At 10 years of age, I had a paper route in my hometown of Engelwood, NJ. My route was only for the block I lived on, but some of my customers were Tony Bennett, Jerry Vale, Dizzy Gillespie, Leslie Gore, Sarah Vaughn and Tammy Tyrrel… I think I knew then that show business might be a great life for me.
My lovely blonde, Irish wife, Maureen and I have been happily married for 18 years. She greatly encouraged my desire to become an actor. I’ve been happily doing it now for eight years. I was born and raised in northern New Jersey back in the 50’s. I was educated in Jesuit schools in Manhattan and studied film making at NYU. We have one son, Ryan, who runs a busy contracting business. Our chocolate lab, Bosco, loves wearing his Sopranos hat and usually falls asleep with it on.
Maureen and I spend a couple of evenings each week at “Elaine’s” on Second Avenue in Manhattan, usually with Dominic Chianese, Federico Castellucio, John Fiore (Gigi Cestone) and other cast members. Elaine Kaufman, the famous saloonkeeper, is truly a great friend and a strong patron of actors.
We also spend a lot of time in a wonderful family restaurant owned by our great friends, Gino and Lisa Pesce, called “Attilio’s” in Denville, NJ. We and Federico sit for hours with our families eating their fabulous home cooking. I think the coziness of this old general store converted to a restaurant gives us inspiration in our writing projects. In any event, we love to talk to fans when we are there.
- 1. How did you find out you’d gotten a role on The Sopranos?
- In July 1998 I had just filmed a part in an NBC Movie of the Week, titled “Exiled” starring Chris Noth, formerly of “Law and Order”. Chris had asked me to play the role of a homicide detective and being a friend, I was happy to comply. I was done at 11 am and I rushed home, changed and jumped into a cab for my Sopranos audition at 2:15 pm. It was a very hot, sunny day. When I got out of the cab at 2:15pm I decided that I was tired of rushing the last few days on “Exiled” and I wanted a cigarette. I stood on the sidewalk and leisurely smoked… for a good 10 minutes. Then I went upstairs to my appointment and the casting director was closing her briefcase. She said (without lifting her head), “I’m finished, I’m leaving.” With that she looked up at me, paused, opened her briefcase and said “Okay, let’s read the part.” Three days later, I was brought back to meet David Chase and here I am.
2. How has working on The Sopranos altered your life?
- I have a very peaceful sense of validation that comes from the reality of being part of such a monumental piece of writing. David Chase loves giving his actors fabulous dialogue. Of course, it is very flattering to have icons and so many of the character actors that I have admired since my childhood walking up to me and complimenting my work and the series. For example, Govenor George Pataki, Sally Kellerman, Mayor Guiliani, etc.
- 3. Tell us about your favorite Sopranos memory?
- We were filming a scene in season two, the episode “Toodle… Ooo.” It was 96 degrees outside and 110 degrees inside this restaurant location. I walked out into the sidewalk to breathe some “cooler” air and very cute little boy asked me to sign the white cardboard that he had leftover from his package of Twinkies. He said, “Please make it out to me.” I asked his name and he replied, “Giovanni Augusto Perez.” I was luck that I was able to stand up from the hours of heat inside our location, let alone trying to write this little boy’s name. Of course, I was flattered… I’m always flattered. Jim Gandolfini walked up behind me and little Goiovanni said to him “Hey, Tony, I want your autograph.” Jimmy said, “Sure, what’s your name?” The boy told him. Jimmy just glared at me, he was punchy from the heat also, but, of course, he complied.
- 4. Do you have any similarities to your character, Johnny Sack?
- I most certainly do. When I was studying acting with that tremendous talent, Michael Moriarty, for three years, he always told me to approach a role in the form of an animal. He told me to pick out an animal the would fit the part of the character I was about to play. I feel that Johnny Sack is an alluring snake. He’s respectful, very approachable and hopefully, pleasing to look at. But his unobtrusiveness can never be mistaken for lethargy. He IS in control. He knows what he wants and knows how to be a diplomat. He never bites unless he intends to fill his belly. That’s me.
- 5. What made you choose to become an actor?
- A burning, unrelenting desire to evoke emotion in people.
- 6. What role would you most like to play?
- The Frankenstein monster. To be able to mine the torment and heartbreak of a creature who never asked to be given life. I’m very proud to be able to call myself a friend of Ms. Sara Karloff, Boris’ daughter.
- 7. What is in your future?
- Good roles in film and television. My agents on both coasts know and respect the fact that I’m not at all interested in any part that would diminish my “high up on the food chain” part that I play on The Sopranos. I recently guest starred on “Law and Order” and co-starred with Dan Ackroyd in a national commercial for FT.com.
- A few years ago, I wrote, produced and co-starred in a half-hour comedy film entitled, “Dearly Beloved.” I play Francis Leone, a funeral director in Brooklyn who is in major trouble with a loan shark, played by Tony Sirico. I try to borrow some money from the local banker, played by Michael Badalucco (from The Practice). Both Tony and Michael came to do this little film for me under grueling conditions and I am eternally grateful to them. (By the way, I have a roomful of VHS copies of the film if anyone’s interested.) It all took place before any of us were recognizable. So, I will be writing more scripts.
- What was your favorite meal served on set?
- Penne with filetto di pomodoro sauce and broccoli rabe. Our prop department is great with food and at times we eat from four to eight portions because of all the camera angles.
- Where (what set/location) is your favorite place to film?
- It’s a secret at the moment.
- How would you describe yourself?
- Determined. I want to study the techniques of all the character actors that I’ve been watching since my childhood. I’m driven to polishing my work to appear to be as effortless as possible. I love good people, sincere people, but I can become absolutely unchained in the presence of show-offs and those who love to pose as emperors. Thankfully, we don’t have anyone like that on the show… no one… not ever!
- How do you think other people would describe you?
- Removed and unapproachable. I guess aloof would be a better description. I’m a loyal, determined friend. I like to focus only on hard working, sincere human beings. Quite a few of them are household names. They show no ego. So why do so many unfriendly people have major attitudes. Maybe someday I’ll find the answer.
- Do you have a fan e-mail address or official web site?
- The e-mail for fans is FIL442@aol.com I am currently in the process of having a web page designed. Once that is complete we’ll let you know.
- Do you use the Internet often? What are some of your favorite sites?
- I’ve come to love the Internet. My wife, Maureen, found a miracle drug on the Web that has completely helped our dog, Bosco. I was so happy that I kissed our computer. Prior to that I had no interest in its function. Many sites interest me, especially sites dealing with my favorite actors from the 40’s and 50’s and Sopranoland was a great find for me.
- Anything else you would like to tell Sopranoland visitors?
- Your interest in our work is much appreciated and it gives great momentum to an actor’s life. The Sopranoland Sightings section is informative to the audience and the great effort you put into it is admirable. I hope that you enjoy our new season and hopefully you will realize how great an effort the writers, cast and crew put into this project. The Sopranos is truly a pleasant and energizing place to work. It is, without a doubt, a piece of paradise on earth. I am very grateful to be a part of it.