How ‘Sopranos’ Creator David Chase Reminded Michael Imperioli of Martin Scorsese
Would The Sopranos have existed without Goodfellas (1990)? Michael Imperioli, who appeared in both gangster productions (as Christopher Moltisanti and Spider, respectively), posed that question on the Talking Sopranos podcast. And it’s worth considering.
For starters, Sopranos creator David Chase has spoken about his love for Goodfellas. Chase cited one scene from the Martin Scorsese film in particular: when the three main characters stop by the home of Tommy (Joe Pesci). “The Sopranos learned a lot from that,” Chase once said in an interview.
Chase was speaking about the blend of comedy, naturalism, and brutality going on in certain scenes. In some ways, it’s a touching moment involving a mother and son with his friends. But you know Tommy is borrowing his mom’s knife so he can chop up the body of Billy Batts (Frank Vincent).
Meanwhile, you can’t ignore the number of actors who appeared in Goodfellas who later turned up in The Sopranos. The similarities didn’t end there, though. Imperioli pointed out what Chase and Scorsese had in common as producers and directors.
Michael Imperioli said Martin Scorsese and David Chase make all cast members feel like they belong
When Imperioli landed the part of Spider in Goodfellas, he was an unknown New York actor in his early 20s. And he was working opposite Pesci, Robert De Niro (Jimmy Conway), and Ray Liotta (Henry Hill) in both of his scenes.
Needless to say, that had to be an intimidating moment for an actor just starting out in the business. On the Goodfellas shoot, the accomplished lead actors were constantly improvising, forcing everyone around them to react on the spot.
But Imperioli recalled how Scorsese put him at ease from the start of his time on Goodfellas. Scorsese made him feel like he belonged on the set, and it didn’t matter how many credits Imperioli had (or didn’t have). After all, they were there to make the best movie they could make.
When Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccala) described his start as a novice on The Sopranos, it rang a bell for Imperioli. “[An actor’s experience] didn’t matter. If you were the guy [Chase cast], you were the guy,” Schirripa said on Talking Sopranos. “Scorsese is the same way,” Imperioli said.
Several ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Sopranos’ actors have noted the welcoming style of Chase and Scorsese
By the time of The Sopranos, Imperioli had a lot of experience. But Schirripa (Baccala) and actors like Jason Cerbone (Jackie Aprile, Jr.) were just getting their feet wet in the business. Chase did his best to help them along. “That’s the thing about David Chase that’s incredible,” Schirripa recalled.
In an earlier episode of Talking Sopranos, Imperioli said that’s why he felt forever indebted to Scorsese. On Goodfellas, Imperioli was surrounded by top-notch, big-name actors. But it didn’t matter. “[Scorsese] made me feel like I was an actor, I belonged there, and I should have fun,” Imperioli said.
Lorraine Bracco, who broke through as Karen Hill in Goodfellas and starred as Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos, knew exactly what Imperioli meant. She told a story about the casting of The Irishman (which featured several Sopranos cast members).
“Sebastian Maniscalco called me when he had gotten the part for The Irishman, and he was petrified,” Bracco recalled on Talking Sopranos. “I said, ‘Breathe. Relax. Know your lines. Know where you wanna go with your character.'” Maniscalco did as she said, and it worked. “[Scorsese] always says, ‘90% of [my] job is good casting,'” Bracco said.