‘The Sopranos’ Oral History, Part III: While the show followed David Chase’s scripts to the letter, with no room for improvisation, the inherent subject matter of lawless men engaging in random explosive violence made for some hair-raising moments during the filming of the show.
Read ‘The Sopranos’ Oral History, Part I here.
Read ‘The Sopranos’ Oral History, Part II here.
MICHAEL IMPERIOLI: I mean, there’s one story. Jim [Gandolfini] and I, we had to do this scene where we throw Joey Pants’ body over a cliff.
DEADLINE: You mean the body of Joe Pantoliano’s character Ralph Cifaretto, after Tony Soprano and your Christopher Moltisanti character put his severed head and hands, and his blond wig in the bowling bag?
IMPERIOLI: It was in a state park somewhere in New Jersey. It was a real cliff, and there was a river down the bottom. We rehearsed it in the daylight, but it was a night scene and we would have to wait. So, we get to the edge of the cliff, we rehearse it and they’re going to have someone in a boat with a camera and they’re going to have cameras up where we are on the cliff. It’s a big scene, with big lights everywhere. It was a night shoot, so we shot it right before dusk and then we had to go off and wait for it to get dark and for them to put up all the lights. I don’t think we had any dialogue. It was basically just we would walk to the edge of the thing and throw him off, and it was a Friday night. So I was in Jim’s trailer with the writer, Mitch Burgess, and Jim took out a bottle of Wild Turkey and opened it. It was a new bottle, and we started drinking and we were in there waiting a long time. A couple of hours later, they come to get us to shoot. And that bottle was empty, and we were really, really drunk. To the point where they had to chain us, by the ankles, to trees, when we went to the edge of the cliff, to be sure that we wouldn’t fall off when we threw the body off. That’s totally true.
DEADLINE: What was it like as writer and producer, to come up with these terrific tense scenes with an undercurrent of violence, and then have to execute them with the actors?
TERRY WINTER: Everything started with the writing and David, it all came through David. My job as a producer was to make sure that the words on that page were getting onto the screen in a manner in which it was intended in the script, so that was really creative producing. There was always a writer on set sitting right next to the director, involved in every creative meeting, from hair to makeup to stunts to location scouting. Really working in tandem with the director, really talking directly to the actors, which on a movie set that would never happen. There, the actor would only talk to a director. We got to the point where everybody was so comfortable with each other that I, or Matt or certainly David would walk past the director to talk to an actor and give a note, and it got to the point where there was no offense taken. We worked with a very tight core group of directors, all of whom were onboard with the process. Tim Van Patten, Allen Coulter, Alan Taylor, Jack Bender. These were our returning directors who all understood that’s how we did it.
I was continually amazed at the things he would allow. When Sal Stabile and I wrote the episode University, we needed something to juxtapose Meadow’s “horrible” time she was having at Columbia with the life of this young stripper, roughly the same age who had an actual horrible life as a kid, and Ralphie, a guy who ends up beating her to death. So we needed Meadow to witness something horrific on the street or something she would consider horrific. David said, what are some crazy things we’ve seen in New York, and I said, well, I saw a woman once…a homeless woman got up and she had a plastic bag wrapped around her waist like a dress, and then the bag fell and she actually had a giant newspaper crumpled up the crack of her ass. I was pitching that, just thinking in a million years we’re never going to do it. And David went, “Oh my God, that’s perfect.”
He goes, yeah, let’s do that. And then it all became Mitchell Fink, so as long as we’re doing it, let’s go one step further. As the show got bigger, anything was possible. I remember we wrote some walk and talk between Tony Soprano and Johnny Sack [Vincent Curatola’s New York mob boss character]. They’re outside of Shea Stadium in the parking lot. Any other show, it would be are you kidding? We’re not doing the Shea Stadium parking lot. It’s going to be some dark street in Long Island City. We did it in the Shea Stadium parking lot. It was just done as written. Boom. We shut down the Shea Stadium lot, lit it, did it, the whole thing.
I had gotten the idea that they were coming back from Atlantic City and Furio thought about pushing Tony into the helicopter blades. I thought, what an interesting way to kill somebody, thinking again, no we’re not going to do that. We did it. David said, that’s great. I’ve never seen that before. Let’s do that, and we shut down an airport in New Jersey.
DEADLINE: Furio (Federico Castelluccio) played the tough guy who came back with Tony from Italy, picked him up each morning and fell in love with his wife Carmela, and she with him…
WINTER: Federico, what an incredible addition to that cast. Coming into Season 2, after we already had these established actors and then how do you add another face and another personality to that group? Then Federico came in. I remember we were having a very hard time casting that role and I looked at him and thought, this guy looks perfect, exactly what I imagined he would look like. Then he started to talk and it’s like, oh my God, the guy’s actually Italian. I thought, I wonder if he can do the violence, so we asked him to pantomime the violence and he was terrifying. And David said, ‘Where in Italy are you from?” And he broke his accent and says, “Oh, I’m actually from Patterson, New Jersey.” We almost fell out of our chairs. It was like, holy shit. His parents were from Italy. I think he might’ve been born in Italy. I don’t know if you know this, but he’s an unbelievably talented artist. You go to his website, and see these Renaissance-style paintings you’d swear you saw in the Met.
DEADLINE: That helicopter scene with him and Tony was intense. How was it to shoot?
WINTER: Well, that was a real helicopter and we did it at night, and I remember being terrified. I wanted to tie Jim back, literally have cables holding him in case he tripped. He wouldn’t go for that. He was like, “Get the fu*k out of here.” I was like, Jim, I’m just really afraid. God forbid you fall. He’s like, “I’m not going to fall.” And I just remember thinking, can this night please be over, please? Federico’s a big guy, Jim’s a big guy. Accidents happen. It was so stressful to watch. I think the perspective made them look closer than they actually were, but it was really scary doing it. That was a real blade and they’re standing there. Again, I was trying to get Jim to do any kind of safety thing. He wouldn’t even talk to me. He was just like, no, I’m doing this. And the other thing was the bear.
DEADLINE: That came after Tony was thrown out of the house by Carmela, and suddenly a scavenging bear showed up in the backyard, and confronted son AJ…
WINTER: We had a real bear. David and I wrote an episode called “Two Tonys.” We kept reading about these black bears terrorizing suburban homes in New Jersey, and that was on the board for a couple of years. David would say, “We’ve got to do something with this,” and it just never fit. Then coming back in Season 5, Tony and Carmela had been estranged and David thought, oh wow, what a great time for the bear now. Tony’s not living at home and now a bear starts terrorizing his family. This is the perfect situation. So when we shot the scene, we had the bear that was used in the movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. If you saw that movie, that bear is really scary looking. In reality, it’s a very sweet, tame bear.
I remember when we had the stunt meeting with the bear trainer I said, OK, what happens if the bear goes bananas and attacks somebody? She goes, “Oh, well, that won’t happen.” I said, yeah, I know, but what if it does? “Well. The bear knows he’s supposed to stay in a certain radius of space.” I said, OK, what if he goes outside the radius? “Oh, he won’t.” I said I know he won’t, but what if he does, and finally I was like, I’m sorry, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but have you seen those shows When Animals Attack? These are animals doing shit they were not supposed to do, and it’s oh, we never thought the lion would attack the guy, and yet he attacks the guy. I could not get anything out of her. It was one of those situations on set where you go, you don’t have to be fast, you just have to be faster than somebody else on that set. It was really scary. It ended up being fine, and people took pictures with the bear, but it was one of those situations where it’s like, oh my God, man, I just hope…get through this day without anybody being eaten.
DEADLINE: Steve Schirripa, you had a memorable brawl with Tony, after the boss came to Bobby’s lake house and insulted his sister Janice, Bobby’s wife. How did that shoot unfold?
SCHIRRIPA: I might be a little taller, but Jim was way stronger than I am, a bull of a man, honestly. His hands were way bigger than mine. We were very close friends and if you don’t really have that relationship, you couldn’t do what we did. He said, “Hey, let’s really go for it, as hard as we can.” I said, let’s do it. He said, “pull my hair.” He was choking me with his hand and this chain was cutting into my neck. We went for it as hard as we can. It looked real. Two out-of-shape guys, fighting. It wasn’t Steven Seagal, you hit me, wait and then I’ll beat up four of you. This was how two overweight, sweaty guys fight. You grab, you pull, you punch. We choreographed it but there was very little with the stunt guys. It was us.
It took us two days. We were up in the lake house in July, and getting ready to shoot the scene. But Jim had gotten operations on both knees and said, “I’m not going to be able to do this right. This isn’t going to look good.” Six months later they rebuilt that cabin on the stage in Silvercup, I believe at a cost of $250,000. When you walked inside on the set, you thought you were back on the lake, they did it so perfect. For a day and a half, we did that fight scene. Over and over. The second day I was sore as hell. The first day, I mistakenly head butted him in the nose. He went down and broke the cartilage in his nose. We took a break for an hour and he got back up and we did it again. I think it was a great scene. I was very happy when I saw it. But that was done six months after those lake scenes.
DEADLINE: Matthew Weiner, didn’t you write the episode where Lauren Bacall gets punched in the face?
WEINER: Yes, I did write that.
DEADLINE: What could go wrong, there?
WEINER: Oh, she loved it. She loved it. She’d never sworn on camera before. She thought it was hilarious. She and Michael [Imperioli] loved each other. Ben Kingsley was in the scenes before that. Everything about that was fun, and in terms of who was cast, we wanted someone as big as Lauren Bacall. It went from them mugging her, to them punching her. I remember David making that transition. They got to punch her, and my favorite part was, I got to write a front-page Variety headline on the plane the next day, and I’m pretty sure…and I wrote a bunch of them, and David loved them. Swag Grab Nabs Industry Blabs.
If David Chase Knocks On Your Door, You’re Dead
A common mantra for David Chase and his writers was that with mobsters, there are usually only two ways to go out: death, or prison. Sopranos death scenes could be morbidly funny, but it wasn’t much fun for the actors who suddenly weren’t getting that good paycheck, or the writer-producers who scripted those exits.
TONY SIRICO: Once I was in that show, nobody was firing me. It would have taken two or three in the chest before I went down and off that show.
The truth is, if death was coming, even Paulie Walnuts wouldn’t have been able to survive a simple face-to-face meeting with David Chase, who choreographed hits on the page, an assassin whose pen was a lethal weapon.
DEADLINE: We see shows like Game of Thrones kill characters every week, but before The Sopranos, killing a regular cast member was rare. In hindsight, was there a character that you regretted killing off, that maybe had more mileage? Big Pussy went early after being exposed as an FBI informant, and we were mostly left to guess about the long relationship between him, Tony and Silvio.
CHASE: Was there anyone I regretted cutting off? Well, I didn’t regret it, but Christopher…he was an amazing actor and an amazing character, and he didn’t last…fortunately, the show went off the air soon thereafter. Who else did I regret killing off?
DEADLINE: Big Pussy?
CHASE: No, I didn’t really regret it with anybody. If it suited the story…I only regretted it for the actors. I mean, somebody’s going to not eat because of that.
DEADLINE: Any you recall who tried hard to talk their way out of being rubbed out?
CHASE: They all did. No, that’s not true. That’s not true. In the first season. Al Sapienza, he really lobbied me…
DEADLINE: He played Mikey Palmice, the right hand of Junior Soprano who set up the attempted murder of Tony Soprano…
CHASE: Most of them understood, but were just disappointed.
DEADLINE: How was that death sentence dispensed to the actors?
CHASE: It was me. It was always me. I’d say, it’s coming up, this episode or the next one. I tried to help them understand it.
STEVE SCHIRRIPA: You’d hear from other guys, that usually David would say, I want to talk to you before the read through, can you come in early or after? I was at my apartment and got a call on the cell phone. “Hold for David.” I’m reading the paper, having a cup of coffee and he comes on and says, “Where are you, the new place or the old place?” I had just bought an apartment. I said, the old place and he said, “I’m coming over.” I go, you’re coming here? This was the boss, the CEO. We were friendly, but we didn’t come over each other’s house. The doorman calls and says, “Chase is on the way up.”
Knock on the door, he’s wearing a heavy coat, in January. He says, “I guess you know why I’m here.” I say, I guess so. Come on in. For a second it felt like a real hit. We sat at the kitchen table, I asked how it was going to happen. He was very vague. David didn’t like to tell you much. He said, “It’s going to happen at the train store.” I said, I want to thank you for changing my life and I hope you were happy. He said, “You did a great job.” Very complimentary, and I was flattered by the time he left. I don’t know if he went to anybody else’s house. When I told Jim, Michael and some of the guys, they said I should have been very flattered. Maybe he was just in the neighborhood, I don’t know. That’s how I found out, and it was done on Valentine’s Day out at the train store. It took a day and a half to do. It was a good killing. It was a badge of honor, how you went out. If you just faded away, that wasn’t good. You wanted the good kill. Where the audience was invested in you, like Michael Imperioli, and Joey Pants’ Ralphie and Steve Buscemi, myself and Adriana and Big Pussy, those were memorable kills, all of them. Once you made it to the final season, if it happens it happens. I would have been very disappointed if it happened in Seasons 2, 3 or 4. Not only do you miss the guys and the money, but this show was a big deal and probably still will be 50 years from now. I made it to the end, I got paid.
DEADLINE: Terry Winter, what was the most memorable death scene that you wrote for a character, and how hard was it to be part of basically taking one of these people that you love seeing every day and ending them?
WINTER: Well. It was Adriana, the character played by Drea de Matteo. I had written some of the most graphic violence on the show and never hesitated, and was not shy about what I wanted to see, the blood and the gore, because it just felt real and I thought it should feel horrific. But when I wrote the scene where Adriana gets shot, where Silvio pulls her out of the car, I scripted it that he pulls her out of the car and then the camera lingers on the car and you hear…he sort of slaps her and then she crawls off camera and you hear a gunshot but you never actually see Silvio shoot her. I remember that that led to speculation that she wasn’t really dead, and I said no, of course, she’s dead. We don’t do things like that on the show where she escaped and we find out episodes later. But when I thought about it, I said God, I think I subconsciously did not want to see Adriana and/or Drea get shot.
I just loved that character and the actress so much that I didn’t want to see it, and I didn’t think about that when I wrote it. I really didn’t. It just was the way I saw it visually in my head. And then at the end, you hear the gunshot and then camera drifts up into the sky. I remember Tim Van Patten directed that episode, and me saying, I would really love…he originally didn’t lift the camera. I said, could you just do one where the camera kind of just drifts. It’s almost like a soul going to heaven in a weird way, and we did it that way and I think that stayed in the show. But that was really hard to do, and that wasn’t actually Drea’s last day on the set. We shot the death scene and then she…they were back at the Bada Bing from the same episode that she shot later. It was just really hard saying goodbye to her.
DREA DE MATTEO: To less sophisticated viewers, Adriana was a rat, tough guy, brassy, and then the people who really understood David’s writing underneath all of the externalized stuff and underneath all the gunshots, they knew who she really was. She was the innocence on the show, more so than the Soprano children, because the children were jaded. They lived a very f*cked-up existence within that household, and they were exposed to a lot of stuff. Adriana was exposed to all that stuff, she was never jaded by anything because she really came from her heart and a place of love, always. She was infantile, and she always had the purest of intentions. She wasn’t a rat. She wasn’t any of these things. She was like the sacrificial lamb.
So when David decided to take her out, while everybody was bitching and moaning that it was the wrong thing to do, I was probably one of the few that felt that story wise, it was the greatest thing to do. It would pull the most heartstrings, for sure. I mean, axing another guy wasn’t going to mean as much as killing off the innocence on the show, because that would take the show down a whole different path afterwards.
DEADLINE: Did you know well in advance that your days were numbered?
DE MATTEO: I knew by Season 5, Episode 5. David pulled me over on a curb…I mean, the story is he usually brings everyone into their office for a sit-down and then he takes them to dinner. This did not happen for me. He told me while I was shooting the scene where I was in the neck brace. I sat on a curb with him. He said, “We’re going to shoot this two ways, and we don’t know if…” See, I had gone to him and asked…because I knew the road was leading towards that, once they had me dealing with the FBI…am I going to be here next season? Because I wanted to direct a film. That was the biggest thing on my agenda at that time. I really wanted to make a movie; I had gone to film school. I wasn’t really an actor. So I don’t know if he was pissed that I asked because, you know, David is a funny guy when it came to whether or not he thought you were taking advantage of your position there or if whether or not you wanted to be there. There was always, like, a thing around that. Everybody was disposable.
So I went to him, and I asked him innocently, and he said to me, “Do you want to be here?” I said yes, I want to be here. I just want to know what the state of my character is, because, A, we take two-year hiatuses, and B, am I even going to ever come back? Because if not, I’m going to work on trying to direct and produce this project. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do or not, but either way, the story was headed that way, and he came to me Season 5, Episode 5.
And he sat me down on a street curb in between scenes and said to me, I’m going to shoot this two ways. No one’s going to know how it ends, until it airs. So I think that you’re going to die, but we really won’t know. Finally, we got the script, and there was…it was shot two ways, for sure. It was to throw the crew and to throw the actors, I believe, because they didn’t want anybody to have that information. Because it was big information, especially in those days with us, and being the beginnings of this water cooler talk every Monday morning. People would pay money for leaked storylines. So we shot it two ways. We shot it with me getting away, and we shot it with me being shot in the woods, and he ended up using both endings, within the ending. He had me imagining that I was getting away, and then he had me getting killed. The one thing…and this is always my little piece of trivia when it comes to this, and I hope David doesn’t get mad at me when I always reveal it, because it’s my favorite, and I feel like it’s 20 years later, so who gives a shit? There was a scene that was in the script when I got the last episode. After Michael and I have that scene where I confess to him, he immediately goes to the laundry room at Tony Soprano’s house and tells him, “She’s a rat, I don’t know what to do,” and he’s hysterically crying, and Tony Soprano says, “I’ll handle it.” Next scene, you see him calling me and telling me, Silvio’s coming to pick you up. Michael tried to kill himself or whatever that scene was. Michael’s in rehab, whatever.
So, now, I flipped out when I saw that scene because my death was really important to me, and not so much my death, but the show itself, and the cliffhangers, and the way it was told. It had meant so much to me and my whole journey there, and if I was going to exit, I wanted to exit dramatically. But I felt that once Tony Soprano knew, once Christopher gave him that information, and once the audience watched that, the rest of the episode is going to unfold…you could go get a slice of pizza in that time because you know she’s going to die.
When Tony calls her and tells her Chris has been in an accident, I wanted everyone to be sitting there like, well, what…did he try to kill himself or did he OD because he couldn’t deal with the anxiety? I wanted to believe that that was really a possibility. I just didn’t want to know, in that scene before. So I went to Michael with it. I went to Stevie with it, and we all sort of stood together on that, and we went to David and asked that that scene be removed. I was afraid to do something like that because I trust David implicitly. I always call him my godfather. That was my godfather. I didn’t want to ever second guess or ever, you know, disagree with anything, but I had such a strong reaction to that. And when the show aired, the scene was not there, and everybody was on the edge of their seats, and people were flipping out, and it became one of the most popular scenes of the show, and then he aired that scene as a flashback in the next season, and I thought that was great.
DEADLINE: Was Adriana’s death shot both ways, including a getaway?
WINTER: She might’ve been referring to the fantasy in her head. When she’s driving with Silvio at one point, you see her driving a car and then you see an exit for California or something, I forget what it was. But it was her fantasy of “Oh, I should’ve left.” But we just shot her death scene once and there wasn’t ever any question that she was going to get away. It might’ve been…a lot of times misinformation was spread among the crew where we would say…we’re not sure what we’re going to do. We’re not really sure if she gets away or not because stuff started to leak out to the Enquirer. So it might’ve been a piece of misinformation that was spread that we were going to shoot it another way and never did. Same as when Uncle Junior shot Tony. We wanted to make sure that didn’t leak out, so we said oh, we’re not really sure. We might do another scene where Phil Leotardo comes and shoots Tony, just to throw people off because stuff was starting to get into the Enquirer regularly. But this one never leaked out in a big way. I think today that stuff would be all over the Internet, but back in 2007, luckily it hadn’t gotten to that point yet.
DEADLINE: Joey Pantoliano, your Ralph Cifaretto unfolded as a most sadistic character, to the point few viewers could feel sad when your end came with a death brawl with Tony, who blamed you for killing the racehorse Pie-O-My, for the insurance money.
PANTOLIANO: David was putting his second season together and he called me in to possibly work on the show. I didn’t hear from him again until the next season, when he called me up on the phone, and as I was driving to Montreal with my 8-year-old daughter. He said look, there’s a new character and you know he’s a scumbag, but you know they’re all scumbags, and you know he’s going to wind up going up against Tony, and…I need him to be just funny and charming, too, and then in the end, you know, he’ll lose out to Tony and it’s going to be two seasons. At the end of the second, you know the fourth season, you know, he’ll lose out and…
DEADLINE: So unlike others who ripped through each script to make sure they were alive at the end, or found out when Chase told them, you came in with an expiration date?
PANTOLIANO: That’s how I remember it. I’d always thought David Chase was a great writer starting with The Rockford Files, and I watched whatever show he did, just as a student of storytelling, because he has that f*cking wicked sense of humor. All his shows have that dark humor. He sent me six episodes of the best of it to give me a flavor of what the show was about and then we couldn’t make the deal because HBO didn’t want to pay me my quote. So they hired somebody else. Somebody else was playing Ralph for two or three episodes and then they came back and said, ‘Look HBO, it’s not working out.” They told me, we want to bring you back, but you know there was a long…I was their seventh guy on the f*cking list, I’m sure. I know that they offered it to Ray Liotta and maybe they went through the whole cast of Goodfellas before they finally got back to me. I didn’t have a bead or a handle on the guy but had the luxury of discussing it with David and watching the show and thinking, I want to stand out. Don’t put me in a f*cking jogging suit like everybody else. I was told Ralph was a good earner, that was the narrative.
I was like well, why is he a good earner? Well, maybe he can fit in with the politicians, too. Maybe he doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb and then I said well, what if he watched The Godfather 40 times and he wanted to emulate Michael Corleone and eventually he wanted Tony’s job? And he thought he was smarter than Tony, and wiser than Tony, and better than Tony, so in the back of his brain he wanted to be the boss of bosses, the capo di tutti capi. That’s how we came up with the ascots, the chino pants, and all of that stuff. I lived in Hoboken when I came from California and Jim Gandolfini told me, wait till this show goes on television. People are going to be all over you. I said, David, I’m going to live in the epicenter of Soprano country in New Jersey, so I’d like to not look like Ralphie. Can I wear a blond wig? These are just stupid accidents. David, hey that sounds like a good idea. Yeah, yeah, go ahead.
DEADLINE: What happened when you got closer to your character’s death?
PANTOLIANO: Well, I knew it was coming; it was in the contract. I knew that they were doing, all right, 13 episodes and we were coming around, so it was time.
DEADLINE: Did you plead for a stay of execution?
PANTOLIANO: Actually, I had a conversation with Gandolfini. We were shooting out in Monmouth County on a rare occasion where we were on a distant location and all staying in a Holiday Inn by the Monmouth County Racetrack. We all went out to dinner and Jimmy said, “You know, I can’t…this is wearing on me…” This was when my time was up and I don’t think they were planning to do a fifth season at that point. He said, “You should try to stick around. I think with what we’ve got going here, you know, help me take off some of this load.” I said, that’s not the plan. You know David…and he says “yeah, but you could talk to him. Maybe he won’t kill you.” And I said well, you know, I’d love to stick around. So, I called David the next day and it was like The Godfather scene with Tessio, when he’s being taken away to be killed and asks Tom Hagen to take him off the hook, for old time sake. And Hagen says, “Can’t do it, Sally.”
I said David, if you want me to stick around, I’m happy to. And David said, “Sorry, Joey, you’re dead.” And I said well, please let me go out with a bang. He said, “We certainly will.” Then he called me up and he said, “Look, we’re thinking about putting you through a shredder.” I said no, I did that already, I ended up in a shredder in a movie I did. Turns out, David started having a pet peeve with my wig during my two years on the show. He’d look at the wig, look at dailies, and didn’t like the way it was combed or something. So he called me up and he said, “You got any problems with the wig coming off? Would you be OK with that?” I said well, yeah. I mean I’ve done it like three times already. We did it in The Goonies. I think it became David’s revenge on the wig.
DEADLINE: So the set-up is, Ralph’s kid had just been pierced by an arrow when he was clowning around with a friend. Ralph has this hanging over his head and suddenly there’s this fire that burns up the horse that Tony had bonded with. He believes Ralph set the fire.
PANTOLIANO: Yeah, I’ve got my own theory about that. When David introduces this Ralph character to the story, he’s got this obsession with the movie Gladiator, and Russell Crowe, and then he’s looking at Kubrick’s Spartacus on television and he gets all upset because he’s like, what kind of gladiator show is that? They didn’t have flat tops in ancient Rome. Then, Ralph says something stupid about Johnny Sack’s wife’s ass and he’s in danger but they decide Ralph’s such an earner he’s more financially valuable than Sack, and they’re going to kill Sack. And then Sack changes his mind about killing Ralph.
The following episode, Ralphie’s son is mortally wounded and he has a twinge of conscience for the first time. He’s a sociopath, a narcissist; his sexual orientation is all fucked up. And now he believes all of a sudden that God is punishing him for all of the evil things that he’s done, by taking away his son, the only thing that he ever loved. He’s tormented by that but he’s also a good soldier who keeps doing his job, and he gives Tony a big bag of money and tells him, I had to hurt this guy to get the money.
Right after, Tony comes to the house after the stable fire. I think 80 percent of the people who watched The Sopranos still think that Ralphie set that fire. Me, I think it was an accident. I believe that what happened was it was an excuse for Tony to engage in a fight to the death. These two gladiators, trying to kill each other in order to save themselves, because this was not a sanctioned hit. Tony hadn’t gone over there to get revenge. It erupted, when Ralph says, “You know, my son’s dying in a hospital and you’re crying at me over some f*cking horse. What do you care, and you know it’s a bit of fortune, thank God.” It erupts into this vicious killing thing and Ralphie loses out and dies. And Tony’s got to cover it up.
DEADLINE: When you saw the whole thing, with your character’s head in the bowling bag with Ralph’s severed hands, and then the blond wig, how did you feel about your character being dispatched in such fashion?
PANTOLIANO: I never looked at it. I never saw the episode. And to this day, my kids never watched those shows. They are in their 30s. And you know, I still don’t want them to see their father like that.
DEADLINE: David Chase, What about Pie-O-My? Did Ralphie kill that horse?
CHASE: I don’t know.
CHASE: I don’t know.