The ‘Sopranos’ Character That Audiences Liked the Best at Pilot Screenings

Go back to the pilot of The Sopranos and you’ll find a few things to chew on. For starters, why does the hostess at Vesuvio seem like any young woman and not Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo)? That one’s easy: De Matteo began the show as a bit player and later became Adriana, a major character.

Then there’s the subplot about Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) trying to stop his Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) from whacking somebody at Vesuvio. Tony doesn’t want his lifelong friend Artie Bucco (John Ventimiglia) to lose business after a murder takes place in his restaurant.

If you recall, Tony and the crew get that tip from Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt), who’s picking up some capicola (“gabbagool”) at Satriale’s. At that point, Silvio wasn’t Tony’s consigliere; he was just an associate who ran the Bing. But there was no doubt about Charmaine Bucco (Kathrine Narducci).

Charmaine was Artie’s wife and the front-of-house general at Vesuvio. And the audience knew right off the bat that she didn’t like mobsters hanging around her business. That endeared Charmaine to test audiences HBO had watch The Sopranos pilot prior to ordering the series.

Audiences who saw ‘The Sopranos’ pilot liked Charmaine Bucco best

Drea de Matteo and Kathrine Narducci
Drea de Matteo and Kathrine Narducci pose at an Emmy Awards party. | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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On a visit to the Talking Sopranos podcast, Narducci talked about the road to becoming Charmaine. Unlike, say, Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano) or Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Narducci didn’t attend a Manhattan acting school or take drama in college.

In her late 20s, while raising two children, she started going on auditions and got called back on a big one: A Bronx Tale (1993), Robert De Niro’s directorial debut. After landing a major role on that picture (she played the wife of De Niro’s character), Narducci started working as an actor.

Towards the end of the decade, she auditioned for Carmela on The Sopranos. Obviously, Falco landed that role, but producers wanted Narducci on the show. When she read for Charmaine, they had their woman. Audiences agreed that Narducci was right for the part.

“HBO started screening the pilot to see if they wanted to go on with the series,” Imperioli recalled on Talking Sopranos. “They screened it for test audiences. And Charmaine was the highest testing character — the most likable character in the test.”

Audiences loved Charmaine’s anti-mob stance in the pilot

'Sopranos' cast members posed

When Tony and Christopher head to Vesuvio to talk to Junior, we get a quick glimpse of Charmaine. She does nothing but scowl at the site of mobsters in her establishment. Later, Artie tries to convince her there’s nothing wrong with accepting cruise tickets from Tony. After all, they’re “comps.”

Charmaine doesn’t buy it. “Arthur, please grow up,” she says. “Does the mind not rebel at any possible scenario under which dentists are sending the don of New Jersey first-class on a Norwegian steamship? Somebody donated their kneecaps for those tickets.”

HBO test audiences responded to that heart from Charmaine. “They felt she stood up to the mob, and they liked that,” Imperioli told Narducci (who hadn’t known about it). “You had principles about standing up to them.” When Charmaine sticks the knife in later in the series during a conversation with Carmela, audiences probably liked her even more.