A feuilleton about the heroes of the “Sopranos” series, characters that they interpreted and their life stories. In the 4th article, the main role is played by Corrado “Junior” Soprano, performed by Dominic Chianese.
There is a character in the series who has woven himself into the warmest, funniest, and coldest moments and scenes. That is called serious acting. In the Arty Books restaurant “Vesuvio”, after the funeral of Jacky April “Core ‘N Grato” (Ungrateful heart), he performs Neopolitan canzone from 1911, which Enrico Caruso left to Salvatore Cardillo to complete and give his personal touch.
The famous hilarious complexation of Tony Soprano about the fact that he never had a great perspective as a rugby player (varsity athlete saga), both because of his small hands and because of his mentality, is also the work of his sarcasm.
The coldest scene in the series is when Tony visits him in a psychiatric hospital, at that point he was already demented, after all Scylla and Charybdis, brutally portrayed all the loneliness and emptiness of this world. The colors, the scenography, the dialogue without dialogue, all slowly warned us that the Sopranos was coming to an end. Real sorrow.
Corrado “Junior” Soprano, the boss of the family, who often had just this title out of all levers of power that it holds, never lost his codex, dignity, and spite. When we were younger, “Uncle Jun” was old, now that we are old, he is still old. In his 91st year, the unsurpassed Dominic Chianese is still so mentally sharp and precise, that he could play this role even 20 years later.
And his insults, jokes, ironies. If there is a max grade for a diploma thesis that consists of portraying a narrow-minded, selfish, gloomy, perceptive, and uncompromisingly intelligent figure, it is Chianese who deserves that max.
Everything started in the Bronx, New York. And everything pointed to Dominic as a school teacher, which was an ardent desire of his father, who dedicated his life to this vocation.
Before that, his father was a mason, or “bricklayer”, to be completely precise, so as not to offend the admirers of the more artistic form of masonry. Dominic followed him in this profession, until the moment when the desire for acting began. One morning he was supposed to take a bus to Clifton in New Jersey and go work on a building, but he called his father and told him that he wants to be an actor. He never took that bus. It is interesting that at that time, a baby was born in Clifton, in the building right next to the building that he was supposed to work on. That baby’s name was David Chase. Don’t worry, they will meet a couple of decades later, as an established director and veteran actor.
He knocks on the door of the Gilbert and Sullivan Repertoire company, where he wants to penetrate the secrets of acting and musical comedies. The director Dorothy Wilder helped him, and he became a part of the famous Savoy opera The Grand Duke.
It took his father about 35 years to accept that he would not follow in his footsteps. Until the moment he saw him in Coppola’s Godfather II. He was delighted, but Dominic replied to him, “Dad, you’re a real hero, you’ve been married for 56 years.”
Acting and education. They usually go in pairs, even when the talent shakes like a fever. He dropped out of college in Brooklyn twice, as well as the one on Long Island, he was drawn to acting, which he didn’t master. As a great tenor, he tried to decipher the secret algorithms of this vocation through singing and Broadway in the ‘50s, but he did not succeed, realizing that he had to learn the technique of acting.
He picks up Konstantin Stanislavski – all the same as laying bricks, a craft. He returns to Brooklyn, and school starts once again. On one occasion, his professor Philip Barton directed the play and gave him a role. Seeing his performance, he approaches him and says that everything was fine until the last scene in which he said goodbye to his chosen one. “Dominic, maybe you’re not meant to be an actor.”
He was shocked, he didn’t even ask why. “You say goodbye to the woman you love, and that has to involve some emotion.” He understood, so he immediately went to the HB studio. He, a large poster of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out and an empty room. A solution – the famous professor Walter Witcover, who became his mentor. He gives him a chance in the play Climate of Eden, a saga about a young woman killed by a possessive husband. And Dominic? Well, the actress was so scared that at one point, running away from him, she broke half of the set. Persuasive, but insufficient.
Walt told him to go home and rehearse the scene again, because “he didn’t believe a word he said.” Four days of foggy mind, and a question in his head – “why can’t I scare her properly, I was a good faker”. He waited until the next class. Walt tells him that he has one exercise for him, to sit down and think of something he likes, a person, a color, an animal, whatever. He thought of his grandfather. Walt asked him to describe him, a bricklayer, a boulder from a man with huge fists. Describing his fists, he suddenly started crying, without stopping.
“Dominic, this is acting, it’s coming from the inside, you have to somehow make it real.” Tension and acting do not create a process, only imagination, and technique. After that, he started working on TV series, such as East Side / West Side, at the invitation of actor George Scott.
With bluesers on Manhattan
A few years later, in 1965, he became an MC at the discreet but iconic Gerde’s Folk City, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, where Bob Dylan had a gig for the first time in his life, on April 11, 1961, as a backup of Johnny Lee Hooker, after he was discovered by singer Logan English, who was working in Gerda at the time. In the house of Sid and Bob Gleason, who is still a pilgrim for all Dylan’s fans, he saw a kid on the couch and told him to play something – the rest is history. In this bar, Dylan made his debut with “Blown in the Wind”, and that’s also where he met Joan Baez for the first time.
The owner of the club, Mike, was a Calabrian with an accent, and Dominic wanted the Italian repertoire to find its place there. He asked for $ 100 for the whole week, he got $ 90.
He met Lee Hooker, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the cream of American folk and blues. Professor Michael Moriarty, who with his tact and knowledge helped Vincent Curatola a lot in acquiring acting skills, told him that all this musical explosion would help him become an actor. Not only did he become a top actor, but he also established himself as a top musician, and everyone still remembers his performance of the American anthem in 2003 at the game between the Jets and the Giants.
In 1971, in an interview for the role for the film The Godfather, Dominic and Coppola talk for half an hour at Paramount. He is already on his way to Boston, where he had the episodic role of a jury member in a movie. Godfather, that sounded so far away and vague to him.
However, in Boston, an agent tells him that Ford is calling him. He has no money for the trip, and since he didn’t have the status to be sent a limousine to Massachusetts at the time, he is left without a role, but Francis promises him that he will still get a chance in the sequel, which happened two years later.
Thus, he became the only actor who acted in both The Sopranos and one of the sequels to The Godfather, since Tony Sirico had only an appearance, not an impressive role. His acquaintance with Al Pacino helped him with that, he often saw him in the HB studio, and he once did a scene based on the script of Pacino´s good friend. He and Pacino become close, go to softball, act together on Dog Day Afternoon, Al introduces him to the famous Lee Strasberg….
A few years before the Sopranos, he didn’t have much money. Euphemism, he lived in a one-room apartment with no furniture. He read the book Care of the soul, cooked hot peppers in olive oil. No wonder his replica from the series is “pass me the red peppers”, or the fact that the complete soundtrack of the Sopranos was called “Eggs and Peppers”, after the sandwich he liked the most. He passed on the welfare he received from the city of New York to his ex-wife and children. Then he thought that his grandfather was right, even though it sounded depressing to him at the time – “money is the truth”.
The road to finding himself as an actor culminates in his 68th year. Sopranos and Uncle Junior. He went to an audition for that role, and when he read it he said “this guy is crazy, he wants to kill his nephew, no one would do that. “Everything that just seems funny, after so many years of comedy, I will make it not funny.” The first rehearsal and a smile of David Chase.
After the first casting, he stated that he had returned home and told his family that “this could be interesting”. Chase was reading a well-known line from the script “we may have to do something about your son, Livia” when he and Tony’s mother were planning Tony’s assassination in codes. Nancy Marchand, who played Livia Soprano, was initially his main companion in The Sopranos, who highly respected him as a stage actor. Chase laughed again – he got the job. That was probably the moment when he played his favorite song “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Chris Christofferson with good wine.
“That’s what being a boss is, you steer the ship the best way you know. Sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes you hit the rocks. In the meantime, you find your pleasures where you can.”Corrado Soprano
Joe Vitarelli, Tony Sirico, Frank Vincent read about the role of “Junior”, he was an enigma and a huge problem for Chase, like a game of chess. David said there must be someone, maybe from the movie Goodfellas or some similar topic, and at one point the voice of casting director Sheila Jaffe was heard – “there is someone”! Johnny Ola from The Godfather 2 – Dominic Chianese.
“In one scene in the car with Livia, Chase asked me for a more sharp attitude, so I went to my uncle Tony. If it’s not real, be specific, I told myself. I used my family, uncles, father, intuition, neighbors for the role. “
He remembered the day in Brooklyn when his dad showed him the leaders of the church, butchers, gentlemen with hats, which he explained to him that they were racketeers, always well trained, they gathered around the best pastry shops. He knew them well, how they walk, talk, how they became friends, he remembered everything for a reason.
He didn’t have the feeling that he was acting, he just trusted him and followed him in the shots. For him, Jimmy is the epitomization of Tony Soprano, there is no acting, he is just Tony. They adored each other. When David Chase chose Chianese for the role, Gandolfini exclaimed excitedly, “Is he my uncle ?!”
When they met again, they remembered reading the script for the movie “Night Falls on Manhattan” together. “Acting with Gandolfini is like talking to a brother I never had. When I acted next to him, I imitated my real uncles. ” Since they constantly criticized him for not being good enough at baseball as a kid and that there are better ones than him, we also found out where the famous “varsity athlete” saga comes from.
We all know how much Junior didn’t like anyone to patronize him, and with what inner weight he had to suffer patronizing from his cousin Tony. Part of that mentality was given to the cameras by Chianese himself, he didn’t even have to act. On one occasion, he went crazy at the director, in a scene in a car with Bobby Bacala. The directortouched his wrong nerve and he shouted “don’t tell me how to say it, tell me what you want”. Actor Steve Shiripa recently stated that at the time, he just wanted to get out of the car.
What do we remember? There is no concise answer to this question. That look to the official court cartoonist is a film in itself. In the scene in which Tony asks him for advice on the problem with Ralph Cifaretto, it is as if the wise guru is addressing the whole world, and not exclusively Tony. “There is no answer, that is the essence of the boss’s position. You steer the boat the best you can, sometimes you sail lightly, sometimes you hit rocks, and in the meantime, you find pleasure where you can. ” How many times Bobby heard severe insults at the expense of his obesity, because of which our eyes were filled with tears of laughter.
Junior: "You were gone a long time, how many white castles did you have?" Bobby: "I didn't, I swear". Junior: "I can smell them".
Laughter again, when you watch him fake pedigrees to be at all funerals from Patterson, through East Rutherford to Ridgewood. And again, that eerie lack of empathy takes on all the colors of the film camera when he spoils the surprise celebration on the occasion of Carmela’s father’s jubilee. Dominic Chianese was as Junior as Jimmy Tony, as was the rest of the film crew. He was part of that perfect mosaic in which non-established individuals became not only top actors, but erased all boundaries between them and the roles they played. They became these characters forever and ever. What more can be gained from acting?
Pavle Jaksic | Vitraž
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Cover ilustration: Tom Ralston