The Sopranos

The Sopranos: The Actors Who Almost Played Tony

The Sopranos starred James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, but the actor wasn't the first choice for the role, with several others in contention.

The late James Gandolfini played Tony Sopranos on HBO television drama series The Sopranos, but a number of other actors were almost cast in the roleLaunched in 1999, The Sopranos ran for six seasons and is widely regarded as one of the greatest TV show of all time. Created by David Chase, it follows the life of a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster as he struggles to balance his family life, alongside his wife Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) while maintaining his role as a leader of a criminal organization. With a Sopranos prequel set to be released in March 2021, fans will see the formative years and beginnings of Tony Soprano unfold.

Anthony John Soprano, referred to and known to all as Tony Soprano, was brilliantly played by Gandolfini. The role landed Gandolfini many awards, including three Emmys, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama TV Series. While Gandolfini’s performance is considered one of the greatest in TV history, he wasn’t the first choice to play Tony Soprano.

Ray Liotta

Ray Liotta in Goodfellas

Ray Liotta is best known for his role as mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, but he was also first choice to play the New Jersey mob boss. Casting Liotta was a risk and would have potentially been seen as typecasting, especially since his Goodfellas wife Lorraine Bracco played the role of the psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos. A series headed by Liotta and Bracco, although more than appealing to Goodfellas fans, would have made the series too Hollywood and potentially have taken away from the authenticity sought after in The Sopranos. Liotta turned down the role because he wanted to focus on his movie career and didn’t want to make a two-year commitment. Considering the show ran for six seasons, Liotta would have been locked in for much longer than two years. Liotta will star in The Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark

Steven Van Zandt

Silvio Sopranos

Steven Van Zandt was creator David Chase’s first choice because he wanted a non-actor to play the now famous Tony Soprano. Van Zandt, who was the guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, was invited to audition after Chase happened to see Van Zandt’s speech inducting The Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Steve gave the speech. He was very, very funny and magnetic,” Chase told Vanity Fair“I said to my wife, ‘That guy has got to be in the show!” Van Zandt auditioned for the role, but having never acted before, it was he who thought the role should go to a more experienced actor. Chase loved the idea of Van Zandt in The Sopranos so much that he wrote him a part previously not in the show: Silvio Dante, the consigliere and second-in-command to Tony Soprano.

Anthony LaPaglia

Empire Records Anthony LaPaglia

The Australian-American actor is best known for his Golden Globe winning role as FBI agent Jack Malone in Without a Trace, and was noted as being interested in the role. FOX apparently wanted LaPaglia as Tony Soprano, but due to his conflicting Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, he made the choice to decline the role and was not considered further. He would, however, receive a Tony Award for his role as the protagonist Eddie Carbone in the Broadway production

Michael Rispoli

The Sopranos Jackie

Rispoli was also very close to being cast as Tony Soprano. Chase liked Rispoli’s audition so much that he actually adjusted the role of Jackie Aprile Sr., who was originally created as a much older character, to fit Rispoli’s age. Rispoli’s role throughout The Sopranos evolves to that of a family man who must navigate the role as the patriarch while maintaining his status in the DiMeo crime family. Rispoli would later reunite with Gandolfini in the 2009 thriller The Taking of Pelham 123.

Why James Gandolfini Was Cast As Tony Soprano

Tony Soprano

Gandolfini was invited to audition for his signature role in The Sopranos after casting director Susan Fitzgerald saw a clip of his performance in the 1993 film True Romance. However, his first audition was anything but stellar. Gandolfini reportedly stormed out of the first audition saying, “This is s-t. I gotta stop.” He would later audition for Chase in his garage, and after tapping into the dark side of Tony, the choice became crystal clear for who was meant to play the lead part. Gandolfini would secure the role as the mob boss largely due to his acting capability and large stature. With his resume as a Broadway actor with roles in the 1992 production of A Streetcar Named Desire and the 1995 production of On the Waterfront, mixed with his mob-influenced film roles in True Romance and the 1996 thriller The Juror, Gandolfini brought just what The Sopranos needed to fill out its award-winning cast and ground-breaking series.

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