Michael Imperioli: There’s little room for nuance in America”

Photographed by AJ Pics/Alamy

The Sopranos actor waxes lyrical about Buddhism, series two of The White Lotus, and the late, great Paulie Walnuts.

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

Hello Michael! You’re following Sydney Sweeney and Jennifer Coolidge and starring in the second series of HBO’s deliciously dark The White Lotus. What did you enjoy most about the first series?

That the show’s creator, Mike White, was presenting human beings, for better or worse, with positive and negative qualities, who are kind of overwhelmed by being in the world at this point in time. They’re trying to be happy and do what they think they should be doing. There was a complexity, it wasn’t black or white. Which none of us really are.

Did you come away from Talking Sopranos, your podcast with Steve Schirripa (aka Bobby Baccalieri), with a greater understanding of what the show was about?

Not to toot our own horn, but what really came through was just how good it is. The filmmaking, the music, the acting, the writing… It transcends time. I saw how [creator] David Chase’s vision made a statement about America, the American dream and what it meant to be American – the faults of it, the virtues of it, the successes and failures of it.

What was the best thing about Christopher Moltisanti?

He worked really, really hard at what he was doing – whether that was trying to be sober, being a drug addict, in a relationship, trying to make movies, being a gangster. He did the work. He was entitled, but he wasn’t lazy.

What’s your best memory of working with Tony Sirico, aka Paul Paulie Walnuts” Gaultieri, who died last month?

During the course of The Sopranos, he bought a racehorse through a mutual friend of ours. The horse won its first race at Saratoga in New York state, and we were out-of-our-minds happy. I felt like it was my horse – like it was my kid. Tony was over the moon. This was a guy who went to prison twice and really went down the wrong path. But at some point, he woke up and said: I’m not continuing this there he his own racehorse, winning a race in Saratoga. It was beautiful to experience his joy. way.”

Did you know Tony before doing The Sopranos?

I didn’t like him! We’d done a couple of independent movies together. We’d be at screenings and parties, and he was kind of mean. Tony had no filter, he’d say whatever was on his mind. I was going through a bit of a difficult patch, career-wise, and he let me know that was obvious, that I wasn’t going anywhere. So when we filmed The Sopranos pilot and they told me Sirico was gonna be there, I was like: Fuck, man!” But I got to know him and we became lifelong pals.

You’ve been a Buddhist since 2008. Would the world be a better place if everyone was?

It’s not about whether you’re a Buddhist or not. Buddhism is a method of working with your own mind, to find a way of dealing with the difficulties of being a human being and the negative emotions that cause suffering in the world. If people were more contemplative, it would be a better place.

Has practising meditation helped stop fame from melting your brain?

It might be too late for that. But it helps on every level, at least to see a bit of a bigger picture.

You’ve only been on Instagram since 2019. What’s your relationship with it?

I resisted it for a long time, but I thought it might be a good way to turn people onto stuff I liked – movies, books, music, Buddhism. I just decided, if people are gonna follow me on Instagram and want to hear what I have to say, I’m going to be honest with them. Then I started expressing some of my political views. Often I’ll post something and lose a lot of followers. But I don’t really care.

You’re sorting the wheat from the chaff.

I’m weeding the garden. But I don’t like looking at people as weeds just because we don’t agree politically. I think that’s also part of the problem – in America, it’s so divided in terms of who’s right and who’s wrong. There’s very little room for nuance. People are a lot more complicated than these black and white things.

During such intense political turmoil, what gives you hope?

Young people. As they grow older and become leaders, things will become better. Most of us want the same things: decent paying jobs, a nice place to live, a safe community, certain freedoms, healthcare, education. But politicians capitalise on divisions so they can get elected and stay in power. But I do have a lot of hope.

How would Christopher have survived the pandemic?

I don’t know what the Mafia did during the pandemic. Did they do Zoom meetings, talking in code about who they have to hit? I don’t think he’d be one of these anti- vaxxer conspiracy people. He definitely would have taken it seriously. Hopefully Christopher would have stayed sober through it. And he probably would have written scripts.

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