Imperioli started to study acting, a decision that led him to Off Broadway theater and a play called Aven' U Boys. And to movies, with roles in Goodfellas and five Spike Lee films, including, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Clockers and Summer of Sam. 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.' "

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