‘The Sopranos’: Why Steve Buscemi Wasn’t Sold on Directing ‘Sopranos’ Episodes at First

After directing the pilot episode of The Sopranos, creator-showrunner David Chase didn’t return to the director’s chair until the 2007 series finale, “Made in America.” In between, 23 different directors helmed episodes of the classic mob series. That included Steve Buscemi, who directed four installments.

As a Sopranos director, Buscemi got off to a roaring start with season 3’s “Pine Barrens,” an episode that ranks among the best in TV history. And he finished with the flourish that was “Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request” (season 6 episode 5).

Given Chase’s admiration for Trees Lounge (1996) Buscemi’s directorial debut, it wasn’t a surprise to find Buscemi directing Sopranos episodes. However, Buscemi didn’t know if he wanted to take part when he first heard about the show. It took him until some point in season 1 to change his mind.

Steve Buscemi initially wondered how ‘The Sopranos’ could improve upon the likes of ‘Goodfellas’

Steve Buscemi and Jamie-Lynn Sigler
Steve Buscemi and Jamie-Lynn Sigler attend a screening of FACTORY GIRL on January 30, 2007. | Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

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Though Buscemi didn’t hop into the director’s chair until late (episode 11) in season 3, Chase wanted him there from the start. And Buscemi recalled getting the offer to direct a Sopranos episode in season 1. However, his schedule didn’t allow it.

That remained the case for season 2. Around that same time, Buscemi was directing Animal Factory (2000), his second feature film. On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Buscemi described his initial hesitation about directing The Sopranos.

“To be honest, before I saw the show, when I just heard about the premise, I was kind of like, I don’t know,” Buscemi said. “After seeing Goodfellas, I thought, ‘Who can do [the mob genre] any better than that?'” But that changed once Buscemi started watching season 1.

“Of course, David [Chase] put his own spin on it,” Buscemi said. And as season 1 unfolded on HBO in 1999, Buscemi knew he wanted to be a part of it — even if it had to wait awhile.

Buscemi recalled raving about season 1 of ‘The Sopranos’ with casting director Sheila Jaffe

Michael Imperioli and Steve Buscemi
Michael Imperioli and Steve Buscemi attend an event in 2010. | Andy Kropa/Getty Images

When Chase started casting The Sopranos, he took a page straight out of Buscemi’s book. That is, Chase loved the cast of Trees Lounge so much he hired Sheila Jaffe and Georgianne Walken, the casting directors Buscemi had used on his film.

Buscemi had known Jaffe from way back, when she cast him in In the Soup (1992). And once The Sopranos kicked off in ’99, he’d call her every week to talk about it. “I remember Sheila Jaffe and I would call each other every Monday and just rave about the show,” Buscemi said on Talking Sopranos. “We’d talk for like an hour about how great it was.”

Because of other commitments (including HBO’s Oz), Buscemi had to keep The Sopranos on the back burner. But he couldn’t have asked for a better episode in “Pine Barrens.” “It was the greatest gift that fell into my lap,” Buscemi said. He noted how Tim Van Patten had the idea and Terence Winter developed it. “I feel so incredibly lucky that I was the one to get it.”