Chronicle Exclusive: Soprano’s star talks with the Chronicle

Alexandra Capotorto

Steven R. Schirripa’s journey into the acting industry began at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, where he worked as an entertainment director, booking talents such as Drew Carey and Kevin Pollack. After landing small roles in their comedy specials, he quickly jumped to the small screen, appearing in the television shows “Law and Order'” “The George Lopez Show,” “Ed,” “My Wife and Kids,” and “The King of Queens.” His luck quickly escalated, when, in New York for a wedding, he decided to audition for “The Sopranos,” and won the role as Uncle Junior’s bodyguard, Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri. As if the small screen wasn’t enough, Schirripa took the jump to the big screen, starring opposite David Arquette in See Spot Run and David Spade in Joe Dirt. Steven can also add writer to his resume, after his two books, A Goomba’s Guide to Life and The Goomba’s Book of Love became national bestsellers, and a third on the way surely to be added to that list.

Schirripa has taken the entertainment industry by storm quickly, and with the end of “The Sopranos” creeping up around the corner, Steven shares with us some highlights and drawbacks of working on such a critically acclaimed show, and the rumors of an extra six episodes.

Chronicle: How has working on “The Sopranos” changed your life? And what are some positive and negative aspects about working on such a huge show?

Schirripa: Financially, of course. I’m now able to write books and I got the show on SpikeTV and that was the stepping stone to all these other things that you do. I moved from Las Vegas back to New York with my wife and kids. My kids go to school in New York. And that’s for the positive. They like New York. My wife likes the city, and I bought an apartment. I made a lot of good friends, we’re a close knit group. I still have the same old friends. You get opportunities to see things and get to meet people. As for the negative side? There’s an intrusion of privacy, people know all about your life. Negative and untrue things are said about you on the internet and newspapers, which is annoying. That’s tough.

Chronicle: Can you tell us what’s in store for the rest of the season? And what about the rumored extra six episodes?

Schirripa: I can’t really tell you a whole lot unfortunately, otherwise I won’t be around. They’ll whack me off. You know what I mean? There’s the Vito storyline with him being gay. You’re not sure if he’s going to kill himself or what, so that’s going to be resolved. He’s just very torn. There are just a lot of loose ends. Of course, there’s going to be the greed, money, loyalty, but other than that, there’s only so much I can tell you. But for the extra episodes? We’re actually doing eight more after this season. We’re all taking a few months off, and we’ll be back again shooting in May or June. That will come to HBO sometime in January 2007.

Chronicle: Let’s backtrack a little. You worked at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, managing the entertainment that came in. Did that make you want to pursue acting, or have you always been interested in it?

Schirripa: I’ve never been interested in it, actually. I was running all the comics that came into the hotel. So when Drew Carey and Kevin Pollack had their HBO Special, they thought it’d be funny to be put in their skits. I also worked on Sunday Night Comics in the early 90’s, but never acted, but I did like it. A casting lady would put me in comedy sketches, and I would fly to Los Angeles. Sometimes I got paid, sometimes I didn’t. You learn about hitting your mark and cameras, and talking in front of the cameras. All that little crappy stuff prepared me for what I was about to do for real.

Chronicle: Speaking of the crappy stuff; growing up an Italian in Brooklyn, a city noted more for the mob stereotype, how do you feel about the reaction of some Italian Americans towards “The Sopranos”?

Schirripa: They’re definitely a little out of line. I also took some heat for some of my books. I come from that place [Brooklyn] and that is the life that I grew up in. That’s what I know. Is every Italian a gangster? If you’re going to think that, you’re ignorant. I do believe it exists, but I also think a story needs to be told. It would be like saying every black guy is a rapper or gang member. That’s also ignorant. Just because of what “The Sopranos” portrays doesn’t mean every Italian is in the mob. A lot of these people who are making these comments haven’t even watched the show. Yes, there’s a lot of violence, cursing and nudity, but these are bad people, and they do bad things. The writers and David Chase, they’re all Italian, and they’re just showing you the characters and the life they live. They have a family, they have kids, but then they go out and murder someone. It’s just a TV show. It’s funny, though. A lot of people come up to me and mistake me for a real mobster. I get guys coming up to me asking if they know their cousin Johnny who’s still doing 5 to 10 in some prison.

Chronicle: Wow, that’s hysterical. So it’s obvious you’re famous for your role as Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri on the show, but you’ve also worked in film. What’s the difference in the amount of time spent on set, and do you prefer film to television?

Schirripa: They’re completely different. I like doing television. There are long hours on set, but you know, “The Sopranos” has so many cast members, it’s not a small cast. It usually takes us maybe 16 days to shoot one episode. And being that there are a lot of us, one person may shoot only five, six, or seven days. There’s a lot of downtime. “The Sopranos” is shot like film, considering it’s a full one hour program with no commercials. You shoot about six pages a day, but in film you shoot a lot less, maybe two pages of script a day. Movies are a lot of fun, too, though. The actual work is fun. The business part isn’t so much fun.

Chronicle: Now that you’ve conquered both film and television, was writing the next step? You’ve had two books which turned out to be national bestsellers, and a third on the way. Why did you decide to start writing?

Schirripa: The first book, an agent came to me, but I had no intent to write. Some people thought it was amusing, and it was originally going to be a cookbook, The Goomba Cookbook. We went to three publishing houses: Random House, Simon and Schuester, and some other one, and we pitched all the things that I could and couldn’t do, like go on television and promote. So I made a deal with Random House and then we found out that The Sopranos Cookbook was coming out, so we changed to something else. I love the process. I was walking through the airport and saw someone reading my book, there’s nothing better than that.

Chronicle: After working in so many different fields, you must have a lot of celebrity friends. You’re good friends with Jay Leno, but who are some other celebrities who could be found in your cell phone?

Schirripa: I don’t really have the so-called celebrities in my phone, they’re all just acquaintances, you know? I have everyone from the show in my phone. I also have David Spade, Chris Rock, David Arquette, but I’m not really a celebrity guy. If I go to a party, I’ll run into people I know. I use to go to the set of “Friends,” and I’ve been out to dinner with my wife and David Arquette and his wife Courteney Cox, and to their house. I did a movie with David Schwimmer, so I have him in my phone, also. But again, I’m really not into the whole celebrity scene. I see a lot of people I know, but the people who are in my phone are usually people I’ve worked with.

Chronicle: Considering then, that you’re not the “celebrity type,” has it been difficult remaining friends with those from childhood?

Schirripa: No, but it’s just the fact that we’re doing different things. Our schedules are different, especially when it comes to the amount of hours. Your uncle’s in Brooklyn, most of the time, not in Manhattan where I usually am. Everyone gets caught up in their work. I keep in touch with at least half a dozen of my friends from when I was younger, or more. I try to make it to reunions. I don’t think I’ve changed that much, I’m the same guy I’ve been. I’m definitely more comfortable back home in Brooklyn.

Chronicle: It’s great that you still keep in touch with everyone. But what’s next for you after “The Sopranos” comes to an end?

Schirripa: I have a new book coming out in May called The Goomba Diet Book . It’s for people with an appetite for laughter. It’s a joke book. I have my show on SpikeTV on Wednesday nights at 9 called “Casino Cinema”, and we have a bunch of different guests. Malto Mario and Rob Schneider have been on the show. I’ve interviewed Natalie Portman. It’s been a big hit for SpikeTV, and it’s been running since November 2004. I’m also working with Disney and Touchstone to develop a sitcom and I’m working on something with the Travel Channel now. And then I also have another kid’s book coming out in December around the holidays called Nicky Deuce. I think I’m going to be busy. And that makes me happy.