How Much Was Vito Spatafore Like ‘Sopranos’ Star Joe Gannascoli in Real Life?

While working on The Sopranos, the late James Gandolfini grew weary of how David Chase and his screenwriting team used details from actors’ lives for the characters on the show. Gandolfini began calling them “vampires” and wondered aloud whose blood they planned to suck next.

In the case of Tony Sirico, the writers took quite a bit from his life for the character of Paulie Walnuts. Sirico lived with his mother in Brooklyn; is a germaphobe; had never been to Italy; and speaks just like Paulie. And the writers didn’t stop with Sirico.

In a conversation with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Joe Gannascoli told us how the show’s writers took details from his life for the character of Vito Spatafore. Aside from the weight loss theme, they were much more subtle with Gannascoli than they’d been with Sirico and other actors on the show.

Vito’s weight loss and bad hips came from Gannascoli’s life.

Joseph Gannascoli as Vito Spatafore in ‘The Sopranos’ | HBO

The most obvious things plucked from Gannascol’s life were physical. Gannascoli had bad hips when the show was on the air, and he noted how you can see it in his walk. (During his trudge through a rainstorm in New Hampshire, his limp is quite apparent.)

Those hips would plague him until his run on The Sopranos ended. With Vito out of the picture as a character, Gannascoli had time for double hip-replacement surgery.

Meanwhile, the weight-loss commercials Vito does at the start of Season Six also came from Gannascoli’s life. At one point, he weighed 400 lbs. But he had lap-band surgery and began a serious diet, with pills and exercise, to get down to 260 in the past decade.

As Vito did on The Sopranos, Gannascoli worked as a spokesman for weight-loss companies over the years. However, he’s struggled to keep the weight off since.

Gannascoli’s constant hustle and passion for food also came out in Vito.

Joseph Gannascoli, who plays mobster Vito Spatafore in HBO’s “The Sopranos,” discusses the show at Paneantico restaurant on Third Ave. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. | Todd Maisel/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Sopranos characters never went long between meals, and that’s something Gannascoli always related to. Before becoming an actor, he worked as a chef in New York and New Orleans. (In his early days on The Sopranos, he still had a restaurant in Brooklyn called Soup As Art.)

So when you see Vito appreciate the “johnny cakes” and house-made sausages made by his love interest in New Hampshire, that part didn’t take a lot of acting.

Vito’s constant hustle is something that applies to Gannascoli in real life as well. In our conversation, he mentioned a book he co-wrote, a product line he licensed to the NFL, and several other ventures, Gannascoli doesn’t sit tight for long without wondering where he’ll make his next buck.

To that end, Gannascoli seems at-ease whether he’s greeting fans at one of his regular restaurant appearances on Long Island or turning up on Fox News to tell Neil Cavuto about technology that can help prevent mass-shootings. (He works as a consultant for a company called Intralogic Solutions.)

Beyond that, Gannascoli is happily married with a wife and young daughter. So the similarities to Vito abruptly end there.

Also seeThe 1 Thing ‘Sopranos’ Star Tony Sirico Couldn’t Stand About Playing Paulie Walnuts