It’s no secret that Sopranos creator David Chase and his team took details from cast members’ lives and worked them into their on-screen characters. After watching it happen with Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts) and others, star James Gandolfini took to calling the writers “vampires.”
With actors like Joe Gannascoli (Vito Spatafore), the writers stuck to physical details like Gannascoli’s bad hips and significant weight loss. But with Sirico, they dug deeper, using Sirico’s germaphobia and fact he lived with his mother for 16 years prior to her passing.
And the list didn’t end there. “We’d have the writers sit and talk with us,” Sirico told Vanity Fair in 2012. “They heard the cadence of my voice and what I said, and how I expressed myself … So I had guys put down my own words and shove them right back into my throat.”
Sirico was also just as fastidious in dressing and grooming as Paulie Walnuts. In fact, while telling a wild story of shooting the “Pine Barrens” episode, producer Terence Winter noted how Sirico insisted on doing his own hair on The Sopranos.
Sirico supposedly never let anyone touch his hair on the set of ‘The Sopranos.’
If you’re a fan of HBO’s classic mob show, you may have heard of The Sopranos Sessions (2019), a book of episode analysis and interviews with David Chase by former Star-Ledger reporters Matt Zoller-Seitz and Alan Sepinwall.
For those who want to get behind the scenes, the interview section delivers. One highlight is a 2017 conversation Zoller-Seitz had with Chase, Winter (who also wrote “Pine Barrens”), and Steve Buscemi (who directed).
While speaking about the crazy chase scenes from the episode, Winter described how hard it was to get Sirico to mess up his hair. “We were out in the middle of the woods and the stuntman did the tumble down the bank of snow,” he said.
Winter saw it as an opportunity finally have Paulie’s hair mussed on the screen. But there was a problem. “[Sirico] never lets you touch his hair, ever,” Winter said. “This is completely true. He does his own hair.”
Winter and Buscemi had to convince Sirico to mess up his hair while standing in 3 feet of snow.
By a stroke of luck, the Sopranos crew got to work on “Pine Barrens” after a blizzard covered Jersey in several feet of snow. It added an element of difficulty to the chase of the Russian and also a visual cue for how cold it was there in the woods.
But, even after Paulie was supposed to tumble down a hill, Sirico still wouldn’t budge on his hair. “He very reluctantly put a few hairs out of place,” Winter told Zoller-Seitz. “We were like, ‘Tony, come on!'” Sirico took convincing to go beyond that.
“Finally, after 15 minutes of negotiating in three feet of snow, Tony was like, ‘F***ing c***s***ers!’ and he messed up his hair.” Obviously, that was no small feat for the “Pine Barrens” crew that day. But it wouldn’t be considered the greatest Sopranos episode without it.