‘The Sopranos’: Michael Imperioli Had to Turn Down a Woody Allen Movie to Shoot the Pilot

If you’ve caught any of the Talking Sopranos podcast, you might have heard Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccala on the HBO series) say he couldn’t imagine any other actors playing the show’s great characters. But, it being Hollywood, producers certainly kept their options open during casting.

Otherwise, there wouldn’t be stories of creator David Chase considering Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante) and Michael Rispoli (Jackie Aprile) for the part of Tony Soprano (played so well by James Gandolfini). And the list — which includes Marcia Gay Harden going for the role of Janice Soprano — only starts there.

Michael Imperioli, who played the part of Christopher Moltisanti, co-hosts Talking Sopranos with Schirripa. And in the podcast’s debut episode (Apr. 6, 2020) Imperioli revealed how someone could easily have stepped into his shoes as Christopher. Had he taken a coveted role in a Woody Allen film, another actor would have taken Imperioli’s place.

Michael Imperioli had landed a part in Woody Allen’s ‘Celebrity’

Kenneth Branagh on set of Woody Allen's 'Celebrity'
Melanie Griffith and Kenneth Branagh work on the set of ‘Celebrity,’ written and directed by Woody Allen.| Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

While Imperioli hadn’t gotten his big break at the time he landed his Sopranos role, he’d appeared in Goodfellas (1990), The Basketball Diaries (1995), and Last Man Standing (1996) as well as multiple Spike Lee films. By the late ’90s he could probably tell he would have a solid career in the business.

Earning himself a part in a major new HBO series likely put an exclamation point on that thought. But most actors dream about (or used to dream about) working in a Woody Allen movie. And after auditioning for Celebrity (1998) Imperioli got his wish. (He would play a guy in Leonardo DiCaprio’s character’s entourage.)

As luck had it, the shoots had schedules that almost worked out perfectly — but not quite. On Talking Sopranos, Imperioli explained how it unfolded. “The part in the Woody Allen movie is not a big part, but it [involved] a number of days.” And of the days conflicted with the Sopranos shoot.

“My agent said, ‘You gotta make a choice,'” Imperioli recalled. “‘Do you want to do the pilot or do you want to work with Woody Allen?’ I took the pilot because the role [of Christopher] was great.”

Sam Rockwell ended up playing the role in ‘Celebrity’

Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo in 'The Sopranos'
Michael Imperioli & Drea De Matteo actin scene from HBO cable TV series The Sopranos. | Anthony Neste/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Celebrity was, like most Allen movies, a star-studded affair. Kenneth Branagh and DiCaprio played starring roles. Charlize Theron, Melanie Griffith, and Winona Ryder also played big parts in the movie. Even the minor characters were played actors to turned out to be brand names.

Famke Janssen, Joe Mantegna, and J.K. Simmons count among those who turn up in the film. In the DiCaprio character’s entourage, audiences found Adrian Grenier in a “bro” role that he’d later play in a series of his own on HBO (i.e., Entourage).

As for the part Imperioli originally landed in the star’s entourage, Sam Rockwell checked that box. And if you scan the credits, you’ll find a number of other future Sopranos stars (including Tony Sirico and Aida Turturro). Imperioli could have been there, too, if not for a bit of bad luck.

Also see: The Podcast by ‘Sopranos’ Actors Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler Hasn’t Exactly Caught Fire