Who was the most authentic character on The Sopranos? That depends on your perspective. To some viewers, the terrible Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) hit a little close to home. For others, the voice and mannerisms of Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) screamed authenticity.
But there was one actor all the Sopranos stars recognized as the real thing: Tony Sirico, who played the beloved Paulie Walnuts character. Federico Castelluccio, who played Furio, once put it this way: “What you see is what you get” with Sirico.
Indeed, Sirico didn’t have to act when he was doing a stint in jail or pulling a gun on people — he did all that and more in real life before he began working as an actor. In fact, he once got shot (twice) in his old Brooklyn neighborhood.
Sirico said he was once caught with 3 guns after a search
In a Los Angeles Times profile published just before the release of Goodfellas (1990), Sirico got candid about his rough-and-tumble early life. He spoke of getting arrested 28 times over the years, beginning with a newsstand theft at the age of seven.
Describing himself as “a pistol-packing guy,” Sirico did the hard time you might expect. Once, he went away on a weapons charge; on another occasion, an armed robbery rap stuck.
And just like Paulie on The Sopranos, he can tell a great story while mixing in his trademark chuckle. On the subject of a prison search, he told the Times he didn’t get caught with one gun — they found three on his person.
When they asked him why he needed so many guns, he tried to be candid. “I’d say I live in a bad neighborhood,” he quipped. The time he got shot would back up that statement.
Sirico was shot twice as a young man — once in the leg, once in the back
During this life of crime as a young man, Sirico made some enemies. However, he didn’t find himself with a bullet wound after a shootout with police or someone he was robbing. He got shot shot for kissing someone else’s girlfriend.
It happened while he was with the lady in question on his local church steps. Three guys pulled up in a car and called his name. “I was in no position to do anything, because I have my tongue deep down in her soul,” Sirico told the Times. “So they go, ‘Boom!’ And shoot me in the leg.”
Angry that they’d made him bleed on his his new white suit, Sirico actually ran toward the car. When they pulled away, he turned back to the steps. And that’s when he got shot for a second time. (That bullet hit him in the back).
So when they say Paulie Walnuts was just like Sirico because both were germaphobes and both lived with their mothers as adults … well, there’s much more to the story than that.