Michael Imperioli has certainly stayed busy since his role as drug-addled mobster Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos.
Since the show’s end, some 13 years ago, he’s written for TV, worked as a director and producer, published a critically acclaimed coming of age novel, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, and starred in shows as diverse as Watchmen, GIRLS, and the criminally under discussed, Escape at Dannemora.
“I’m never going to retire because I don’t have any hobbies,” the 54-year-old says today, over the phone. “I have to be artistically creative, otherwise I start going insane and not pleasant to be around.”
While from Christopher Moltisanti – a character who’s, arguably, least-bad endeavour was accidentally killing his girlfriend’s dog by sitting on it when high on smack – this could sound like a threat, Imperioli’s latest role sees him team up with fellow Sopranos star Steve Schirripa [the hapless Bobby Baccalieri] for a new buddy podcast dissecting every episode of the peerless HBO drama.
“Part of the goal is to make it a conversation between friends and make it fun,” he says. Ahhh.
Since launching Talking Sopranos in April, Imperioli and Schirripa have recorded episodes with Robert Iler, who shunned the limelight after starring as the depressed AJ Soprano, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who played his once spoilt, later level-headed, sibling, Meadow. The outbreak of coronavirus has seen the pair record remotely, with Imperioli in California and Schirripa in New York. However, the distance has done little to dampen the old magic, the cast sharing stories of their careers and anecdotes from set.
Check out this one from Imperioli, who lied about having a driver license, before shooting the pilot:
“On my first day on set, I’m supposed to be driving Tony Soprano [the late, great, and not unintimidated, James Gandolfini]. It was the first day I’d met him, I didn’t really know him at all. And I smashed the car.”
“I thought it was going to get fired. I thought he was going to think I was an idiot. There was a big pause and all of a sudden he started hysterically laughing, looking at me, cracking up and I realised okay – you’re gonna be OK.”
Imperioli’s insightful commentary on the podcast is fuelled by an understanding of the craft that series creator David Chase poured into each episode – “I have to do a lot of checks, there’s a lot of references: cultural, historical, actors, music” – while, a surprising revelation from the series is that British sitcom The Royle Family can count the US star among its fans.
“I think it took a lot of guts to make that show,” Imperioli says. “It’s very experimental if you think about it, because there’s no real story. I’ve never seen a show like that, I thought it was one of the most creative things I’ve ever seen in my life.” Mobsters, my arse.
While we’re obliged to ask about the meaning of the show’s iconic last scene, in which – AND LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT – the screen cuts to black while Tony enjoys dinner with his family, Imperioli is, rather beautifully, as clueless as the rest of us.
“I’ve heard David Chase talk about how it relates to a lyric in the Journey song [perennial karaoke botherer Don’t Stop Believin’]: ‘The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on,’” he offers. “Maybe he’s trying to say that life goes on and Tony Soprano’s is still alive.”
Maybe, Micheal, maybe. What the series can confidently reveal, though, is that at its heart The Sopranos was a show about camaraderie. The enduring friendship Imperioli and Schirripa share underpins the series, giving listeners another glimpse into the lives of two wise guys – or at least the men who played them.
“I think the other part is that Steve and I are friends,” imperioli says. “We’ve been friends, done movies together [Jenner Furst’s Houses], we’ve travelled together. I think the fans get that genuine friendship, which is also very much part of the spirit of The Sopranos as well.”
You can listen to the podcast at TalkingSopranos.com.