The Sopranos. You know it. Everyone knows it. It’s perhaps the most influential TV drama ever made, and it will forever remain the subject of debate, academic analysis, and discussion. Well, maybe not forever, but certainly for some time to come.
And everyone knows the story of The Sopranos. But what you may not know is the story behind the story. Like all great television shows, the making of The Sopranos is fascinating, and it proves an interesting glimpse into how a monumental and influential TV show is made. These are ten behind the scenes about The Sopranos you never knew.
The Show Was Conceived As A Film
If David Chase had his way, The Sopranos would have been a one-and-done ordeal. He had this idea for a movie – “A mobster in therapy having problems with his mother, who’s also involved in some sort of a gang war or mob business problem.”
He originally pitched the concept as a film and always envisioned it as such. That is, until media executive and Chase’s manager Lloyd Braun convinced him to extend it into a series. The general idea for the film then morphed into the first and second seasons of The Sopranos.
David Chased Based The Story On His Own Life
The Sopranos is a mob series (kind of), but it’s also a deeply intimate and complex family drama. It’s also David Chase’s most personal and autobiographical work – you know, minus all the mob stuff.
That’s because David Chase actually modeled Tony Soprano after himself and based Tony and Livia’s tumultuous relationship on the relationship he shared with his own problematic mother. Chase was also in therapy at the time, leading to the creation of Dr. Melfi. Presumably, Chase’s mother didn’t try to have him whacked, though…
The Family Is Based On Real Mob Families
David Chase grew up around the New Jersey mob (not in the mob, mind you), and he had personal insight into many of the “families.” As such, he modeled The Sopranos after what he saw on the streets of New Jersey.
He took inspiration from the Boiardo family, which was run by Richard Boiardo and based primarily in Newark. He also modeled the family after the DeCavalcante family, an Italian American family based in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which is only about six miles southwest of Newark.
Chase Didn’t Have Faith In The Pilot
After being convinced to film The Sopranos as a series, Chase got to work directing the pilot, which was filmed in 1997. He shopped the series around to various networks, including Fox and HBO. And while HBO showed interest in the series, they hesitated in ordering it and stayed silent for a couple of months.
Feeling antsy and pessimistic, Chase wanted to ask HBO for a bit more money so he could film 45 minutes worth of new material and release The Sopranos as an HBO movie. Luckily, HBO decided to greenlight the series before he had a chance to ask. We think it was the right move
The Show Shares 27 Actors With Goodfellas
Goodfellas is typically hailed as the Holy Grail of mob movies. And The Sopranos is typically hailed as the Holy Grail of mob shows. It’s fitting, then, that they actually share 27 actors and actresses! Some of the more obvious ones are Lorraine Bracco (Melfi/Karen), Michael Imperioli (Christopher/Spider), and Tony Sirico (Paulie/Tony Stacks).
However, this list also includes the likes of Tobin Bell, Frank Vincent, Vincent Pastore, Frank Pellegrino, and Nicole Burdette. Now that’s what we call a reunion.
James Gandolfini Was Cast Thanks To True Romance
Before The Sopranos, James Gandolfini was just another character actor. He had appeared in a few things, including a made-for-TV remake of 12 Angry Men, Get Shorty, and Crimson Tide.
However, it was his role as Virgil in True Romance that served as his breakout. Not because of the movie itself, but because The Sopranos‘ casting director Susan Fitzgerald saw him in the movie and thought he would make a good Tony Soprano. He was called in to audition, presumably nailed said audition, and the rest is history.
Silvio And His Wife Were A Real Couple
Silvio Dante is one of the most respected members of the family, and his wife Gabriella is very close to Rosalie Aprile and Carmela. They make for a great couple in the show, and they make for a great couple in real life, too.
They are portrayed by real-life married couple Steven Van Zandt and Maureen Santoro. They married in New York City on New Years’ Eve 1982 and have remained married ever since.
David Chase Was A Very Controlling Showrunner
The duties of a showrunner can wildly vary, and some showrunners are obviously more involved than others. Some simply oversee the scripts. Some write a few episodes themselves and give general outlines for the others. And then there’s David Chase.
Chase was well known for being extremely controlling and hands-on. This included writing a majority of the scripts and rewriting the others (and going uncredited for doing so), overseeing the set design, working alongside the directors and editors, and approving casting choices. Nothing went by Chase without his approval.
Many Scenes Were Shot On Location
The Sopranos has a very authentic New Jersey atmosphere. Probably because most of the scenes were actually filmed in New Jersey! Some of the locations include the Soprano house, which is a real house in North Caldwell.
While some of the interior scenes were filmed on location, most of it was done on a sound stage in New York. The Bada Bing was also a real strip club found in Lodi, and both the interior and exteriors were filmed on location. And Satriale’s was an abandoned building in Kearny that the producers had leased and decorated for the show.
Tony Sirico Was A Convicted Criminal
Long before he took the straight and narrow and took to acting, Tony Sirico was a convicted criminal who repeatedly had run-ins with the law. Sirico grew up in Brooklyn and ran with a tough crowd, leading to 28 separate arrests. While in prison, Sirico was visited by an acting troupe that was composed entirely of ex-convicts.
Realizing his potential and seeing himself in the members of the troupe, Sirico decided to try acting. He found he was good at it, and he quickly found himself typecast as gangster characters. Not that he minded. He got to star in Goodfellas and The Sopranos!