‘The Sopranos’: Why David Chase Wouldn’t Give Michael Madsen a Part on the Show
When you look back to the success of The Sopranos as a series, it comes down to the details. Creator-showrunner David Chase felt like every little bit mattered, and that went for the actors he cast as well as something like the squishy sound the plastic cover on Paulie Walnuts’ chair made.
So when Chase was casting the part of a New York or New Jersey Italian-American, his preference was an actor with that background who was from that area. It didn’t always work out that way. Nancy Marchand (Livia Soprano) and David Proval (Richie Aprile) were two notable exceptions.
But more often than not, Chase and his Sopranos casting team found the right fit. From Robert Loggia (Feech La Manna) to Annabella Sciorra (Gloria Trillo) and Frankie Valli (Rusty Millio), the show had the sound of New York and Jersey in the voices of the characters.
In the case of someone like Michael Madsen, a favorite of Quentin Tarantino, the fit would not have been right. Chase spoke about that in his appearance on the Talking Sopranos podcast.
David Chase thought Michael Madsen wouldn’t work on ‘The Sopranos’ because of his accent
On Talking Sopranos, Chase spoke about assembling the great cast he had on the show. “The only thing … I really tried to hire only Italians for Italian parts,” Chase said. “Because that detail … whatever those details are … meant so much to me.”
At times, that meant having to turn down someone who otherwise who be a solid fit for a crime story. “I remember that Michael Madsen was — I think it was in the paper — was pissed off at me because I wouldn’t hire him,” Chase recalled. “He’s a great actor. But he has a Chicago accent. And I couldn’t see it.”
Chase spoke of the cast and crew coming from a similar class and similar background, and that’s why the set came to feel like a family. It also came across on screen in the interactions between the various characters. Writers could feed off the energy and authenticity that performers brought to every scene.
Ed O’Neill was another Midwestern actor who didn’t work out on ‘The Sopranos’
During the hunt to find someone to play Richie Aprile in season 2, Sopranos casting directors had a hard time. Ed O’Neill, who’s down great work on Modern Family and other TV shows over the decades, tried out for the part that eventually went to Proval.
Imagining those auditions, you can see how the Ohio-born O’Neill might not have brought the same East Coast swagger Proval did. In this case, it wasn’t an Italian actor in an Italian role. But it was definitely a case of a Brooklyn-born performer (Proval, who is Jewish) nailing down the essence of Richie.
As for Madsen, the Chicago-born actor has never gone long between parts. Through December ’20, he had over 300 screen credits to his name. And he shot two volumes of Kill Bill, in which he plays one of his signature roles, during the run of The Sopranos.