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20 Years of the Sopranos: Interview with Joseph R. Gannascoli

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The popular HBO series The Sopranos turns 20 years old in just one month! To celebrate this milestone, we’ll be sharing some Sopranos content and a behind the scenes look at the Sopranos Sites Tour throughout the years. To kick it off, Joseph R. Gannascoli, who plays Vito in the series and visits the tour often, tells us his thoughts about the show’s legacy, his favorite moments, and his thoughts on a reboot. Read on…

As you know, the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos is on January 10th, which is pretty crazy. So I’m just going to start at the beginning, how did you land the role of Vito?

Well, I actually… I was cast in a different role, you know that?

Yes, you were the only, or one of the only actors that played different characters?

I think the only one, I believe. I know that one guy played twins, but that might have been a bit different. I played Gino. I got the role of Gino in the bakery, and then they had me come back and audition for Vito and I got that which I was very happy with. Can I talk more about Vito?

Yea, I’d love that.

I had a couple of scenes, and I became Richie Aprile’s nephew, I think, in season two. Then I got word that I was killing Jackie, Jr. in season three which was big, in the finale. And in season four, I went to one of the writers with the idea of making my character gay, or bisexual, from a book I was reading, Murder Machine. They didn’t say if they would do it or not, it took them a couple of years to do it. In season five, they gave me a wife which you never saw, and then I had that security guard scene, so once I knew that they gave me a wife, it felt like something was happening. And then I had that big scene. I asked them I said, “look, I’m willing to do this, but I just hope it’s not going to be just that and that’s it,” and they said “well, nothing this year, but next year’s gonna be big for you.” And that’s how that all evolved. So, I mean that year sort of changed my life, and you know, I mean, to be recognized around the world just from that role is pretty cool.

Yea, and it was well before queer characters on TV became the norm at all.

Especially for that genre, which I thought was kind of interesting. And it was never done before, and it became a little bit of a trend. There were some innuendos, I think there was a little reference to it in The Wire. But you know I think it was groundbreaking, and that scene that I had with the security guard, the whole country was talking about it. My mailman got like ten phone calls!

Wow. So when did you realize that The Sopranos was going to be such huge success, was it right away?

Well people were talking about it the very first season [which] I wasn’t even [in]! The funny thing was I didn’t have an agent, and I was doing a movie with Michael Imperioli and John Ventimiglia and they told me I should audition for it, so I called the casting directors up every three months They said “why don’t you come in today?” and I said “well I don’t really want to do TV.” They said “You gotta come in for this, this is gonna be big,” and then a couple of episodes into it, I don’t know if I was watching it yet, but everyone started talking about it, and I was like wow, I’m in episode 8 of this first year! [It] became pretty cool. You know, one thing about the show, even though a lot us were big fans of The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, people [went] to the office the next day saying “Did you see what happened on The Sopranos?” I mean restaurants emptied out at 8 o’clock, people planned their whole day around the show, they planned dinner around it and didn’t answer the phone, so it really was a cultural phenomenon.

Seriously. Do you still keep in touch with any of the other cast members?

No, not really. Well they were all at my wedding which was nice, and they all gave a speech. Most of the cast are really great guys. But to answer your question, no I don’t. I’m not in the city either, I’m in Long Island and I mean we’ll support each other in projects once in a while.

Do you have a favorite memory from shooting the series or a favorite filming location?

In a way, Jersey, which was supposed to be New Hampshire. Working on those scenes was really cool. That’s always a good memory. I think we stayed there for a day or two, we went all around town, they had a great waterfall that was there. In the house, all my Italians, in the kitchen in the basement, with a big stove, and they’d make pizza for us. Those were great memories. The thing I like about the [Sopranos Sites Tour] is that you see people from all over the world and I get to meet them, and for the most part they’re all excited, it’s not like I was an extra or a character in one scene, I was a major player, and they’re thrilled to meet me, and we take pictures. I enjoy meeting them, but you know I’ve gotten [parking] tickets there, had a fender bender trying to rush there, I mean there’s been so many things. So I hope that people take that under consideration. You know, I’m not a waiter, it’s how I make a living. They’re all very cool and receptive. You can’t make the bus late because then Marc [the Sopranos tour guide] runs late. It’s kind of a lot of pressure, a lot of people don’t realize that.

Do you have a favorite fan encounter?

Well I’ve been propositioned a few times by the girls. [laughs]  And I say “I like to, but I’m married.” I had one guy from England that came over to my house that I became friends with, he’s been on the tour a few times and he’s like family. English people are still number one fans and Scotland, Ireland, and Australia make up a lot of it. Then we get Germany, The Netherlands, Holland, Israeli every once in a while, a lot of Canadians, but that’s the bulk of the people. I think with the upcoming movie it will perk up more interest and a lot of these kids now who were 7 or 8 or 9 years old when we started are now able to watch it and they’re getting into it.

Do you have anything current you want to plug or anything you’re working on?

I have a few filming things I’m getting ready to do, nothing major. I was a chef before I was an actor so I’m working on a rainbow cookie cake that should be out in a few weeks and that’s always exciting. Really that’s it! I keep busy with my trade shows of my products, like a 5 gallon water bottle or a propane tank. They’re on Home Depot, Amazon, they’ve been out for 5 or 6 years.

Since it’s 2018, anything can be rebooted. I have to ask, would you be up for any sort of flashback sequence if The Sopranos was ever to be rebooted in the future?

Oh of course. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? People ask me all the time if I’m going to be part of the prequel and I go “I don’t know, I doubt it.” It takes place in the 60s and I mean, I’m hoping that we’ll see a young Vito!

Yes, that should be interesting.

Yes, it’ll be interesting and I just get the feeling that it may not be what people think it’s gonna be, it’s not gonna be like. I think it’ll be more about what was going on in the 60s in Newark.

Just in the same universe but maybe not as related as people might want it to be.

Right, just like the show was. It wasn’t strictly all mob, it was a lot of– that’s what made it so popular, that a lot of people could relate. Family life, school life, raising kids, relationships, husband and wife, you know, friends, uncles, relatives. That’s what made it so interesting is that you know, people can all say that they had something similar going on.

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