When the ‘Sopranos’ Creator Didn’t Think Drea de Matteo Was ‘Italian Enough’
Prior to The Sopranos, you might say the peak “fiery young Italian-American woman” moment in pop culture came in My Cousin Vinny. That 1992 comedy, starring the great Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, had some classic scenes.
Right at the top is Tomei’s character — dressed in a floral, backless one-piece — stamping her foot on a cabin porch to show Vinny how her biological clock is ticking. Though her character is a bit of a caricature, every Italian-American (actually, everybody) on the East Coast knew someone like her.
Compared to, say, Cher in Moonstruck, there was no contest as to which came off as more authentic. Later in the decade, fans of New York-New Jersey tales got another worthy character in Adriana La Cerva, played so memorably by Drea de Matteo.
At this point, you only need to say the name “Christopher” in her accent and people know exactly who you’re talking about. However, there was a time when de Matteo was not quite “Italian enough” to play the girlfriend of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli).
De Matteo came off as more restaurant hostess than mob girlfriend in her ‘Sopranos’ audition
When he was holding auditions for the Sopranos pilot in the late ’90s, showrunner and creator David Chase had a clear idea of what he wanted in Adriana La Cerva. But de Matteo failed to match that description.
“You’re don’t look Italian,” de Matteo recalled Chase telling her (via Vanity Fair). “You look like a restaurant hostess.” Fortunately, the audition wasn’t a total waste of time. De Matteo read for that part and got it. (In the pilot, she played a hostess at Artie Bucco’s joint.)
But Chase and his team saw something special in de Matteo. When HBO ordered the series, they called her back in to take another crack at Adriana. And she didn’t miss.
“At this point I knew what I was dealing with,” she told Vanity Fair. “So I wore my nameplate in diamonds. I teased my hair up. One of the words in the line was ‘Ow,’ and the reason that I got the part was because the way I said ‘Owwuhwhwwwuhwwwuh!'”
‘Sopranos’ writers easily melded the hostess and Adriana characters
With de Matteo starting out as an anonymous hostess, you might wonder about continuity problems once she became Christopher’s girlfriend. However, after she got the part of Adriana, they only needed to add one line of dialogue explaining that Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) got her the job.
After that, de Matteo was free to push Adriana as far as she wanted. Obviously, it worked. More than a decade later, she said people still stop her on the street with a simple request.
“Just give me one Chris-ta-fuh,” they say. There are worse fates, of course. After all, Adriana became one of the show’s most beloved characters. And she’s one of the few people than fans believed didn’t die. They didn’t want her to die.