My Day With The Sopranos

| By Marvin R. Shanken | From The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

You may be wondering why this issue of Cigar Aficionado has a photo that occupies both the front and back covers. After all, the back cover is a highly valuable piece of advertising real estate. There's a simple explanation -- I wanted to save my skin. You see, the "Sopranos guys" said that they would not pose for the photo unless all of them were included "on the cover." As the photo shows, all nine of them showed up for the shoot. Suddenly, I was thinking to myself: Why did I insist on coming to this photo shoot? The only way to get them all on the cover was to wrap the photo around the entire magazine. Oh well. What's a few advertising dollars when your life's on the line?

Seriously, I had a blast with the cast of "The Sopranos." And, no, they didn't really threaten me. But it was a real challenge to devise a plan that would permit us to get a single cover image. Our photographer, Michael O'Neill, did a fabulous job -- both artistically and logistically -- dealing with all those bodies. His past photo credits for us include our cover profiles of Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Susan Lucci. As you can see from this cover, the "Sopranos" cast was having a good time. It was a real pleasure to work with such a group of professionals.

Why "The Sopranos"? Because it's one of the most adult shows on television today. Yes, it's controversial. There's a lot of violence and foul language, and some people think it perpetuates unfortunate ethnic stereotypes. But you know what? It's real. It's gritty. People watch it because it's not some sanitized, network television version of life; instead it has all the elements of how people really talk and live with each other (except for the busting arms and taking out hits on each other part). I felt that for Cigar Aficionado's audience of mature, educated men, people who are out there in the real world every day, we should be telling them about something that might really be of interest to them. And, to top it off, many of the actors are cigar smokers in their private lives, as well as in their characters on the show.

I hope you enjoy this story. It's got a lot of unusual elements, including one of the few on-the-record interviews given by the show's principal actor, James Gandolfini. He's a great guy, and is destined for even greater stardom in the years ahead. But they're all great guys. I hope this story gets many of you to go out and ask your cable TV provider to hook up HBO. It's worth it for "The Sopranos" alone.