Tony Sirico Used to Direct His Sopranos Castmates, Whether They Liked It or Not

After Sirico passed away at 79, David Chase paid his respects to the man behind Paulie Walnuts.

Tony Sirico during Tony Sirico and The Sopranos Celebrate St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on July 30 2005 at a...

Tony Sirico during Tony Sirico and The Sopranos Celebrate St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on July 30, 2005 at a private residence in Upper Brookville, New York, United States.Courtesy of Duffy-Marie Arnoult via Getty Images.

On The Sopranos, Tony’s loyal lieutenant, the iconically two-tone-coiffed Paulie Walnuts, never hesitated to let his opinion be known. And it turns out that the actor who portrayed him, Tony Sirico, was no different on the set. Following Sirico’s passing last week at the age of 79, Sopranos creator David Chase told Vulture that the actor used to direct his fellow actors, whether they wanted it or not. He’d say, according to Chase, “‘No, no, listen to me: Say it like this!’” (Close your eyes and you can easily imagine those words delivered in Sirico’s voice.) When asked, “Did they complain?” Chase said, “Not really. Well, a few people did. Not that many.”

Chase also shares that Sirico was the only cast member who ever asked Chase to change a line. In one original script, a character called Paulie a bully, a word Sirico wanted taken out. “He didn’t like it at all.” When interviewer Matt Zoller Seitz hypothesizes that, given Sirico’s early years as a mobster who was arrested 28 times (and jailed in the 1970s for extortion, coercion, and felony weapons possession, “maybe the word stuck a nerve,” Chase replied, “Yeah. I wonder if that had something to do with why he was so sensitive about it. Maybe he had been a bully as a young man. I’ve seen a picture of him as a young man standing out in the street next to a parking meter with a tank top on. Flexing his muscles, you know. He looked the part.” (Read the entire interview for more anecdotes, both hilarious and bittersweet.)

David Chase isn’t the only member of the Sopranos family to honor Sirico. Stevie Van Zandt called him “larger than life character on and off screen,” and Edie Falco said, “Tony Sirico was an original. There was no one like him; deeply loyal and kind. And so funny. It’s a heartbreaking loss.” Michael Imperioli paid respects on Instagram, writing, “We found a groove as Christopher and Paulie and I am proud to say I did a lot of my best and most fun work with my dear pal Tony. I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable. I send love to his family, friends and his many many fans. He was beloved and will never be forgotten.”

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