When The Sopranos first aired in 1999, the creator of the show had no idea just how important it would become in influencing popular culture. Even though the series came to an end in 2005, the show is still considered a crown jewel among other popular television series. There are very few shows, especially on HBO, that have been able to achieve a similar level of success to that ofThe Sopranos.One ofits best qualities was how several aspects of the show seemed to bear many similarities to real world elements.
Interestingly, not only were several of the show’s cast featured in other memorable Gangster flicks like the Godfather films and Goodfellas, many of them are known for having criminal records. Several of these crimes include carrying out acts while in the service of mob families.
The Sopranos goes above and beyond to include a cast that embodies the reality of mob culture that they demonstrate in the series. However, while several of the show’s fictional characters may be legitimately tough in real life, the opposite also holds true. Some of the show’s most ruthless characters, are actually not as tough as they are shown on-screen.
Here is a list featuring some of The Sopranos Stars Who Are Legitimately Tough, And Those Who Are Only Tough On Screen!
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15 Tough In Real Life: Tony Borgese
Tony Borgese is also known by his stage name, Tony Darrow. In The Sopranos, Darrow is one of the many gangsters that make up Tony’s crew. When Borgese was chosen for his role in the show, there were several factors that gave him an advantage. This includes his prior experience as a wise guy in Goodfellas.
What really allowshim to sell his part as a mobster of the Soprano family, is that he is familiar with how the moboperates in real life.
Since he was born, Borgese has been frequently surrounded by mob and gangster influence. According to the New York Post, Borgese'sfather was frequently in and out of prison while he was growing up. As a result, he became closely acquainted with several “wise guys”, allowinghimto build up on his real-life connections.There was even a time when he was affiliatedwith the Gambino crime family.
In 2011, Borgese was arrested by police for playing a part in arranging a real-life mob beating. Originally facing three years in prison, Borgesewas instead sentenced to six months house arrest and two years probation. He also has appeared in public service announcements, warning youth of the dangers that come with engaging in criminal activity.
14 Tough On Screen: Steve Schirripa
In The Sopranos, Bobby is known for being sort of a contradiction when it comes to Tony’s crew of gangsters. Unlike his partners, Bobby is known for being kind hearted. However, this does not mean that he is not a good mobster. In fact, his kindness gives hima usefuladvantage, as he is well liked by the other members of his organization. The fact that he comes from a family of well respected mobsters further increases his reputation.
He was even groomed to be Tony’s replacement in the event of his passing, or hisarrest. Furthermore, he also happens to be one heck of a marksman. In real life, the toughness Schirripa shows on screen may not be as strong, but he is still a nice guy.
In addition to The Sopranos, Schirripa also stars in other roles across TV and film. His acting ability allows him to branch out into different roles, even opposing ones. For example, even though he plays a mobster in The Sopranos, he stars as a detective in Blue Bloods.
According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Schirripa is a producer, as well as a best-selling author of the book “Big Daddy’s Rules”. He even has his own brand of Italian foods, which he started in honor of his late mother. Talk about a jack of all trades.
13 Tough In Real Life: Michael Squicciarini
Michael “Big Mike” Squicciarini is responsible for portraying the tough, yet lovable mobster, Big Frank Cipollina in The Sopranos second season. In addition to his acting ability, Big Mike also benefits from his imposing heightof six feet, five inches. Sadly, Big Mike’s time on the Sopranos came to an end following his death in 2001.
While he may have been an important character in the series, Squicciarini still had his own demons when he was alive. Whether it was on screen or in real life, Squicciarini’s connections to the mob's activities is more than just a product of The Sopranos TV series. According to the Guardian, he had some connections and involvement with the DeCavalcante crime family’s Brooklyn branch.
For members of The Sopranos cast, its no secret that several of them have had run ins with the law. However, Squicciarini was the first cast member to be involved in a more serious crime. According to the Guardian, Squicciarini was implicated in the shooting of drug dealer, Ralph Hernandez. Although the details regarding his role are not entirely clear, he potentially still played a part in Hernandez’s murder.
12 Tough On Screen: David Proval
In the show, Proval is known for playing Richie Aprile, the uncle of Adriana La Cerva. Unlike his niece, Richie is a true sociopath in nature and is one of the show’s most ruthless characters. His desire for causing pain to others surpasses that of any other member of Tony’s crew.
Originally Tony’s superior, Richie was demoted during the ten years he spent in prison. Following his release, he bore Tony no ill will. However, overtime, it becomesclear that their relationshipis slowly onthe decline. Eventually, Richie reaches his limits after learning that his son is possibly gay.This in turn led to an argument between him and Tony’s sister, with whom he was engaged to. Their argument reached a breaking point when they begin to fight, forcing her to shoot him in self-defense.
With such an intense reputation on TV, its only natural for some people to feel intimidated by Proval in real life.
Such an incident happened to him after walking into theChin Chin restaurant in West Hollywood. The waitresses there were supposedly too afraid to go near him after seeing him on the show. Thankfully, Proval is nothing at all like his mobster counterpart. He is actually a very nice guy who works hard to prepare for his roles.
11 Tough In Real Life: Robert Lier
Growing up, Lier spent a lot of his time auditioning and preparing for roles.One of his earliestachievements includes being a featured guest star on Saturday Night Live. However, none of the roles he starred in were enough to bring him recognition.
Everythingchanged once The Sopranos came along in 1999. After acquiring the role of A.J. Soprano, Lier’s reputation skyrocketed. Just like that, his role as A.J. brought him recognition. However, a few years after The Sopranos debuted, Lier found himself getting into recurring trouble with the law.
According to the New York Times, in 2002 Lier was charged with Larceny andillegal substance possession. The larceny charge alone, was enough to earn him up to 15 years in prison. To avoid conviction, which would have cost him his role in the show, Lier pleaded guiltyto the charge for his involvement in forcibly taking $40 from two teenage boys on a corner in New York Avenue. Due to his plea agreement, as well as his status as a youth offender, Lier received a lighter sentence as well as a three-year probation.
In the show, A.J. quickly develops into a bad boy type persona. Unfortunately, Lier likewise takes it to a new level in real life.
10 Tough In Real Life: Lillo Brancato Jr.
In the show, Lillo Brancato Jr. plays the role of Matthew Bevilaqua. Bevilaquais a close associate with the Soprano crew and works closely with Christopher Moltisanti. Brancato’s character shows that he is not afraid to get his hands dirty if the situation demands it. This includes engaging in small time robbery, scamming, and even committing assault.
Unfortunately, much of this character’s actions are reflected by the actor that portrays him.
Brancato Jr. is one of the shows more infamous cast members. Despite being considered one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors, especially for his role playing Robert DeNiro’s son in a Bronx Tale, he quickly spiraled out of control.He eventually found himselfaddicted to illegal substances.
According to People, he and a friend, Steven Armento, broke into a house on December 10th, 2005 searching for prescription drugs. During their robbery, an off-duty police officer, Daniel Enchautegui, arrived to investigate. Sadly, he lost his life following an altercation with the two, in which Armento shot him. Although Brancato was not responsible for pulling thetrigger that ended the officer's life,he still carries responsibility for his part in causing the robbery that led to this tragedy.
Brancato was sentenced to ten years in prison by Justice Martin Marcus of the State Supreme Court in the Bronx, according to the New York Times. Since then, Broncato has been released from prison. Despite this, the stigma of his actions will remain with him forever.
9 Tough On Screen: Michael Imperioli
Michael Imperioli is an amazing actor and made quite the impact in his debut as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos. In the show, Christopher is Tony’s protégé, although he often makes things difficult for Tony. This is mostly attributed to the fact that most of his schemes end in failure. The fact that he suffers from a terrible addiction is also an important factor to consider.
However, he makes up for his shortcomings with his loyalty to his family. He went so far as to choose his crime family over the love of his life, Adriana, after she reveals herself to being an FBI informant. Furthermore, Christopher is also known for being quite brutal. He never hesitates when it comes totaking out his and his family’s enemies and is quite clever in luring his targets to designated locations when carrying out the deeds. His firstone in the pilot is a testament to this fact.
However, as brutal as he is as Christopher, Michael Imperioli is it the total opposite of his counterpart. Unlike most members of the cast, Michael does not carry his character’s reality with him in the real world. If anything, he is an avid practitioner of the arts. He evenfounded the off-Broadway theater, Studio Dante, along with his wife.
8 Tough In Real Life: Louis Gross
In the show, Gross plays Perry Annunziata whom Tony hires him as his bodyguard and driver towards the end of the series. Although, due to Perry’s hot-headed nature, his role as Tony’s bodyguard and driver hit a snag after he got into a fight with him. Even though Tony got the better of him, it was still pretty gutsy of him to take him on.
However, it seems that Gross possesses his character’s decision for making rash mistakes. In April of 2006, Gross was arrested after a woman claimed that he had broken into her house. Following this incident, Gross took it upon himself to take up the Mafia’s code of silence, Omerta. Following his release, Gross told reporters that he was innocent.
However, this was only one instance of Gross engaging in criminal mischief. In 2013, he was caught in New York trying to use $100 counterfeit bills. Shortly before he was arrested by police, Gross tried ditching the evidence by throwing the money away. At the time, Gross claims that the money that was in his possession was real and not counterfeit. However, Gross still pleaded guilty to the charges against him, to avoid potentially facing up to 15 years worth of jail time.
7 Tough On Screen: Steven Van Zandt
Known for his role as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, Steven Van Zandt is one of the most memorable actors in the entire series. Silvio was a well-liked character that knew how to gettough when the situation called for it. He was also one of many characters that survived through some of the series most intense situations. Silvio was also known for being the owner and consigliere of the club that Tony and his crew often frequent.
Interestingly, when Van Zandt was chosen for the role, it turns out that he did not have any acting experience.
However, what he lacked in acting experience, he made up for with his fame as a musician. As a famous musician, Van Zandt has amassed quite the reputation. His accomplishments include being a core member of the E Street Band, founding Wicked Cool Records in 2005, co-writing for Springsteen, as well as branching out into TV and movies beyond The Sopranos, such as the Netflix series Lillyhammer.
However, one of his greatest accomplishments is his dedication to bringing music back into schools. This passion for inspiring music in youth led him to founding the non-profit organization, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation which teaches the history of rock music, both as an art form, as well to understand US history.
6 Tough In Real Life: John Ventimiglia
Much like other cast members, John Ventimiglia has had his fair share of brushes with the law. In the show, he plays Artie Bucco, a temperamental chef that is close friends with Tony Soprano. Although he is not really part of Tony’s crew, the idea of participating in the lifestyle that Tony is known for is an exciting prospect for him.
However, he has had his moments of rage and will not hesitate to confront people who have wronged him. Even if they happen to be in positions of power, which includesTony. After Artie learns that Tony was indirectly responsible for burning down his restaurant (which is ironic as Tony did it intending to save his business), he does not hesitate to threaten his life.
It seems this temperamental attitude and rash behavior also follows him in real life. Like many of his other fellow co-stars, Ventimiglia has a criminal record. In 2006, he was spotted weaving in and out of traffic near his home. After being stopped by police, it was revealed that not only was he drunk, he was also in possession of and under the influence of illegal substances. A few days following his arrest, Ventimiglia was released from jail, without bail.
5 Tough On Screen: Dominic Chianese
When it comes to Gangster culture, Dominic Chianese is an important figure. In addition to staring in The Godfather: Part 2 as Corrado Sporrano, he also stars as Uncle Junior in The Sopranos. In the show, Junior serves as Tony’s mentor and teacher. He was responsible for grooming him into his eventual role as the head of their crime family. Despite this, Junior has his own way of doing things and can be ruthless in how he executes his plans.
However, as dangerous as he is in the show, Dominic Chianese is an amazing person. Before hegot his big role inGodfather: part 2, Dominic worked for the Drug Commission of New York State as a recreational worker in a rehab center.One of his biggest passions is music, which is the main reason he got into acting. It even played an important purpose during his time as a recreational worker. On several occasions, hewould play his guitar and teach some of the center’s female patients how to play as well.
According to an interviewwith Long Island Advance,Dominic’s passion for music helped him to not only to support his acting career, but his family as well. Dominic’s efforts have payed off as he is not only a famous actor, but a talented songwriter as well.
In 2001, he was honored at BMI Nashville for the release of his debut CD Hits.
4 Tough In Real Life:Edie Falco
Edie Falco, who plays Carmela in The Sopranos, stands out just as much as any of her fellow cast members. This includes James Gandolfini, who plays her husband. Unlike most of the show’s cast, Falco does not have a criminal record, nor does she need one to be considered tough. Falco’s performance as Carmela distinguishes her from any of her past roles. It was thanks to Carmela that Falco received her first Emmy, followed by two more Emmys and two Golden Globes.
In the world of The Sopranos, which is dominated by the machismo of male gangsters, Carmela is one of the few female actresses that stands out as a tough talking icon, according toThe Guardian.
Today, the only other role that comes close to rivaling her performance as Carmela is that of Jackie Peyton from Nurse Jackie. Despite being complete opposites of one another, both characters share a similar toughness and no-nonsense attitude that sets them apart from other characters in their respective series. Although Falco mentions that in terms of toughness,she is superiorto character’s like Nurse Jackie.
Her reasoning? For over two decades, she not only fought against her alcohol addiction, she also devoted her heart and soul to her acting career, while also raising her kids. Furthermore, she also beat breast cancer after being diagnosed in 2003.
Without a doubt, whether it's on screen or in real life, there are few actors as tough as Eddie Falco.
3 Tough On Screen: Nancy Marchand
Nancy Marchand began her acting career in 1951, where she made her debut in the Broadway show, Taming of the Shrew. Since then she made a name for herself as an actress appearing across film and television. One of her best performances was when she starred as Livia Soprano in The Sopranos.
Shewent all out to capture the persona of the Soprano matriarch. As Livia, shewas ruthless and never hesitated to do what was necessary to ensure the family’s success. She even went so far as to use her influence to undermine her son’s authority as head of the family. With such a compelling performance, it is no surprise thatshereceived two Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe for her role as Livia.
The drive and attitude she showed is what made Livia such an amazing villain in the series. She became so popular, that even though she was supposed topass in the first season, she lived on for longer than originally intended. Unfortunately, Nancy was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 72. However, despite her diagnosis, she made a request to David Chase to let her continue working for as long as she was able. A request he was more than happy to fulfill.
In the end, Nancy went above and beyond forand showed great dedication to seeing her role through to the very end.
2 Tough In Real Life: Tony Sirico
Over the years, it has become a recurring theme that having a criminal record is a common thing for members ofThe Sopranoscast. After all several of the shows actors, many of whom are on this list, are responsible for a variety of crimes.
However, when it comes to experience and criminal background, no other cast member stands out more than Tony Sirico. Known for playing Paulie, Sirico possesses an extensive criminal record that surpasses that of his other cast mates.
Before he started his career as an actor, Sirico worked forthe Colombo crime family. During this time, heacquiredan infamousrap sheetof 28 arrests. Eventually, he decided to leave his criminal ways behind him and pursued a career in acting. Since then, he has landed several roles where he couldusehis experience to his advantage.
This eventually led him to the role of Paulie inThe Sopranos. However, Sirico made it very clear to the show’s creator David Chase that he would only accept the role under one condition. No matter what may happen, Paulie would never become a rat.A great actor and true to himself,onecan’t help but be impressed with Sirico’s dedication.
1 Tough On Screen: James Gandolfini
James Gandolfini is one of the key characters inThe Sopranosand played a big partin bringing the series to new heights. All thanks to his unique approach to acting. Gandolfini first started taking acting classes when he was in his mid twenties. During the two years that he was studying there, his teacher would frequently tell him to just let everything out. One day Gandolfini decided to follow through with his teacher’s advice.From then on,helearned how to control and channel his rage into his performances.
When the time came for him to becomeTony Soprano, Gandolfini's persona changed. He became ruthless and adopted a sociopathic nature befitting a crime boss. However, according to New York Times TV writer Bill Carter, he describes that in reality Gandolfini was a “soft-spoken, yet warm guy”. He further states that “when he hugged you, it was genuine”.
Although he battled with his own demons at times, including a battle against addiction, Gandolfini was an irreplaceable part of what made the Sopranos such a great series. Sadly, in July 2013, Gandolfini died of a heart attack while travelling in Rome. Although he may be gone, he is immortalized as one of thegreatest actors of our time.
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