The Sopranos – Johnny “Sack” Sacrimoni (5)

A feuilleton about the heroes of the “Sopranos” series, characters who they interpreted and their life stories. In the 5th article, the main role is played by Johnny “Sack”, performed by Vincent Curatola.

On one occasion, a Washington Post reporter asked Vincent Curatola who Johnny Sack was? He replied – a character from the script. No, no, really, the journalist continued, where did he come from? Curatola understood the question, although he did not give him an answer at the time. He came from a too hot September day when his mother died.

He looked at the bronze coffin and for some strange reason, whenever he had a delicate and intense battle with Tony in the Sopranos, he would remember that coffin, and there was anger, defiance, regret, all that “something” that was felt through dialogue. That was his trick, ace up his sleeve. “John Sacrimoni was supposed to be interpreted by my mother, I am his silent version.” His mother passed away at the age of 30 when he was only 14. A devastating family tragedy made his grandmother his mentor in life and work, and because of her, he had a female figure by his side.

Why this introduction? For one reason only, Curatola is Johnny Sack. He and no one else.

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If you were unsure whether to smoke cigarettes, avoid his scenes, you will start to smoke. No one does it more contagiously and passionately than him, as we all get hungry while Tony Soprano stabs prosciutto and provolone with a fork. Sacrimoni was the one that Tony Soprano respected the most, and that’s pretty hard to do, even through acting. Also, his stylist in the Sopranos deserved a fashion Oscar for all those careless cashmere coats, Brooks Brothers deerskin jackets, all those seemingly small details that turned his role into a character who really existed somewhere in Jersey. 

Growing up and audition

The whole saga starts from the town of Inglewood. His father was a bricklayer, his business set out after the return of soldiers from the Second World War. He received a contract for the construction of 2,000 apartments, and the entire logistics were covered by his mother. 

At the age of 12, he started distributing newspapers. He distributed newspapers to Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, and Jerry Vale, no less. They all lived a few blocks away, and if the area he covered was a little wider, he would see the Isley Brothers and Wilson Pickett.

At the age of 19, he started making porches and arranging sidewalks. He already knew back  then that he was not the type to take orders, he said to himself, “I gotta be the guy.” It’s like he knew. However, he successfully followed in his father’s footsteps until he was forty.

Late June 1991, it was his wife’s Maureen´s birthday. Vincent, frustrated, dissatisfied, tells her “I want to do something else, I want to be an actor”. He was 38 at the time, on the one hand, intuition, and on the other hand pragmatism that he drew from work. Who would have time for acting? Maureen, who felt there was something in him staring at the old movies, heard actor Michael Moriarty (three Emmys, great roles in Law and Order, an Oscar nomination for Pale Rider, in which he starred with Clint Eastwood) held classes in New York.

She forced him to go, which he did. The building across from Carnegie Hall, he and thirty students and the guy who plays the piano in the middle of the room – Moriarty. Curator was silent, he didn’t want to do any monologue, he didn’t even know what it was. After a few classes, he became more confident and Moriarti sent him to an audition for that year’s Law and Order. 

The road to destiny

Encouraged by Moriarty’s support, his creation wakes up and he writes Dearly Beloved, a comedy about a sympathetic guy from Brooklyn, a gambler who owed a huge sum of money to debt collectors. His friend financially supports the project, and he then meets Tony Sirico (“Paulie Walnuts”) and gives him a role. In 1994, to repay him, Sirico invited him to audition for something called the Sopranos.

He refuses. Fortunately, at that time he had a manager, to whom he was the only client. He called him and said, “there is a role in the series about mobsters, the character is Johnny Sack, I think you should audition”. Those Sopranos again!

Anxiety sets in. Can I do that, the guy in the series is 70, I’m 43… He didn’t show up for the first two scheduled meetings. The third time’s a charm, but he hesitated in the car for half an hour and was late for the meeting. A building in Manhattan, a huge room, and in it a woman with a bunch of pictures and resumes. She didn’t even look at him, she just said – you’re late. And that was all he needed, he turned towards the exit door to leave, and she looked at him confused and asked him to please sit down. He read the scene on Thursday, and he was invited to the Silver Cup studio the very next Monday.

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That day he had to break the Corinthian pillars of anxiety once again. There was a paper with the names of 40 candidates for the role on the front door of the studio. Vincent sits patiently in the waiting room and hears actors screaming and threatening in their performance of the dialogue. He says to himself “I will not do that, they have already heard that, I will do something else”.

When it was his turn, he sat down on the couch, and in front of him were eight people he did not know, among them David Chase and Alan Taylor, the director of the episode.

He reads in a low voice, “I really think Junior has the point here.” In the hall of silence, they beg him to repeat. If you have the power, why would you shout, he wondered. The next day he got a job, at that point only for that role. Still, nothing smells like a myth. He does two scenes in Patterson and the butcher Satriales and says to himself okay, cable show, look at that role in episode number six, it can’t be that bad. Eleven months later, The Sopranos became a drama of epic proportions, and then everything started. They called him in 2001 and made him into one of the most prominent faces in the entire series.

An interesting fact is that the script for the first episode in which “Sack” appears was written by Frank Renzulli. Chase accepted that, and Frank asked him if he could get the role. In the meantime, Curatol happened, and Chase had to explain the harsh rules of show business to Frank.

Acting without acting 

Nobody ever came to Curatola and told him how Johnny Sack should sound or look, they let him be him. That was the only role for him because they are the same – possessive, they protect the family. Every time he got a script, Vincent stated that he would do most of the same things himself, a fact that does not diminish his acting abilities in the slightest. However, no one in the house was afraid of him.

We all remember the scene when he was heading to Boston in a black Mercedes, with the finest cashmere camel coat on. In that scene, since he forgot his clothes for dry-cleaning, he returns to the apartment where he finds Denise Borino, who played his wife, in the basement, eating sweets. It is known how much he adored his wife, and the fact that he did not have a mistress set him apart from the others. Maybe his practicality, concentration, and sense of business came from there. 

“I mean, what happened to this thing? For God’s sake, we bend more rules than the Catholic Church”.

Johnny Sack

For that subsequent scene, a complete set design was done four months later at the Silver Cup studio. At that moment, “Sack” was disappointed in his wife, he felt unprotected, and poison came out of him, which is hardly acting, it must be talent. Like the scene at Joey Peparelli’s funeral, where he drinks whiskey in a car with Tony, in a tuxedo, which is streaked with heavy raindrops.

That same black Mercedes was bought from HBO a few years later by a member of the production, who then called Vince and told him “I have a Johnny Sack´s Mercedes, I want to give it to you”, and now it is owned by Curatola, freshly painted and fixed up last year.

Only two people managed to improvise in the series, Furio and Tony Sirico. On one occasion, the entire council met with Chase, because Vincent said that one Italian word did not make sense and suggested an alternative. Filigree and precise, the beauty of the Sopranos, who knows how to bring it out. “I have no idea who Chase is, but he is certainly a genius. I once complained to someone that he rarely talks to me, and I got the answer – that’s a good thing, he only talks to you when the character has to die. “

Fame 

No one in the series understood how many people were watching the Sopranos. It became a Super Bowl every Saturday. He couldn’t go to the bank without 20 people staring at him. Even today, people ask him to say some famous lines, and how many there are, like the one with the United Nations. Nobody knew back then that dialogues would become like Shakespeare. On one occasion he was in Riyadh with Vinnie Pastor and Federico Castellucio – there were over ten thousand people in Saudi Arabia! 

Everyone had to deal with fame, David Proval (Richie Aprile) once said that the series’ promotions were such a madhouse, that he couldn’t go to the toilet without 10 people saying “the jackkeeet”. In those moments, the actors create the most beautiful or the worst moment in life for these people, there is no in-between. Sacrimoni made sure that the final impression was never bitter.

Facial expressions and anger 

Anger didn’t come by chance, and everyone knew that it had a certain weight. Gesticulations don’t come by chance either. In 1956, Marlon Brando approached an idler in the street with the question “what are you doing tomorrow morning?”, And invited him to shoot the film Waterfront. And on the set, confused director Elijah Kazan asks him what that kid is doing here. Marlon replies that it is his new friend and that they have to hire him. It turned out that he was filling a slot machine for mobsters, and he had some street strength in him, a gag, which Brando recognized, wanting to absorb it every day for the needs of the film. 

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Years later, in 1971, Paramount filmed The Godfather, and that kid became an actor and got a role in the Godfather for the character of Virgil Sollozzo. That’s how important expressions are, and Johnny Sack had some, especially when he felt disrespect. His expression came from his eyes.

At the Archers restaurant in Fort Lee at the age of twenty, he watched criminals coming with the most beautiful women, new cars, he felt something back then, and said to himself “I have to remember this”, but he didn’t know why, because he didn’t have any acting aspirations back then. After 30 years in another, new restaurant, Vincent met the same owner, who approached him. “We’re watching you, you know where you became an actor?”  Everything was clear to him, and then he remembered that when a criminal addresses him, he never answers, but only turns around, because they never rush their interlocutor.

Gandolfini

He often teased him just to make sure he was still alive because Vincent was so much of an enigma to him. When Maureen got sick, he called him and said he would come. And yes, he came into the room and said it’s Christmas. And there was Vincent, nervously cutting the elastic of his underwear with scissors because they pressed his stomach too hard. For James, he was always like a character from another planet.

In one scene in Newark, when he heard the “cut”, Gandolfini looked at him and said, “well, you’re really crazy”. Curatola worked 90% of his scenes with him – who always knew how to “read” him. As one became more aggressive, so did the other. Those were some scenes under the Brooklyn Bridge. According to Curatola, he was a “generous good bear”. When the cast had a dispute with HBO he stood by them saying that if they are not taken care of he will not come to work. 

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He ordered almost 40 watches for his comrades from his favorite watchmaker Kobold. The night before the final episode in June 2007, everyone was sitting together in Gandolfini’s hotel suite. He came out of his bedroom with his hands full of watch boxes, and everyone got one with the encryption on the back that said “1997-2007 Rest in peace J.G. The Sopranos. Sometimes the symbolism is not worth translating into sentences. On one occasion, he gave $ 40,000 to his colleagues through his production house Ada Boy, and every Friday a truck with sushi was parked in front of the set and was at their service all day.

On one occasion, he explained to Vincent why he doesn’t go on talk shows. “Why would I talk about my life now when no one called me while I was driving a taxi.”

Farewells

In the second episode of the sixth season, Terry Winter calls Curatola and informs him that Johnny will be very ill and will die. He asked him why he would die. Lung cancer. He connected Terry with the leading oncologist in Jersey, he wanted to know which medications he would take, they completed the scene. He had six make-up changes in that final episode, the progression of the disease was painful. He was blessed to die by Sydney Pollack.

“Lying in a hospital bed, I imagined an imaginary leprechaun and he told me it was okay. Back then, I wanted to see my mother. ” We started with cigars, and since the symbolism is hard to get around, with that Johnny Sack trademark, we will accompany him to eternity. Everyone who has watched the series remembers his last cigar.

The problem is that he stopped smoking six months before this scene. Terry told him that it was not a problem and that he would give him some artificial cigars. No. Those are not the Sopranos. In the script of the Sopranos, there are no moments when Johnny Sack lights cigarettes, they were lit exclusively by Curatola.

Tony Soprano passed away six years later. Vincent heard a rumor, which he had already heard once, a year prior, and he called a mutual friend and heard surreal news. They saw each other three weeks before that Roman night. “Jimmy doesn’t die, certain people don’t die.” When he passed by 35 thousand people with his wife in the church of St. John the Divine, he saw, in the inner part that was the size of two football fields, a coffin with a large drapery over it. He leaned his head and said, “Jimmy, what are you doing here, you’re too big to die.”

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No one could breathe from crying. A few days later, he was smoking a cigarette on his porch and noticed a rare bird on the terrace, a red cardinal. He had a strange feeling since he often smoked cigars with Gandolfini during breaks. He went to Maureen, and at that moment an extremely spiritual friend called them and asked him how he was feeling. He told her that for three days a bird had been coming and staring at him while smoking cigars. “It’s Jimmy.” He told her “yes”. His energy simply cannot be buried in the ground.

Vincent is currently an acting coach, as he likes to modestly emphasize, so a coach, not a teacher. He is still humble in his gratitude that he was given the chance that a small number of people get, to do what he loves, and to do it with the best people in the vocation he has chosen.

Tony Soprano’s house will soon be rented on the Airbnb platform, imagine Curatola renting it and holding a few classes there. Such a circle would be closed. The last circle for his and Jimmy’s success, and what is a success but a look back, which will remain forever in the future?

Pavle Jaksic | Vitraž

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Cover ilustration: HBO printscreen