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Fans of The Sopranos know one of the most devastating moments involving the kind-hearted Bobby Baccalieri was his first hit, which happened toward the end of the series. It’s in that moment a brilliant metaphor for the character losing a part of his soul occurs — but Steve Schirripa reveals the instance was not planned.
The Sopranos has been off the air for more than 14 years, and yet the David Chase Mafia drama is as popular as ever, highlighted by the recent release of the prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark. The appetite for the series is so great, Schirripa and fellow show alum Michael Imperioli created the Talking Sopranos podcast to discuss the award-winning program.
In addition to the podcast, the duo also has a book due out next month: Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos. To get fans pumped, Schirripa recently joined The Hollywood Reporter to talk nitty-gritty Bobby Baccalieri moments from the classic HBO series.
Bobby had arguably the best arc of the series. Did you know anything ahead of time or was his development as big of a surprise to you?
Not one word from day one. The first season I was on the show, I did six episodes. I spoke to David on the last day. I was crossing the studio out front, and I introduced myself to him. And he said, “I know who you are. We like Baccalieri. We’ll see you again next year,” which was a huge deal. But never one time did they say, “He’s this, he’s that, he’s going to marry Janice, he’s going to sit to the right of the boss someday.” The writing was so good, I figured it out myself.
Bobby has some of the most hilarious lines of the show. Do you have a favorite?
Of course, “You know, Quasimodo predicted all this.” That was kind of a turning point for me and for Bobby, there in the diner with the boss. And I enjoyed, “I’m in awe of you,” with Junior (Dominic Chianese). But my favorite line in the show, [said by someone else], was Silvio’s [Steven Van Zandt] “You’re only as good as your last envelope.” If that’s not a metaphor for everything in life, especially in show business.
Speaking of, how was working with Dominic, your scene partner for a lion’s share of the series?
He was a mentor without being a mentor. I had to wear the fatsuit for the first two seasons. And Dominic told me, “Use your belly. Use that belly.” So that is what I did. I made myself even bigger, like when I am getting out of the car.
Die-hard fans hated Tony for ordering Bobby to do that hit out of spite in “Soprano Home Movies.” It’s a sad, intense moment. What was it like for you to create it?
Bobby didn’t want to do it even though [being a hitman] was his father’s specialty. The actor who played the kid was terrific. He did a great job without not having much to do — just the look on his face. Bobby was a good guy. He was a mob guy, so he is still doing bad things and threatening people — but everything is relative.
Was Bobby’s shirt ripping a metaphor for him losing part of his soul?
My shirt wasn’t supposed to rip. The kid grabs me, and I pulled away and the shirt ripped. That wasn’t in the script, it just happened. It was a happy accident; a very real moment. And you can see the look in Bobby’s eyes, like “What did I just do?” We did a couple of takes. Then that happened and that’s the one they used.
What did you think when you read “Blue Comet” and realized it was the end of the line for Bobby?
There were nine episodes left. The show’s over, so all bets are off. If I would have been killed off in seasons two, three or four, I would have been devastated because you’re not only out of work, you’re no longer with your friends. It was unusual the way I found out. Usually, David Chase took the actor aside at read-through and gave the news. For me, it was about 11 a.m. in January and my phone rang. David said, “I’m on my way over.” So I knew something was up. He arrived and said, “I guess you know why I am here.” It was like a real hit in that moment. I said, “How’s it going to happen?” and he said, “In a train store.” And I said, “I hope you’re happy with what I did.” And he said, “Very.” And I thanked him for changing my life. I remember Jim [Gandolfini] saying, “Wow. I’ve never heard of him coming to anyone before. You should be flattered.” And I was.
How was filming the actual death scene?
It was Valentine’s Day 2007, and we were in the train store in Long Island. It was snowing. It was baptism by fire. I just had to go with the flow. The only thing I didn’t do was jump at the end onto the train set. It became a badge of honor, how they killed you. Some guys faded away, but then there are some really good kills. I was very happy with the way Bobby went out. I think people really cared and were devastated. It wasn’t my last day, though. I had to come back to shoot a couple of things, like getting out of the car to go into the store. So it was a little anti-climatic, my last day.
I’ve heard The Walking Dead cast goes out to dinner when a regular bites the dust. Did you all do anything like that?
They copied that shit from us. We had the first kill-off dinner. When Gigi [Cestone, played by John Fiore] died, I said to him, “Hey, it’s your last day. Let me take you out to dinner.” And before you know it, more and more people came, including Jim. Suddenly, there were nine of us at IL Cortile on Mulberry Street. Numerous other characters had a dinner. At one point, there were 20 people there for the send-off. It was a tradition. And then the press caught wind of it and knew that the person we were toasting was going to get killed off, so we had to stop.
The show has been off the air since 2007, and yet it is as popular as ever. How do you feel being a part of something so special?
I honestly think they’re going to be watching it 50 years from now. I think that it is that good. There are more people watching it now than when it aired thanks to streaming. It holds up like it was written yesterday. It’s not dated at all. It’s caught on with younger audiences because it’s smart, laugh-out-loud funny and about family.
Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos is due out on Nov. 2.
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