‘The Sopranos’: Why John Ventimiglia Turned Down 2 Artie Bucco Appearances Early On

When you start watching The Sopranos, you might find yourself counting the minutes until Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) gets out of his psychiatrist’s office. Though Tony’s sessions with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) are essential to the show, they’re not as amusing as watching Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) tell the same crude joke twice.

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that. Going into the pilot shoot, Bracco believed Melfi was the show’s weak link. With all the incredible scenes happening outside Melfi’s office, Bracco wondered who’d want to watch a gangster tell a shrink his problems.

Eventually, the master plan of Sopranos creator David Chase became clear and everyone applauded. But no one can blame you for wanting more Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) or Artie Bucco (John Ventimiglia) in the show’s opening season.

In the case of Artie, Sopranos producers actually did want more of Ventimiglia’s character on screen in the show’s first seasons. But Ventimiglia had to turn down multiple appearances at the time.

John Ventimiglia didn’t become a ‘Sopranos’ regular until season 3

Sopranos dinner scene
Artie Bucco (John Ventimiglia) on ‘The Sopranos’ | HBO

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During his visit to the August 31 edition of the Talking Sopranos podcast, Ventimiglia described what happened behind the scenes with Artie Bucco. If you check the credits, you’ll see he only made four appearances on the show in each of the first two Sopranos seasons.

That meant Ventimiglia only got paid a day rate while filming his scenes — and he only made four appearances per year. Compared to actors with their names in the credits who got paid for every episode (appearance or not), playing Artie wasn’t a great gig, financially speaking.

Ventimiglia spoke about the tough decisions he had to make at the time. “I had kids,” he said. “My agent was like, ‘John, you can’t just be on call if they want to use you three of four times.'” Ventimiglia said Chase would call him to talk about it as well.

“David would call me at home and say, ‘John, we really want you on the show.’ And I’d say, ‘David, I want to be on the show.'” But the Sopranos income simply wasn’t enough for Ventimiglia.

Ventimiglia turned down ‘Sopranos’ appearances on 2 occasions so he could work other jobs

Steve Schirripa and John Ventimiglia of “The Sopranos” | Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for 42 West

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If you check Ventimiglia’s screen credits during the shooting of seasons 1-2 of The Sopranos (1998-99), you find him working quite a bit on other projects. In 1999, he worked on two major films: Jesus’ Son and Mickey Blue Eyes. He also worked on a movie starring Jon Bon Jovi.

While working these gigs, Ventimiglia didn’t have time to return to the Sopranos set as Artie. “You know, I turned the show down twice [in those years],” Ventimiglia said on Talking Sopranos. For season 3, Chase committed to keeping Ventimiglia on the set.

“The third season, [Chase] said, ‘Hey, you’re a regular now,'” Ventimiglia recalled. In a word, he went from financial uncertainty to a job with what he called “a living wage.” He didn’t have to worry about getting a small part elsewhere and then pray the shoots weren’t simultaneous.

“It helps you and your family out,” Ventimiglia said. “You know that you don’t have to have a conflict [with other productions].” From then on, fans got their Artie Bucco whenever Chase wrote a scene for the beloved character. All it took was money.