Why ‘The Sopranos’ Writers Loved Writing Scenes for Uncle Junior and Livia
Early on in The Sopranos, you get a sense of how much the show’s writers enjoyed working on the characters. With an actor like Tony Sirico on hand to deliver the hilarious lines of Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri, they knew their jokes wouldn’t be wasted.
That was mostly the case up and down the Sopranos cast, and in the first two seasons Corrado “Junior” Soprano (Dominic Chianese) and Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) had one memorable scene after another. Those two were the old-timers, the main connection to the mob’s “golden age” romanticized by Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his crew.
Looking back on the show in an interview that appeared in The Sopranos Sessions (2019), creator David Chase said the writers enjoyed writing the Livia and Junior characters the most. Chase pointed to pointed to their age and manner of speaking as the big reasons.
‘Sopranos’ writers loved Junior and Livia’s unfiltered way of living
When the action of The Sopranos begins, Junior and Livia are both 70 years old. At that point, Livia is showing signs of mental decline. In season 1 episode 2 (“46 and Long”), she allows a fire to break out in her kitchen after she forgets she’s cooking.
But Livia definitely hasn’t lost her acid tongue. She can (and does) berate anyone she doesn’t hold in high esteem. As for Junior, at the beginning of the series he remains a force in the New Jersey mob. Eventually, his mental health deteriorates as well, but he lasts until the show’s final episode.
Whether all there or not, both Sopranos old-timers speak their minds at every opportunity. That’s why the writers loved writing them. “They’re senior citizens, so they just say whatever’s on their mind,” Chase said in The Sopranos Sessions. “They never pull their punches, they’re always very direct and outrageous.”
Junior certainly veers toward outrageous with his “makings of a varsity athlete” commentary at one eventful Sunday dinner. (When Tony blows up at that, Junior tells him to get out of his house.) As for Livia, Chase pointed to a line fans often quoted to him. “Psychiatry? That’s just a racket for the Jews!”
Junior became ‘Sopranos’ writers’ favorite after Livia’s passing
Though Livia doesn’t die until season 3 episode 2, Marchand’s final appearance came in season 2. (Marchand died in 2000, during the show’s hiatus prior to season 3.) At that point, Junior became the primary outlet for the no-filter approach writers took to the characters.
In The Sopranos Sessions, Chase said he didn’t regret having Junior in mental decline as the show continued. “I was always very satisfied with the stories about Junior, what Junior became and how it started,” he said. “He was everybody’s favorite character to write.”
Chase said the list didn’t end with Junior and Livia (the writers’ favorite at first). If a character took themselves seriously, Chase said the writers tended to enjoy writing them. “Christopher [Michael Imperioli] was another one we had a soft spot for,” Chase recalled. “Even though he was monumentally stupid.”