The Sopranos

Bada Bing!: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Sopranos

David Chase's mob epic The Sopranos defined Peak TV. Here's some little-known trivia about the HBO series and everyone's favorite mobster, Tony.

HBO’s The Sopranos, an action-packed drama series about the daily lives of a New Jersey crime family, began its pilot episode with a mob boss in his bathrobe, looking at some ducks. In the hands of a lesser creative team, this show would be doomed to fail.

But in the more-than-capable hands of David Chase and co., it was the beginning of a different kind of gangster story — maybe the greatest gangster story ever told — with a stronger focus on the psychology of the characters than we usually get to see. Here are 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Sopranos.

Jamie-Lynn Sigler initially thought it was a show about opera singers

When Jamie-Lynn Sigler was first sent the materials for The Sopranos before she auditioned to play Meadow, she knew nothing about the show other than its title. Based on that, she thought it was a show about opera singers.

HBO feared that audiences would think the same thing, and tried to have the title changed to Made in New Jersey. They eventually compromised with David Chase. He would be able to call the show The Sopranos, but he would have to put an image of a gun in the series’ logo to let viewers know about its violent subject matter

James Gandolfini gave each cast member money from his own pocket to settle salary disputes

Whenever a TV show reaches a certain level of popularity, the principal actors tend to ask for more money. This has happened with the casts of every show from The Simpsons to Modern Family, and The Sopranos was no different. After Season 4, the actors began demanding larger paychecks, and HBO refused to pay up, so production of the next season was delayed.

In order to settle the pay disputes and get the series back on track for its then-upcoming fifth season, James Gandolfini gave each of his fellow cast members a total of $33,333 out of his own pocket.

Lorraine Bracco was originally offered the role of Carmela Soprano

Dr. Melfi talks to Tony for the first time

Originally, Lorraine Bracco was offered the role of Carmela Soprano, but the actress felt that the “mob wife” role was too similar to Karen Hill, her character in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. She asked to play Dr. Melfi instead, figuring that part would be more of a challenge.

David Chase has made no secret of the fact that Goodfellas was a massive influence on the look and feel of The Sopranos. His top choice to play Tony Soprano was Ray Liotta, who played the lead role of Henry Hill in Scorsese’s masterpiece. However, Liotta didn’t want to commit to a TV series. He was later in talks to portray Ralph Cifaretto, but those talks fell through.

David Chase conceived The Sopranos as a movie

The Sopranos originated as a movie pitch by David Chase. He wanted to make a feature-length film about a mobster who starts seeing a psychiatrist, and even wrote the first scripts for the series as a movie. Chase’s manager felt that the characters in the script were so rich and well-developed that they deserved more time to grow, and encouraged him to rework the movie into a TV series.

So, Chase dug back into the script, retooled it to be more open-ended to allow for future storylines, pitched it as a series to HBO, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Drea de Matteo had to spend four hours in hair and makeup before filming

Adriana leaves the Bada Bing with Christopher

Before filming any of her scenes, Drea de Matteo had to spend four hours in hair and makeup. It took two hours to puff up her hair to give her a classic “mob girl” look to play Adriana La Cerva, the girlfriend and later fiancée of Christopher Moltisanti. It would take an additional two hours to cover up her tattoos with makeup if her arms, legs, or torso were on display.

De Matteo has since gone on to play Angie Bolen on Desperate Housewives and Wendy Case, the meth-addicted ex-wife of Jax and mother of his son, on Sons of Anarchy.

“Junior” was Tony Sirico’s own gangster nickname

The mob nickname given to Corrado Soprano, “Junior,” was taken from the real-life nickname of Tony Sirico, who played Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri on the show. Before becoming an actor, in his younger days, Sirico had actually been a gangster working for a crime family. He previously served time in prison for robbery, and has a rap sheet with a total of 28 arrests, as he explained in the documentary The Big Bang.

Sirico only agreed to play Paulie if the writers promised they would never make him a “rat,” or an informant, because the mob considers informants to be the lowest of the low.

David Chase wrote the role of Silvio Dante specifically for Steven Van Zandt

Having been a long-time fan of Steven Van Zandt’s  music, working with the band the Rascals, The Sopranos creator David Chase had always wanted to write a part for him to play. He asked Van Zandt to audition to play Tony Soprano, despite the fact he had no acting experience.

Van Zandt didn’t want to take the role away from an actual working actor, so Chase wrote the role of Silvio Dante specifically for him. The character was based on a character with the same name that appeared in a short story that Van Zandt wrote and showed to Chase.

Drea de Matteo didn’t know she was getting killed off until she saw the script

Silvio drives Adriana to her point of execution in The Sopranos

Drea de Matteo had no idea that her character Adriana wouldn’t make it to the end of the series until she saw the script in which she was killed off. Despite her limited exposure in the final season, she still managed to win an Emmy for it.

The hit on Adriana is believed to have been inspired by the real-life 1979 killing of Theresa Ferrara. Ferrara was the mistress of a feared gangster and became an informant after getting caught selling drugs to an undercover agent. Three months after leaving her post at the beauty salon where she worked to attend a mysterious meeting, her dismembered corpse was found.

Nancy Marchand’s death disrupted a major Tony/Livia storyline

In the first couple of seasons of The Sopranos, Tony’s troubled relationship with his mother Livia was the crux of the story. In Season 3, David Chase had planned a major storyline in which Tony struggled to stop Livia from testifying against him in court.

However, Nancy Marchand, who played Livia on the show, died between the second and third seasons. This forced Chase to rethink a huge portion of the Season 3 story arc. Marchand’s face had to be placed onto a body double using CGI effects to give her character a fitting ending in the show’s third season.

James Gandolfini was really committed to giving an authentic performance

Tony Soprano holding a box of orange juice in The Sopranos

James Gandolfini was really, really dedicated to giving an authentic performance in the role of Tony Soprano. For any scene that required him to get angry, he’d put a little stone in his shoe to drive him mad during each take. And before a couple of breakfast scenes, he would stay up all night to have a tired, groggy look for the scene.

This is how icons are created. Gandolfini said that he would often be contacted by real-life mobsters to compliment him on his convincing performance and the authenticity of the show, while also offering him a few pointers.

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