It doesn’t matter where you look. If you find a list that grades the greatest TV shows ever made, The Sopranos is always near the top. It will be hard to find a place in the world where a majority of people did not enjoy watching the show. It is a timeless classic and one that still holds up if you watch it today. The Sopranos is ultimately about a crime family and the underground world of mobsters. It is violent, loud, and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing from the beginning to the end of the show. So yes, it is one of the best TV series of all time. But that is not why we are here today.
One thing common among many, if not all big-time television series, is that there are secrets the producers of those series might not want you to know. Hell, we get these with reality television series about people making cakes, so what is the chance that there would be no secrets in a show about crime and the Mafia?
The overlords at HBO will not miss a chance to remind you how The Sopranos received over 250 award nominations and won more than 100 awards from 1999 to 2008. They will not, however, remind you how there were drug problems that haunted some of the actors. They will not remind you how some of the show stars had lengthy arrest records, nor will they remind you that the show did not exactly play out as it was first planned. These and more, you will find out soon enough because here are 15 behind the scene secrets The Sopranos producers don’t want us to know.
15 Livia Should Have Died Earlier
The name of the show was the surname of the family. It is bound that people would believe The Sopranos was a show about family, which is true. However, they are not your usual family. Starting out with the relationship between Tony and his mother, Livia, these guys were as dysfunctional as mafia families come.
Livia was the definition of a terrible mother. During the entire show, at least while she was still alive, she did nothing but make the other characters miserable. For that, fans wanted her to die a horrible death. Little did we know that she was actually supposed to die earlier than she did. The original idea the creator of the show had was to have Tony succeed in killing his mother by suffocating her with a pillow after she tried to have him murdered in the first season. However, he decided against that idea because the actress who played Livia was sick with cancer and asked him to keep her on the show for a while longer.
Regardless if they are movies or TV shows, any story that involves mobsters seems to have the same kind of characters. Little did we know that sometimes they actually have the same actors and actresses as well. Some fans might have realized this already, but this might be news to other people. Airing from the late ‘90s then into the 2000’s, The Sopranos catapulted a lot of individuals into solid acting careers. However, some actors who appeared in the show had already played parts in a legendary mobster flick.
Apparently, as many as 10 recurring actors from The Sopranos appeared in the 1990 classic, Goodfellas. Among them were Lorraine Bracco who played Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Tony Sirico who played Paulie, Michael Imperioli who played Christopher, and Vincent Pastore who played the legendary Sal Bonpensiero. Yes, we are not playing around. Next time you have a few minutes to spare, just go watch Goodfellas and see how many of your favorite Sopranos characters you can spot.
13 Tony Should’ve Looked A Bit Different
These days, it isn’t possible to think about the character of Tony Soprano without thinking about James Gandolfini. Still, if the creator of the show had his say in the matter, Gandolfini would have never gotten a chance to play the Soprano mobster in the first place. The person who David Chase wanted playing his main character was none other than the E Street Band guitarist, Steven Van Zandt. Yes, Tony Soprano should have looked like Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist.
At the end of the day, this would have been Van Zandt’s first role in the acting business, and the producers of the show were not too keen on having a rookie playing their head honcho. But Chase liked him so much that he actually wrote in a character for Van Zandt to play a part in the show. We don’t know how good of a Tony he would have been, but the guitarist definitely put on a good show as Silvio Dante.
12 Steve Schrripa Wasn’t Fat Enough
It wasn’t until season three that Bobby Baccalieri became a sure thing in the show and started getting the love of the fans. Much of it was because Bobby was quite different from the rest of the characters we got used to seeing in The Sopranos. Instead of being a murderous as*hole, Bobby was more like a shy and bighearted kind of mobster. And, unlike a lot of us would think, those traits didn’t take much away from his ability to perform the jobs he had to do in order to keep the loan shark business going.
One characteristic of Bobby that most fans loved was the fact that he had a few extra pounds. Okay, Bobby was a fat guy; just ask Tony Soprano. The problem is that Steve Schirripa wasn’t as fat as Chase seemed to want the character to be. And because of that, Steve had to wear a fat suit for the first couple of seasons.
11 Stingy HBO
HBO is widely regarded as one of the studios that spend the most money in the making of television series. Hell, can you imagine the fortune they spent on shows like Game of Thrones and The Sopranos? The problem is that despite their apparent tendency to open their pockets in order to keep their great shows running, HBO had an issue before season five of The Sopranos. Apparently, there was a payment dispute between the actors and HBO that almost ended the show.
We usually imagine the actors who play these huge roles earning massive salaries per episode, but when it comes to The Sopranos, some of the regulars did not make as much as many people would think. Part of the dispute were the salaries of Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico, who were being paid around $85,000 per episode. That is a pretty ridiculous figure when you think about how James Gandolfini was being paid about $1 million per episode.
Nevertheless, Gandolfini helped settle the issue by giving each of his colleagues around $33,000 out of his own pocket.
10 Livia’s Death
We had told you how the actress who played Livia Soprano, Nancy Marchand, had asked the show creator to keep her in the loop for as long as he could even though her character was supposed to die during the first season. She had a good reason for it as she was sick with cancer while working on the show. And we are all glad that Chase listened to her wishes and kept her happy and working until the very end, when the actress passed away in June of 2000.
This might not exactly be a behind-the-scenes secret that the producers don’t want you to know, but since it is a fact that changed the direction the show should’ve taken since the first season, we thought it would be a good addition to the list and a little way of remembering Livia. The death of the character on the show had to be put together from bits and pieces of footage they had of Livia.
9 Forgot About Drea
Few people have ever played characters to the level of greatness that Drea de Matteo did when she became Christopher Moltisanti’s girlfriend, Adriana La Cerva. Her portrayal of the character was so legendary that it earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Still, there was a good chance that she wouldn’t have even gotten the opportunity to play the role that earned her such an honor. In fact, as the show was about to debut, it seemed like Drea would be nothing more than a figurant, as she was cast to play a random waitress during the pilot episode rather than Adriana.
She actually auditioned for the role of Adriana but was turned down during the first try because Chase did not think she was Italian enough to play the role. Luckily, it didn’t take long for him to go back on that and for us to get one of the best female characters ever to grace a television screen.
8 Is This Real Life?
It is no secret that people can be easily led to believe that things in fiction could turn out to be true in the real world. Shows like The Sopranos have so much of pull in the psyche and beliefs of their audiences that some of the stuff that happened on the show eventually had effects in real life.
Sometimes, things can happen for the better of a business, as was the case with an ice cream parlor in New Jersey that was featured in the show. According to a CNN article, the business was still racking up cash from people who wanted to see it, just because of the show, half a decade after The Sopranos was over.
Another instance turned out to be quite the headache for the owners of the Riverhead Raceway in Long Island. After the show portrayed the track as being sold to a new owner, people started flooding the real owners of the place, asking them if they had indeed sold it in real life.
7 Keep Them Guessing
Keeping things secret is one of the main reasons why people keep coming to watch the greatest TV shows of all time. These days, places like HBO have to live with the constant fear that hackers could invade their network and steal or leak the content of what is going to happen in the next episode of everyone’s favorite series. This has occurred more than once and, while some people enjoy knowing what will happen ahead of the fact, most folks who love television do not want spoilers to ruin the best surprises in their favorite show.
One practice that was made perfect by the creator of The Sopranos, but undoubtedly pissed off some actors, was that Chase was keen on shooting several versions of important scenes in order to keep everyone guessing. Yeah, it was not just the fans who didn’t know what was going to happen in the next episode of The Sopranos. The actors had no idea which of the scenes they filmed would actually be the real one.
6 Tony Sirico Was Quite The Figure
All of the characters in the show had their fair encounters with the law. Even if some of them didn’t, they certainly performed enough illegal business that they should have at least been arrested a few times. One thing you probably didn’t know and the producers of The Sopranos probably don’t want you to know is that one of the actors involved in the show actually had quite the rap sheet himself.
Tony Sirico, who played Paulie, was not your usual actor. According to a piece by the Los Angeles Times in 1990, this guy had already tallied more arrests than he had acting jobs. Yeah, the man who played Paulie was arrested 28 times while he had only landed 27 acting gigs.
In a way, Sirico was the perfect guy to play a mobster. After all, it seems like he really was a mobster in real life. And while we don’t condone violence, you have to admit that having a childhood like this guy did could not have been easy.
5 Sopranos = Opera?
Have you ever walked into a place and realized that you did not belong there? Or better yet, have you ever gone to an event you thought was about something like a gaming convention and ended up being a meet-and-greet for a med school alumni association?
That is a bit of a stretch, but it is a way to illustrate what might have gone through Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s head when she was given the script to perform during her audition for The Sopranos. The woman who would go on to play Meadow Soprano clearly had no idea what she was getting into when she agreed to go to the audition. Years later, she told the media that when she went to audition for The Sopranos, Sigler actually thought she was going to audition for a show about opera singers.
And who knows? Perhaps some mobsters love the opera, but finding out what the show was actually about must have been quite the surprise for the young actress.
4 Fake Bills
There are things we hear about what happened to the cast of The Sopranos that makes us wonder how much the content of the show influence the lives of some of the actors and actresses who were involved in the production. Take Louis Gross for example. He was far from being one of the most recognizable characters on the show, but some of you might remember him from a scene when Tony Soprano went off on the character this guy played.
Gross, however, seems to have learned a thing or two from Soprano as he took a path that sharply veered from that of a lawful citizen in real life. Back in 2013, this guy was arrested for using fake $100 bills. He was caught trying to spend eight of the counterfeit bills on a Third Avenue store in New York. His payout from the show must not have been that great if he found the need to do stuff like this.
3 Like Father Like Son
No one was surprised when Tony Soprano first said that his son, AJ, did not have what it takes to follow in his footsteps and become the mob boss his father had become. However, one might wonder what Tony Soprano would say if the character of AJ were more like the actor who played him, Robert Iler, than the wimpy son of the mobster boss.
Not to hate on AJ too much, but at 16 years old, Robert was more of a potential mobster than Soprano Jr. was at the same age. We say that because Iler was arrested in New York and charged with two counts of second-degree robbery. What transpired was that according to the cops, Iler and three other guys came up to two teenagers after midnight in a park on the Upper East Side and harassed them for money. The four amigos told the victims they were packing, but showed no gun.
2 The Coke Problem
When you ask around Hollywood about the personality of James Gandolfini, you will most likely get nothing but praise. This guy was a distinguished actor and, by all accounts, was a kind and honorable man. However, at some point in his career, it seems that Gandolfini began to struggle with a problem many celebrities who reach the level of stardom he did through The Sopranos have to deal with. According to some accounts from his ex-wife, Gandolfini faced an uphill and gruesome battle against drug addiction and alcohol while still masterfully playing the role of Tony Soprano.
According to the ex-wife, James would constantly get irritated with himself for being unable to get away from the drugs and do stuff like punch himself in the face out of sheer frustration. People who worked with him on the show also said they could occasionally see him cursing and smacking himself on the back of his head out of frustration. This also allegedly seems to have played a part in the incident where he disappeared from the set for four days in 2002.
1 Bad Cop
Over these past few entries, we have talked about people who might have had their real-life behavior altered because of everything that happened and they learned on the show. Anthony Borgese, who played Lorenzo 'Larry Boy' Barese, made quite a few mobster moves in real life. Before saying what he actually did to get arrested in real life, we would like to remind you that The Sopranos was not the only, nor the first, time Anthony played a mobster, as he was also part of the cast of Goodfellas.
Either way, Tony was nailed in real life after a goon he hired to beat up someone who owed him money ratted him out after being convicted. According to the goon, Giovanni Monteleone, he was hired through an intermediary from a famous crime family and asked to rough up some guy for money. Monteleone went a bit overboard, breaking some of the man’s ribs and his jaw. After being caught by the feds, he lost no time in spilling the beans and handing over Borgese in order to cut himself a deal.