‘The Sopranos’: Paul Schulze Used His Pastor Father as a Guide for Father Phil

Paul Schulze didn’t show up at his audition for The Sopranos prepared to play Father Phil Intintola. Schulze had gone to read for the Mikey Palmice role. After the audition, Sopranos creator David Chase asked if Schulze would try out the part of a priest. Schulze didn’t need to work too hard on that: His own father was a Lutheran pastor at a New York City church.

On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Schulze couldn’t help but marvel at how Chase somehow felt that background within him. “Here’s somebody who had no idea who I was, but he saw something in me,” Schulze said. And it wasn’t just the part about Schulze being the son of a clergyman.

“My father was a very, uh, complicated — a beautiful, beautiful pastor — but [he] had a lot of demons,” Schulze said. Clearly, Father Phil also had his share of issues as a priest. And Schulze worked that aspect of his own father into his reading of the Sopranos character.

Paul Schulze just thought of his dad at his ‘Sopranos’ audition for Father Phil

Paul Schulze smiles for the camera in 2010
Paul Schulze attends Showtime’s Emmy nominee reception in 2010. | FilmMagic

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Schulze didn’t get a lot of time to shift gears from Mikey Palmice to Father Phil at his Sopranos audition. But he didn’t need more. “[David Chase] said, ‘Take your time. Go outside.’ I didn’t have to do anything, of course,” Schulze recalled on Talking Sopranos. “It was, like, 15 or 20 minutes.”

When Schulze went back in the studio to read for Father Phil, he kept it simple. “I went in cold to read for this priest, but all I did was just think of my pop,” he recalled. “I just did that, and of course I ended up having it go my way.”

Schulze moved to New York at the age of seven when his father got the job of pastor at a church on the Upper East Side. “From seven to 14, I would say I was certainly a churchgoer,” Schulze said on Talking Sopranos. “I was under the yoke of my folks and didn’t want to disappoint them.”

Looking back, Schulze could see the priest in himself, and how that came from his father. “Like him, I’ve always been able to convince people that the grace of God is there for them,” he said. “Even though neither he nor I were always so sure it was there for us.”

David Chase loved Schulze and Edie Falco in ‘Laws of Gravity’

Stanley Tucci, Edie Falco and Paul Schulze pose together at a 2003 screening
Stanley Tucci, Edie Falco and Paul Schulze attend a screening of “Laws Of Gravity” in 2003. | Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Since Schulze had no high-profile roles in the years prior to The Sopranos, just getting in the door for an audition represented a break. And Schulze said it came from his work in a ’90s indie film. “David Chase told me it was because of Laws of Gravity,” Schulze said on Talking Sopranos.

Schulze wasn’t the only one who stuck in Chase’s mind from that picture. “I’m pretty sure that’s why [Chase] approached Edie,” Schulze recalled. “He’s a fan of that film, Laws of Gravity.” Chase, of course, loved Falco right from her audition for Carmela, and she turned out to be one of the show’s great strengths.

Falco and Schulze, who knew each other from their college days at SUNY Purchase, kept the reunions coming after The Sopranos wrapped up in 2007. Schulze appeared in all 80 episodes of Nurse Jackie (2009-15), which Falco starred in.