So how was Sopranos-Con at the Meadowlands Expo last November?
It’s hard to describe to people. It was absolutely fabulous. I was a minor player, basically, compared to some of the heavy-hitters, but the people would recognize me occasionally, ask questions… it was great. I never realized the actual effect this one show, The Sopranos—whichtook place in New Jersey where I now live—still has all over the world. About 45 of us had our own kiosks. People would come up. I’d sign autographs, answer questions, take pictures. Invariably, I’d politely say, “thank you, where you from?” One guy said he was from the Netherlands. Other fans, when they told me they came all the way from Australia and Hungary, I figured they came to New York City for a week and here for a few hours, but they all told me they came specifically for Sopranos-Con. It was unbelievable, really.
These three young guys put it together. They recreated all kinds of the sets. Over 10,000 people showed up during the few days of the event. They even brought in the band Alabama 3 who recorded the popular “Woke Up This Morning” theme song. They were great. There was also a cannoli-eating contest. I hear they’re trying to put together a Mob-Con in Atlantic City this April, which will incorporate gangsters from different mob movies. If so, I’ll be there.
You were only in seven episodes over four seasons playing Burt Gervasi but your character seemed to have struck a nerve as a made man who made a really bad decision. You even had the “honor” of being whacked by Steven Van Zandt whose Silvio character killed five guys over the course of the show’s run. You got yours via strangulation. He used a garrotte across your neck in one of the most memorable scenes of the sixth season.
[Search] “Silvio Strangles Burt” on YouTube and Burt dies each time. Unfortunately, Burt played both sides against the middle and it caught up to him. I guess it was his turn to go. Say what you want about that bastard Silvio, but he was the most loyal guy on the show to Tony Soprano.
You ran an extortion racket where you forced store-owners in Newark and other cities to pay you “protection” or else you’d trash their businesses. Nice guy you were. Then you double-crossed Tony by getting in tight with the rival Lupertazzi family in New York. No wonder you were whacked!
I got whacked in the second-to-last episode of the final season. There was a power struggle between Tony and the New York bosses. I was cozying up to the New York mobsters. You can’t do that! Yeah, I ran around and made collections with the accountant, Patsy Parisi, played by Dan Grimaldi. We made a comical pair. I’m tall. He’s short. We would show up at a place of business and receive an envelope stuffed with cash. No questions asked.
To show you how times have changed from the mom-and-pop era of storefronts, we go to this local Starbucks, tell him we’re from the North Ward Emergency Merchants Protective Cooperative, a fancy name for what we did. ‘We already have a similar service,’ the Starbucks guy says. ‘Suppose somebody throws a brick through your window,’ I ask. ‘I’ll just call up corporate and they’ll replace it,’ he answers. Now these are answers we rarely got! As I walked out, I yelled over my shoulder, ‘what ever happened to the little guy?’ It became a classic line from the show.
You were involved in an off-Broadway production directed by Danny Aiello before he died.
Yeah, it’s too bad. The project died when he did. I had befriended Danny. He was so good at so many things. He wanted to direct a David Rabe play called Those the River Keeps. It would have been his directorial debut and he wanted me in one of the key roles. I was flattered beyond belief. With his reputation, he could have anyone he wanted, and I told him so. He goes, ‘no no, I want you. I think you could nail it.’ So I would rehearse at Danny’s house or his son Ricky’s house twice a week for about three months. We were 60 pages in but then Danny up and decided not to do it! I think it was because his efforts were going into the development of his one-man show called Capone in which he would portray the Chicago mobster late in life dying from syphilis in his jail cell. It really was a wonderful one-man show that never got done. It’s a damn shame. He was dynamite in it. I watched him rehearse a number of times.
You also did a project with the late Mickey Rooney, The Last Will Of Embezzlement.
It was a documentary film that got a lot of acclaim. I narrated the story of how the elderly are being taken advantage of by con artists. I did a movie more recently starring Paul Sorvino called The Brooklyn Banker. It was directed by Federico Castelluccio, who played Furio Giunta on The Sopranos.
Do you worry about getting typecast as a mobster?
Well, I don’t exactly worry about it. I’m trying to get away from it but if somebody asks me to do it and it’s a decent story with a decent script, I’ll do it, of course. I’ve also played lawyers and detectives, y’know. I’ve been a school principal, a counsellor, a priest…. I’ve done 54 movies.
You’ve also done your fair share of theater. Which do you like better?
The stage is scary. It’s much more difficult. There’s no do-overs on a stage. It’s quite challenging. My best work on the stage was a little play called Mama’s Chair, written and directed by Vincent Pastore who played Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on The Sopranos. The rewarding part of theater is that you can see your audience’s response.
You also did an eight-minute short feature called Lonely Lines. You die beautifully at the end after calling 911 just to talk to somebody.
And I did this other 20-minute short with three of my Sopranos co-stars called Pasquale’s Magic Veal. It won a lot of awards. A lot of people are doing shorts these days.