The Sopranos – Christopher Moltisanti (3)

A feuilleton about the heroes of the “Sopranos” series, characters that  they interpreted and their life stories. In the 3rd article, the main role is Christopher Moltisanti, performed by Michael Imperioli.

Former Joe’s Bakery in Arlington, Jersey. A long time ago, there were trailers with filmmakers, including Michael Imperioli and his acting teacher. In front of the bakery’s window is Ridge Road. Donuts with jelly, strudels with apples, glazed buns with raisins. And of course sfogliatelle, canola, and napoleon cakes. Precisely because of these three, Christopher lost his patience by shooting the seller in the foot “because he did not respect him” – a scene that most faithfully describes the hero of this text.

Shy, impatient, time bomb. All this with a certain interwoven kindness and naivety that softens everything. At that moment, the character from the Vito Spatafore series was not in the plans, so in that scene, it was just an ordinary fat man Gino, who wanted to sweeten up. When bakery owner Joe Laspada Sr. passed away, Joe’s son took over. The bakery no longer exists, now it’s a fish market. The bakery thus joined the many locations from the Sopranos, which are now just relics of the past, which you can evoke exclusively by watching the series again. If half of these places were real, they would still be pilgrimages today, like the Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy, Manhattan, where mobster Joe Gallo was killed.

HBO

The ordinary world in Jersey was extremely proud of the Sopranos, no one had raised Jersey to that level of popularity before. The architect of Tony Soprano’s house, for example, sold architectural sketches, even sketches of the pool and the yard where Tony and Christopher were having barbecues. This text will be more about Christopher Moltisanti and less about Michael Imperioli, for two reasons. Moltisanti is one of the best supporting roles of all time in the film, and Imperioli is one of the few actors who established himself in the film industry before the Sopranos. Right behind Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco, you may have even been able to google them back then. 

No wonder, because after all, he grew up with movies. Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Midnight Cowboy, John Cassavetes Idol, Broadway pieces Barnum with Glenn Close, Evita with Patti Lupone, then Lee Strasberg School when he was a teenager. He got roles in independent films and theater plays. Last Man Standing, Basketball Diary with Leonard DiCaprio, Lean on Me with Morgan Freeman. In the film Witness to the Mob, he plays Louie Milito, Sammy Gravano’s best friend, with future inseparable companions Tony Sirico, Vinnie Pastore, and Kathrine Narducci (Charmaine Bucco).

It culminated in Scorsese’s Goodfellas, nine years before The Sopranos. He deliberately improvises, because he knows that Martin loves it, so he gets the role of Spider, and a cult scene is created, which was also paid homage to by David Chase, a few years later with Silvio Dante and Matthew Bevilaqua. All of the above could not have happened if, after two years of unsuccessful auditions, he turned to audio engineering, which he seriously considered. That wasn’t his destiny.

The audition

He wakes up at the age of 31 when Georgianne Walken (wife of actor Christopher Walken) calls him. She was his agent and one half of the famous, genius casting duo, which she was with Sheila Jaffe.”You have an audition for the Sopranos, but we have to be careful not to overlap with the shooting of Woody Allen’s new film” (in which he got the role).

He read the script and was not thrilled. The pilot episode didn’t set the tone for the series, he didn’t even know Chase, but he did know a lot of actors – Sirico, Pastor, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco. He didn’t know Gandolfini either, but he watched him live two years before in the adaptation of On the Waterfront, in which Penelope Ann Miller also starred. He smashed it. 

His original name in the series was supposed to be Dean Moltisanti (David Chase used the names of his cousins for characters, such as Artie Bucco, which was a manner that Imperioli later adopted when writing scripts). “Nothin would work except what have worked,” Steve Schirripa once said. That’s right. In Sopranos, no one would change anything, and if that happened, fans of the series would have the impression that someone had taken a part of their soul.

In the first scene, Chris and Pussy. Chase, the poker face, as always, does not give or reveal anything. Michael was convinced that he was bored because David gave him directives, and when you get them as an actor, you know what that means. Not this time. He received an invitation to go to Los Angeles for a test shoot. At one point, both productions needed him, HBO and Woody Allen. He had to choose. You know the outcome, the rest is history, the role in Woody’s film was given to Sam Rockwell. Moltisanti was born.

First-class flight, August 1997, followed by an audition for HBO executive producers.

He was the only choice for Moltisanti in the waiting room. Ida Falco was right next to him, at the audition for Carmela, as Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi) turned down the role because it was too reminiscent of her role in Goodfellas, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. A gift arrives before Christmas, HBO reports – the series has been approved, see you in June 1998.

Christopher

Christopher is a portrait of a guy who was in the New York mafia, he had aspirations to be in show business, and he was a portrait of someone Imperioli personally knew, and something in his personality was bigger than life. Peaceless, always drama. Imperioli never revealed to anyone who he was, and he also never found out about Moltisanti. How? We do not know.

In the pilot episode, Imperioli did not have a driver’s license and did not tell anyone, and in the first scene, he and James were in a car. He thought he was getting away with it. At one point, he drives backward, with Jimmy, whom he met then and there. The scene required their conversation as well. Even for someone who knows how to drive, that is a serious task.

“In My Thoughts, I Used A Technique Of Positive Visualization. How Come I Always Feel Undermined?”

Christopher Moltisanti

After the first cut, producer Henri Bernstein says “twice as far and faster.” Epilogue – the car hit the tree, open airbags on the new Lexus. He was terrified, but Gandolfini died of laughter. He already knew what kind of guy he was. He thought it was the end for him, but they bring in a new Lexus and tell him to go again. The ride began and lasted until 2007, and when Chrissy bought a Maserati from Ginny Sack, even then he barely knew how to drive a car, Imperioli went to the official Maserati tutor for driving, driving over 200 km / h through Palisades Parkway.

“Commendatori”

Naples. The last episode in the 20th century. Gandolfini at the Excelsior Hotel on the eighth floor of the bar overlooking the sun gilded by Mount Vesuvius. On the non-stop radio “Senza Pieta” by Ana Oksa, who won at San Remo that year. Imperioli is next to him in the Hotel Vesuvio, both located near the workers’ quarter. Tim Van Patten, Tony Sirico, Vinnie Pastore, Jimmy, he and Napoli, two weeks.

At that time, no one in Italy knew about the series, they could not connect the concept of a mobster who goes to a therapist. Christopher did not see anything from Naples because he was “high” like a kite, but Imperioli did.

He toured Pompeii, they toured restaurants. On one occasion, the owner of a bar explained to them that a private lunch was underway, that everything was rented. Sirico saw that Michael was talking to him for a while longer, and he immediately flew in shouting “what, they have prejudices against us Americans of Italian origin, now they will see”. Yes, Sirico never played Paulie Walnuts, never.

HBO

Last night, he and Federico Castelluccio, drunk in a taxi, and Imperioli, who is arguing with the taxi driver, is convinced that the driver is robbing them. In the end, the taxi driver ends up with them in a restaurant, with music and wine. They were hot-blooded, impulsive, but they also had warmth, and those were the emotions that they didn’t have to act, and Naples, where most of them were from, inflamed it in them. 

He woke up the next day an hour before the flight to Rome, still drunk, he thought there was no theoretical chance of getting on the flight. If it weren’t for the taxi driver, who was driving the Grand Prix and on the sidewalks, the Neapolitan saga would have had some more adventures.

“Pine Barrens”

Anabela Shiori in the first frame. It is followed by Van Morrison’s song “Gloria”, written at the age of 18 in 1964, on the album Please Don’t Go. The Dorsets edited and linguistically “desecrated” it, and the trilogy of this song was completed in 1975 with Patti Smith.

The episode was directed by Steve Buscemi, along with three others. “Pine Barrens” is the best rated of all 86 episodes, created in the dream of producer Tim Van Patten, later “served” by Terry Winter to David Chase, and was all recorded by Phil Abraham.

Pine Barrens, a huge ecosystem that stretches across seven counties of Jersey, is the site of the legend of the famous Jersey Devil (after whom the hockey team was named), who looked like a kangaroo, with a horse’s head and the wings of a bat. In 1975, mother Leed cursed her 13th child, became a witch, and had a child with Satan.

The episode would soon have moved to the fast-food restaurant Roy Rodgers, had Paulie left Valery’s universal remote to its base. The district of Essex banned the scene from being filmed in its original location, and the administration thought that it was portraying Italians in a negative connotation. In the end, it turned out that the official who banned the filming, a certain James Triffinger, was convicted a few years later for bribery – never go against the Sopranos! In the end, the place of filming was Rockland County, in Harriman State Park. If an accidental eyewitness had not watched the filming from the lake, that is, his boat, we would have never known that the scenes where they were chasing the Russian were not filmed in the middle of the forest, as it seemed, but on the edge of the parking lot.

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The snow was not part of the script, it snowed a day prior, and it gave an indelible touch to this episode, in which the cold is spiritus movens. The Valery saga could have had its sequel, written by Terry Winter. Christopher meets him in a Jersey deli sweeping the floors. Valerye and he have a moment when their eyes meet, Chris’s stomach turns, but at that moment the camera catches Valerye’s lower half of the skull – which is missing. Denial saves Chrissy. I say it could have had its sequel, because David accepted, but Terry made a crucial mistake, saying – “great, the audience will be delighted”.

An interior designer who killed 16 Czechoslovaks, the phenomenal Vitali Baganov as Valery, a scene when they eat mayonnaise and ketchup in a car, with the famous Christopher’s “line” about Bruno Magli (when Paulie makes his shoes from a van upholstery), a famous Italian shoe manufacturer whose shoes O.J. Simpson was wearing when he was arrested, everything in this episode is legendary. 

It was so cold during the filming that Steve Schirripa said they couldn’t speak. Gandolfini himself fell ill, so the scene in the car when they return is filmed with great difficulty and it feels unbearable and extra heavy. That’s why Chase eventually included the scene in the episode. All four were housed in a hotel just across the street from West Point Military Academy during the filming, and Tony Sirico could not sleep that night because “the pillows were too hard.” He was a real Paulie out of hours again.

During that time, Imperioli was drunk in a nearby bar, playing “Free Bird” on an acoustic guitar. He played so hard that his fingers bled, and Steve Buscemi, in the same alcoholic and musical manner, responded with “I Wanna Be Sedated”. 

“We’re with the vipers”

Moltisanti is also the scene in the episode in which the street gang “Vipers” is robbed of the merlot of the Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande, the Pauillac appeal. A scene with a GTA vibe, accompanied by the rock classic of the band Free “All Right Now”.

The symbolism is hard to get around, the irony is that in addition to their money and the power they possess, the two of them have never been happier than when their lives were endangered due to whims and boxes of wine that do not exceed $ 5,000. It is a testimony that the way of life of this kind is a combination of mentality and strange impulses, and not mere greed or voracity. 

His relationship with Tony is one of the most complex relationships in the series, the amplitude of love, hate, pity, guilt, euphoria, loyalty, doubt. In this episode, the relationship experiences a seeming climax plus phase with the wine pearl of Bordeaux, but this harmony lasted only a few episodes, by David Chase’s decision. 

Gandolfini

He became friends with Jimmy. Even today he remembers how he used to light an unfiltered Lucky Strike before some scenes, the same “Lucky” that his father smoked. In the cafe that Imperioli had with his wife in Chelsea, Gandolfini was a regular guest. Traveling with Jimmy by car has always been a military drill for most. Cigarette smoke, no opening windows, because it could ruin the hairstyle, or what has left of it, and air conditioning has never been an option for Gandolfini.

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In the scene in which Christopher tells him that he is planning Hollywood, Tony frantically grabs him by the throat, in a way that astonishes Imperioli, not only Moltisanti. That was not in the script, and David Chase followed everything with a smile. They lived their roles, they almost became the objects of their acting. 

Imperioli went to Lee Strasberg’s acting school with John Ventimiglia, who plays Artie Bucco, at the age of 17, and they have been inseparable friends ever since, and he also knew Sharon Angela (Rosalie Aprile), after all, the Italo-New York commune was not that big.. Once, Chris’s aunt arranged for him and Ventimiglia to do catering for a millionaire in Connecticut, and they came under the heavy influence of weed, not knowing that everything would be emphasized formally. Several bottles of the expensive Château Lafite Rothschild were accidentally broken, and when they opened the bottles for the guests, they almost decimated the stiff “upper class” crew with corks.

*

Christopher Moltisanti. Legend. In the scene in the Plaza when he informs Tony that his cousin Tony Blandetto killed Billy Leotardo, we all got hungry when he took that Toblerone. And when Tony took her out of the hotel fridge before that, most of us thought how poor we were.

HBO

Multitasker, with cigars, power walk, beer, and the inevitable hand weights. His dramas with Adriana La Cerva, anxiety caused by Billy Leotardos’ eyebrows, leather jackets for a number bigger, Phil’s tracksuits, Lazio jerseys from the post-Sergio Kranjoti era. Stolichnaya in the freezer. Producer of the film Cleaver. I associate so much with him, perhaps the most the song of the Italian band Madreblu “Certamente”, after the Neapolitan epopee with Tan and the drugs. The irony is that his most loyal soldier was Tony’s weakest link. Fearless, brave, he is one of those characters with whom in real life, you will sign your death penalty if you honk them in traffic. 

Michael Imperioli also wrote several episodes for the Sopranos. Not from the aspiration to become the architect of his character, but from the natural symbiosis that arose with the series, the affection. He wrote the last one in season 5, and he found out about the death long before it happened, from David Chase, of course, and he reacted quite calmly – “all his choices were right”.

One of them is Christopher Moltisanti, indispensable and unforgettable.

Pavle Jaksic | Vitraž

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Cover ilustration: Tom Ralston

About the author
Osnivač i urednik Vitraža. Beograđanin. Kritičar malograđanštine i površnosti. Idealista.