Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano (Dominic Chianeses) on The Sopranos was almost played by two other actors who ended up getting major roles on the show. Fortunately, the final casting worked out magnificently for all three men and their respective characters. There’s a massive laundry list of reasons why HBO’s The Sopranos is arguably the greatest show of all-time. One of the reasons is how well The Sopranos’ lead actors matched up with their onscreen counterparts, leading to a number of iconic performances.
It’s hard to imagine any of The Sopranos characters being played by other actors, but that almost happened with Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano. According to a 2012 Vanity Fair article, Tony Sirico, Frank Vincent, and Dominic Chianese all auditioned for Uncle Junior. Chianese won the part, and Sirico and Vincent got the roles of Paulie Walnuts and Phil Leotardo, respectively. It was the smart move at the time, and hindsight has been nothing but favorable to Dominic Chianese, Tony Sirico, Frank Vincent, with regards to their respective performances on The Sopranos.
Why Dominic Chianese Was Perfect For The Sopranos’ Uncle Junior
The casting process isn’t always flawless, but The Sopranos nailed almost all of its casting decisions. Dominic Chianese brought an incredible amount of depth and development to one of the show’s most tragic characters. Uncle Junior never got whacked by Tony Soprano, and a good portion of his screen time was safe from the dangers directly associated with “waste management” or any other ostensibly innocuous job. Nonetheless, Uncle Junior’s ill-fated story arc was much more subtly malicious. Dominic Chianese brought the character arc’s creeping evolution to life as Uncle Junior gradually went from a hard-nosed, bitter leader to a terminally ill elderly man in the advanced stages of dementia.
The role of Uncle Junior was a daunting one, but Dominic Chianese was up to the task. According to Chianese, Uncle Junior’s iconic glasses were a big part of that tremendous acting performance. He felt “those glasses were my mask. We were doing Greek tragedy there. Behind the mask a lot of things come out that you wouldn’t do.”
The Sopranos Was Made Even Better By Failed Uncle Junior Auditions
Meanwhile, Tony Sirico ended up portraying Paulie Walnuts, The Sopranos’ secret weapon, with Frank Vincent playing Phil Leotardo in seasons 5 and 6. Sirico’s outstanding performance made Paulie one of The Sopranos‘ well-deserved fan favorite characters. Likewise, Vincent’s Phil Leotardo was instrumental in The Sopranos‘ final seasons as the series approached what would be a very contentious series finale. Sadly, Tony Sirico passed away in 2022, and Frank Vincent passed away in 2017. However, it is a testament to their memorable performances on The Sopranos that even with a combined 80+ years of acting experience, their respective roles as Paulie Walnuts and Phil Leotardo are considered definitive examples of career-best work.
David Chase’s The Sopranos was – and still is – one of television’s finest series. The intense, multilayered character analyses of the titular Sopranos and the other gabagool-seeking characters on the show helped make the HBO series synonymous with “the greatest of all-time.” Tony Sirico and Frank Vincent were an important part of that even if they lost out on the role of Uncle Junior, and Dominic Chianese emphatically proved why he was the best man for Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano.