‘The Sopranos’: When Michael Imperioli Realized Christopher Wasn’t Getting Whacked Early
What’s it like for an up-and-coming actor to join a mob series? At the very start of The Sopranos in 1997, it was much like getting cast for any other pilot. After shooting the first episode, cast members hoped the network would order the series and come back for season 1.
Michael Imperioli, who’d gotten the part of Christopher Moltisanti, was taking chances on the role right from the start. On the Talking Sopranos podcast, he told co-host Steve Schirripa (Bobby “Baccala”) that he had to turn down a part in a Woody Allen film to work on the pilot.
But even after the pilot you have to take your chances in any mafia tale. Vincent Pastore, who played Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, learned that at the close of season 2. And it certainly weighed on other actors’ minds.
In the case of Imperioli, he didn’t feel safe at all about the Christopher character after coming back to film season 1. At one point, he thought a minor character might take the place of Christopher on the show.
Michael Imperioli thought Brendan Filone might take Christopher’s place
As Imperioli looked back at the classic series, he explained how he had no idea what was in store for Christopher. “After the pilot got picked up, I remember reading episode 2,” he said on Talking Sopranos. “It was before they had cast the role of Brendan Filone [a small-time hood and friend of Christopher’s].”
After getting through the pilot as one of the few young characters on the show, Imperioli thought the arrival of Brendan could spell the end of Christopher. “I was so neurotic,” he said. “I see Brendan Filone; he’s a handsome young guy. And I’m thinking they’re bringing him on to replace Christopher.”
Soon enough, producers cast Anthony DeSando as Brendan and Imperioli began working with him. (The two actors became good friends in real life.) And, not long after, the reckless Brendan met his end in a bathtub in what Pussy accurately described as “a Moe Green special.”
But still Imperioli couldn’t be certain the next handsome young actor wasn’t around the corner waiting to step into his place on The Sopranos. That changed when he got the script for episode 8 of season 1.
Imperioli felt reassured by ‘The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti’
Things brightened up for Imperioli when he got the script for “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.” Between his prominent role in the episode and the doors opened by the writers (Frank Renzulli and David Chase), Imperioli saw a future for his Christopher.
“At this point (season 1 episode 8), I’d had some good stuff — a decent scene here, and then a few episodes where I hardly did anything,” Imperioli recalled. “Then when I read this I realized they’re making this guy a big character. I didn’t necessarily know that was gonna happen [before].”
If you recall “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti,” you probably remember laughing as Christopher gets angry about the treatment Brendan got posthumously in the media. (Chrissie’s blood boils when newscasters refer to Brendan as “an associate” of the DiMeo crime family.)
And Imperioli’s fine performance cemented the fact he’d be around for a while. All in all, Imperioli considered it a great day when he got those pages. “When I read this script, I was really like … very happy,” he said. “Very pleasantly surprised.”