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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 7)

The prime engineer of Vito's demise was the gleefully yet matter-of-factly evil Phil Leotardo, the acting chief of the New York mob. Leotardo is portrayed by Frank Vincent, an Italian-American actor whose film specialty, for more than 30 years, has been violence—offing, and being offed, with the best of them. Vincent, now 67, first garnered notice as the tough Salvy in Martin Scorsese's 1980 classic Raging Bull. As Billy Batts in Goodfellas, he was offed by Joe Pesci (in real life, a longtime friend). But Vincent and his friendly baseball bat got even with Pesci five years later in Casino.

Yet despite the crucial role that carnage has played in his career, Vincent says he is ambivalent about its constant depiction. "It's not good, but it's a necessary evil to portray the genre," he told Cigar Aficionado.

But today's mega-bloodshed disturbs him. "When Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney shot people, they fell down and that was it. Now, because of technology, it's much more graphic. I guess it's not good for the culture. I don't know how to justify it. But as an actor, it's part of what you do, something we have to do. And after all, it's make-believe. Superman flies. Spider-Man jumps around buildings. It shouldn't be taken too seriously. It's entertainment. You have the option not to watch it or show it to your kids."

His character, of course, is among the most violent—a distinction notable on a series like "The Sopranos." "Phil was away in prison for 20 years," Vincent says. "He put up with a lot of bullshit. He's home now, and in a position where he can get what in his own mind he sees as the rewards for everything he went through. He worked hard to be a successful gangster and got sidetracked, and now he's out of jail and looking for his due."

Will Phil be any different in the final nine episodes from the way he was last year? "He's not so different," Vincent says. "He's a force to be reckoned with." But beyond that, he says, he can't be more specific. Besides, he doesn't really know for sure yet.

"We don't know what David's writing," he says. "All I know is I have to go to work one day later this month—I have a lot of scenes. And I don't know what happens after that. Whatever David's doing in his mind is what he's doing. He doesn't give you any idea of what's coming next."

One thing Chase apparently does do, Vincent says, is telephone an actor who is about to go the way of all flesh. "From what I hear, if he's going to assassinate you, he calls you"—which can sometimes mistakenly put the fear of God (or Chase) into an actor.

"An interesting thing happened a few months ago," Vincent recalls. "I came home, and there was David's voice on the answering machine. We're friendly, I know him socially, but there he was, saying, 'Frank, this is David, give me a call.' It was too late to call back that night, and I had to wait until the next morning. All night long I was thinking, Why is David calling me? What does he want? That morning at 10, the phone rang, and it's David, and he says, 'Remember that guy on Bloomfield Avenue?' He was asking me about things that actually happened to gangsters in this area. So I dodged a bullet. He hasn't made that phone call to me yet. I'm still here."

But the bullet no one can dodge is the end of the series. "'The Sopranos' has really been a shot in the arm for my career," Vincent says. "As you get older in this business, there are only so many roles you can do." But he says he isn't worried—he has several projects in the works, including commercials and a film in development. "You have to have a lot of balls in the air at the same time, and if two become reality, that's good."

One that is close to becoming reality is his own cigar line. "It's in the development stage," Vincent says. "They will have Connecticut wrappers. And it will be a light cigar. I don't like heavy cigars."

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