How hard did actors on The Sopranos take the death of a co-star’s character? According to various Sopranos regulars, it had a major impact on the cast members. And it began with the death of Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore).
It was no different in the Sopranos writers room. “The writers thought about it a lot. We didn’t do this easily or cheaply,” creator David Chase told Vanity Fair in 2012. Chase would call each actor into his office and explain how it hurt all parties when someone got whacked.
By the end of season 5, the show had seen its share of high-profile deaths — including that of Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) — but it hadn’t gotten any easier to say goodbye to series regulars. That came out in the death of Tony Blundetto, played by Steve Buscemi.
Buscemi, who became a part of the Sopranos family when he directed season 3’s “Pine Barrens,” was beloved by all on the set. But the writers realized they’d written themselves into a corner by the end of season 5, when Blundetto simply had to go.
Tony Soprano kills Tony Blundetto in the ‘Sopranos’ season 5 finale
Chase clearly admired Buscemi’s work as both actor and director. And it included Buscemi’s directorial debut Trees Lounge (1996). While putting together casting directors for The Sopranos, Chase insisted on getting the same team (Sheila Jaffe and Georgianne Walken) that Buscemi used on his film.
Meanwhile, were it not for a scheduling conflict, Buscemi would have taken a turn in the directors’ chair in the first season of The Sopranos. But his work on “Pine Barrens” was worth the wait (and an Emmy nomination) a few years later, and by season 5 Buscemi had come aboard as a regular actor.
According to Chase, he wanted Buscemi in the cast since the start of the show. But, again, better late than never. Buscemi was great as Tony Blundetto, and received another Emmy nomination for his Sopranos acting work.
Though all parties would have liked to see his run on The Sopranos continue, Blundetto had to die in the season 5 finale. It came at the hand of his cousin, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). According to writer-producer Terence Winter, the story demanded Blundetto’s death.
‘Sopranos’ writers debated but finally agreed keeping Blundetto alive would have been ‘phony’
On the July 27 edition of the Talking Sopranos, Winter spoke about some of the show’s untimely deaths. Winter pointed to the unpleasant demise of Gigi Cestone (John Fiore) as one of them. The writers needed to do that to make space for the rise of Ralphie Cifaretto (Joey Pantoliano).
Next, Winter brought up the death of Tony Blundetto (Buscemi). In that case, the writers already had Blundetto kill Joey “Peeps” from the Leotardo crew. And when the Leotardos responded by killing a friend of Blundetto (loyal to the Lupertazzi faction) Blundetto murdered Billy Leotardo.
“I think we [the writers] backed ourselves into a corner, story-wise, with him,” Winter said. “I remember big debates in the writers room that he had to go. Anything less than that would feel phony.” At that point, the only question was how.
Since Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) was intent on making Blundetto’s death the most painful event in recorded history, Tony did him a favor by making it quick. In the blink of an eye — and the blast of a shotgun — Tony spared his cousin the torture he would have received in Leotardo’s hands.