‘The Sopranos’: Why Eugene Pontecorvo’s Death Came With Good News for Robert Funaro

Actors with recurring roles on The Sopranos lived in fear of their characters dying. Getting killed off on the hit mob show meant losing a well-paying job with unbeatable exposure. But at the same time it could mean a boost for an actor’s career, as it was for Vincent Pastore.

For Robert Funaro, who played Eugene Pontecorvo for 24 Sopranos episodes (seasons 3-6), getting killed definitely had a silver lining. Prior to landing the part of Eugene, Funaro didn’t have any screen credits to his name.

Since Eugene’s suicide in the season 6 opener, Funaro has racked up over 40 credits (including The Irishman and American Gangster). It’s hard to imagine him putting together such a career without The Sopranos. And the scenes he got to do for Eugene’s death helped.

Eugene Pontecorvo’s death on ‘The Sopranos’ meant great scenes for Robert Funaro

'Sopranos' cast members posed with Robert Funaro smiling
Vincent Pastore, Maureen Van Zandt, Robert Funaro and Anthony Ribustello | Derek Storm/FilmMagic

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On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Funaro spoke about originally getting hired on the show to play Ralph Cifaretto. When that didn’t work out, creator David Chase and his writing team came up with the Gene Pontecorvo character for him to play.

Though Funaro had the occasional moment on an episode, his first big scene came when he smashed “Little Paulie” with a bottle at the construction site. From there, his character continued growing in prominence. Funaro knew something was brewing when Gene got a family.

“First, I started hearing rumors. ‘Hey Bobby, do you know you’re getting a wife?'” Funaro recalled. “‘Hey Bobby, you know you’re getting a son?’ Hey, this is f*cking great. And in the back of my mind, I said, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens.'”

Then Chase called to say they would kill off Gene by suicide. “It’s a great show,” Chase told him. “It’s gonna show what you can do.” Funaro saw what an opportunity it was going to be for him. “The great news was, it was gonna be a great episode for me,” he said.

Funaro had his finest moments in the death episode ‘Members Only’

Robert Funaro smiles at a 'Sopranos' premiere
Robert Funaro during a ‘The Sopranos’ screening | Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic

Funaro, who has worked more in theater than on the screen, really saw on opportunity with his big episode, “Members Only.” While he’d felt more satisfied with theater work to that point, the chance to complete his character’s arc appealed to him.

“That’s why ‘Members Only’ was really great,” he said on Talking Sopranos. “Because I really enjoyed acting in it because of that through-line. I knew where I was going. It wasn’t like these staccato scenes. To have that storyline, I jumped on it and tried to ride it as best I could.”

Chase was right about Funaro going out on a strong note, of course. Even Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts), the least sensitive person about characters getting killed off, had words of encouragement. “Tony said, ‘This is good. You’re going out this way, but it’s gonna be good. People are gonna remember you,'” Funaro recalled.