With so many incredible TV shows coming in the last decade, there are many series that are sometimes overlooked or forgotten. The Sopranos feels like one of those shows, but many people who watched it in its entirety would put it up there (or even ahead) of the likes of The Wire or Breaking Bad. Exceptional writing, controversial protagonists with loose morals, explosive drama, and superb acting are just a few reasons why The Sopranos won so many awards and is considered an important piece of 2000’s American pop culture.
Today, we are celebrating The Sopranos by highlighting 15 lesser known facts about one of HBO’s biggest hits. Enjoy!
15. Steve Schirripa Wore a Fat Suit For The First Three Seasons
Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri (Steve Schirripa) was the subject of many fat jokes from Tony Soprano over the course of the show. However, Schirripa was somewhat confused when first reading the script as he was not much larger than Gandolfini. Days before shooting, Schirripa was fitted for a fat suit which he would wear throughout the first three seasons. Speaking to Vanity Fair, Schirripa stated: “and then I guess, in season four, David thought I was fat enough on my own, so he let me get rid of it.” Unlike almost all the other male characters, Bobby is kind-hearted, shy and even-tempered. Due to this, he was a likable and sympathetic character and even Tony occasionally apologized to him for his comments. He gradually climbs the ranks, however, becoming an underboss to Tony as well as his brother-in-law when he married Tony’s sister Janice.
14. Drea De Matteo Played a Waitress in the Pilot
Drea De Matteo shines very brightly as Adriana, really making it her own role and a character that you come to care for deeply. Adriana is the long-term girlfriend of Christopher (or “Chris-ta-fuh,” as she would say), which sees her frequently the victim of domestic violence. De Matteo won the 2004 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, paving the way for her to land roles in Sons of Anarchy, Desperate Housewives and many films. Interestingly, Drea appears in the pilot episode but as a completely different character. She plays the role of an unnamed waitress and initially did not land the role as series creator David Chase did not believe that she was Italian enough. After the series was picked up by HBO, she landed the role and would go on to become a fan favorite and a character with an important storyline.
13. Dr. Melfi Was Based on David Chase’s Real-Life Therapist
Many of the greatest scenes from the show occur during Tony’s therapy sessions, where he struggles to open up to Dr. Melfi (he only attends at first under orders from his physician). Over time, he opens up to her and it soon becomes apparent that she is the only person who somewhat understands him, despite their stark differences and values. Their relationship is fascinating to watch as it develops, with a lot of this coming down to the excellent acting from James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco, who share fantastic chemistry on-screen. David Chase has previously revealed that the character was inspired by his own therapist, but also that he told his therapist of the influence that she had on the character. His therapist then became involved in the character’s psychological development and would write down breakdowns of the Soprano family.
12. David Chase Only Directed Two Episodes
Prior to The Sopranos, creator and showrunner David Chase had considerably more experience as a writer and producer than as a director, but it’s still interesting to note which episodes of the HBO series he chose to direct. After directing the pilot episode, Chase wouldn’t direct another episode until the final eight years later.
While Chase directed the two most important episodes of The Sopranos (arguably), the series MVP is Tim Van Patten, who directed a total of 20 episodes. Steve Buscemi also directed four episodes, including the classic “Pine Barrens,” while only one episode – “Down Neck” – was directed by a woman: Lorraine Senna.
11. Tony’s Net Worth
It’s clear that Tony Soprano is wealthy, but just how much money did he have in the bank? While the show never reveals an exact figure, Dan Castleman has a number in mind. Castleman, a New York assistant district attorney, served as a technical assistant on The Sopranos, helping David Chase and his producers to understand how the real mob makes its money. He estimates that Tony Soprano was sitting on a net worth between 5 and 6 million dollars, though he notes that this figure would often fluctuate due to Tony’s gambling problem.
10. Mob Attention
The Sopranos was lauded for its authenticity but the show’s realistic depiction of mob activities attracted the attention of real-life gangsters. As writer and executive producer Terence Winter told Vanity Fair in a wide-reaching 2012 interview, one FBI agent told him that he’d heard real-life mobsters talking about the show over wiretaps and that they were convinced The Sopranos writers had an informant on the inside because the show was too accurate.
“We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn’t believe how accurate the show was.” Fortunately, no hits were ever carried out on Chase, Winter, or the rest of The Sopranos creative team!
9. The World Trade Center is Visible in the Opening Credits
During the show’s original opening credits sequence, as Tony is exiting the Lincoln Tunnel on his drive home from New York, the World Trade Center buildings can be seen in his car’s rearview mirror. Technically, this would never have been possible, as the twin towers were not visible from the Lincoln Tunnel exit. This shot was removed starting with the first episode of The Sopranos’ fourth season, which aired only four days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
8. Paulie Was Based on the Actor Who Played Him
Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri is one of the many brilliant characters on the show. But as it turns out, he is actually very similar to the actor that portrays him – Tony Sirico. Funny yet also extremely dangerous and violent, Sirico was also a criminal with 28 arrests at the time he was cast (with 27 acting jobs). Not only was it a life of crime that made these two similar, but Sirico also states that he is also a neat-freak and lived at home with his mother. This was also true of his character and contributed to some of the comedy in the show. Due to his eccentricities and OCD but also violent streak, it made Paulie one of the most memorable characters on the show and you can hear his voice simply by looking at a picture of him. This is largely down to Sirico’s brilliant portrayal of the familiar character.
7. Tony Was Supposed to Kill His Mother After Season One
The relationship between Tony and his mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) was as horrifying as it was fascinating. In Season One, she manipulates her brother-in-law, Junior, to put a hit on Tony. Tony plots revenge and at one point he looked set to smother her with a pillow, but he is not given the chance when he learns that she has suffered a stroke. Tony then cuts her out of his life, with Livia making just a few more appearances. Originally, Tony was going to kill her with the pillow but Chase changed his mind after Nancy Marchand was diagnosed with cancer and asked him to keep her working. Sadly, Nancy passed away in June 2000 and her final scenes were created from CGI and old footage. Although she was not as prevalent after Season One, her impact can be felt heavily throughout the show and particularly in Tony’s therapy sessions.
6. James Gandolfini Paid Each Actor After Contract Disputes
Tony Soprano may not have been the nicest of people, but James Gandolfini clearly was. Following the conclusion of Season Four, tensions ran high between the cast and the studio as there were disputes over payment. This resulted in delays before Season Five after a staged sit-in shut down the set. To ease tensions and get everybody back to work, James Gandolfini (who had been paid) split his bonus with all the cast members, seeing them earn $33,333 each. Whilst Tony is undoubtedly the star a key reason why The Sopranos is deemed such an incredible show is that it has many expertly written characters who all contribute to the story – making each one hugely valuable. This generous act from Gandolfini is just one of many stories of his kindness and generosity.
5. David Chase Shot Multiple Versions of the Same Scene
In a world of studio leaks and internet theories, secrecy and TV shows do not go hand-in-hand. It can be extremely challenging for the creator of a show to keep storylines a secret, but David Chase had a fantastic way around this which is now common practice for many TV shows. To keep absolutely everybody on their toes, he would shoot multiple versions of the same scene with different outcomes. This ensured that the cast, crew, and audience would have no idea what was coming until it aired. The most famous example of this occurs in Season Five when Adriana is killed by Silvio Dante when he stops the car in the middle of the woods. Drea de Matteo stated that this was one of a few outcomes that were shot, including one where she escaped unharmed. Sadly for her character, this one was not used.
4. It Shares 27 Actors With Goodfellas
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster classic Goodfellas was a huge source of inspiration for David Chase’s The Sopranos (many characters in the show even talk about the film). Not only was it a clear source of inspiration, but a whopping 27 actors who appeared in Goodfellas also appear in The Sopranos. Most notably this includes Michael Imperioli (Christopher in The Sopranos, Spider in Goodfellas), Tony Sirico (Paulie in The Sopranos, Tony Stacks in Goodfellas), Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos, Billy Batts in Goodfellas) and Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos, Karen Hill in Goodfellas). The rest of the actors who appeared in both either appear a few times in The Sopranos, whilst many also appear in just one episode.
3. Ray Liotta Almost Got a Role
Keeping with the Goodfellas connection for a minute, one of that film’s lead actors was actually offered a part in The Sopranos. Back in a 2001 interview with the Today Show, Ray Liotta revealed that he was indeed offered a role on the HBO series (Liotta never revealed which role, but it’s heavily speculated that it was Tony Soprano). However, Liotta turned the offer down because he wanted to focus on his film career.
In 2003, Liotta told the university newspaper the GW Hatchet that his decision also came down to respecting James Gandolfini’s space on the show. “Having done Goodfellas, I mean, that’s pretty much the ultimate Mafia everyday life,” Liotta explained. “And that show is pretty much structured around Tony Soprano. There was no way I was gonna shine. It just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I love him [Gandolfini] as an actor. I think he’s great. But my ego’s as big as anybody’s.”
2. Steven Van Zandt Was First Choice to Play Tony
James Gandolfini absolutely mastered the challenging role of Tony Soprano. So much so, in fact, that he became synonymous with the character. With such a compelling performance, it is incredibly difficult to think of anybody else in the world even possibly being considered for the role. Gandolfini was not the first choice, however, and instead, it was Steven Van Zandt who was primed for the title role. Steven Van Zandt is better known for being the guitarist from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, with Chase impressed by his appearance and presence. The role would ultimately go to Gandolfini, but Van Zandt was cast as Silvio Dante, the consigliere to Tony. Despite having no acting experience, Van Zandt excelled in the role and particularly for his character’s Godfather impersonations which he performs throughout the series.
1. The Writers Guild of America Named it the Best Written TV Series of All-Time
Debating what is the greatest TV series of all-time is one of the most epic debates you can have, but The Sopranos will always be in the conversation. One reason it is considered so brilliant is the fantastic writing, earning it the title of the best-written TV series of all-time as deemed by The Writers Guild of America in 2013. Dozens of fascinating characters, interweaving storylines, overarching and complex plot lines, character arcs, drama, intriguing relationships and a sprinkle of dark humor are just a few aspects which make it such an amazingly well-written series. It is also credited as being one of the most influential series of all-time, particularly for the use of anti-heroes and characters with loose morals in the protagonist role (also seen in Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, The Shield, and many others). This is also a testament to James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony.