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'The Sopranos' Takes One Last Hit

HBO's long-running hit The Sopranos returns this Sunday, with the first of nine episodes that will wrap up the mob drama. Guest host David Bianculli weighs in on the final act of this widely acclaimed series.


Other segments from the episode on April 6, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 6, 2007: Review of the television show "The Sopranos"; Interview with Joseph Gannascoli; Interview with Lorraine Bracco; Review of the film "Grindhouse."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Review: David Bianculli previews the first two episodes of the new
season of "The Sopranos"
DAVID BIANCULLI, guest host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily News
sitting in for Terry Gross.

This Sunday HBO begins rolling out the final episodes of "The Sopranos," a
series that altered the TV landscape when it premiered way back in 1999. All
the anti-heroes you're enjoying on TV these days, from Vic Mackey on "The
Shield" to Gregory House on "House" exist, at least in part, because of the
complexity and popularity of Tony Soprano. So today we're saluting "The
Sopranos" as it begins its stretch run. On today's show we'll visit with Joey
Gannascoli, whose character Vito was killed in the first half of the season
after he was outed as a gay mobster and went into hiding, and with Lorraine
Bracco, whose character of Dr. Melfi still is with the show and still leading
Tony in therapy sessions. And we'll start with a review of the first episodes
of the new season courtesy of our TV critic, me.

It's been nine months since we last saw a fresh episode of "The Sopranos."
This weekend it's back to conclude its sixth and final season with nine new
episodes. The network provided only the first two for preview and, to me,
that's a very good sign. It means that finally, after eight years of
following Tony Soprano and his crew, the end really is near. Last season, for
the most part, was about laying the foundation for the final push. This new
season starts out just the same, with people around Tony circling him with
their own motives and resentments. The feds are still investigating, and
Sunday's episode opens with the local cops making their move. The New York
mob is about to undergo another power shift and Tony, down in Jersey, may be
targeted. And even in Tony's own camp, his trusted lieutenants have their own
long-simmering issues, and his kids are young adults now, ready to make their
own choices.

David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos" knows we're all waiting for a big
ending to his epic series, so what does he do to start his swan song season?
He presents an episode where the dramatic highlight and the comedic one come
in a scene where Tony plays a game of Monopoly. It sounds absurd, I know, but
what's really going on is amazingly multilayered. The conversation touches on
all sorts of old issues and family dynamics. Tony is acquiring as much as he
can, any way he can, just as in real life. And, this will surprise no one,
Tony cheats. Here's James Gandolfini as Tony, Edie Falco as his wife Carmela,
Aida Turturro as his sister Janice and Steve Schirripa as her husband, Bobby,
all proving that Monopoly and alcohol don't mix.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) Community Chest. Pay hospital $100,
(word censored by station)....please.

Mr. STEVE SCHIRRIPA: (As Bobby) What are you doing? It goes in the bank.

Ms. EDIE FALCO: (As Carmela) We play the free parking rule.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: (As Bobby) What free parking rule?

Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela) Money from Community Chest and chance goes into the
middle. Whoever lands on free parking gets the money.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: (As Bobby) You show me that in the rules.

Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela) Technically it isn't in the rules, but a lot of
people play it that way. It adds a whole new level of excitement to the game.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: (As Bobby) I don't agree with it.

Ms. AIDA TURTURRO: (As Janice) Bobby, when we were growing up in our house,
this is how we played.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: You know, the Parker brothers took time to think this all
out. I think we should respect that....(censored)...

Ms. TURTURRO: (As Janice) The Parker brothers just play the game.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: It's a funny scene, but is it a waste of time? Anything but.
What we're witnessing is Bobby, the trusted brother-in-law, daring to stand up
to Tony. The longer they play the game and the more Bobby drinks, the bolder
he gets. And before it's over, their dynamic is a lot different than when the
game started.

That's a perfect metaphor for the entire series. For years on "The Sopranos"
Tony has been going around the board grabbing property and taking money by any
means he can. But now, how's the game going to end? Tony, a changed man
after almost dying from a gunshot wound last year, is concerned about legacy
and family. But what's left for him and for the Sopranos?

I like the two episodes that begin this final stretch, but I'm even more
excited by what I haven't seen. The fact that HBO and Chase sent out only two
episodes for preview, rather than the usual four, suggests that something big
will happen in the next few weeks. I have to say as a die-hard "Sopranos"
fan, it's about time. I've been able to forgive the pace of "The Sopranos" by
thinking of it as a grand novel, but it's time for that novel to wrap up its
plotlines. There are only so many ways to go out with a bang. Tony can die,
maybe at the hands of a trusted friend or relative. Tony can go to prison or
into the witness protection program. One of Tony's closest family members can
be killed, and Tony can seek revenge. Or one of those family members can take
over, leaving Tony to attend therapy sessions and feed ducks. I'd settle for
any or many of the above. These characters are so deep, the acting so good,
the writing so dense, the possibilities are mouth watering. The one thing
"The Sopranos" has to avoid if it wants to be remembered as one of the best
dramatic TV series ever made is the one ending I fear the most, the nonending,
the Russian up a tree ending, where "The Sopranos" doesn't conclude but just
stops. More than anything portrayed in the entire series, that would be a

Coming up, one of "The Sopranos" characters who got whacked in the first half
of this season.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Joseph Gannascoli talks about "The Sopranos" episode
where his role got whacked and his new novel "A Meal to Die For"
DAVID BIANCULLI, guest host:

The first half of the sixth season of "The Sopranos" is out on DVD for those
who want to catch up before the second half begins Sunday. One of the major
players in those episodes was Joey Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore.
Vito had been a familiar supporting character for much of the show, one of the
trusted members of Tony's crew. But Vito had a secret. A couple of guys
collecting protection money at a gay bar spotted Vito dancing there. After
word got out, Vito panicked, left his wife and two kids, and fled to New
Hampshire, where he got involved in a relationship with the owner of a diner,
a guy he nicknamed Johnny Cakes. Vito lied to Johnny Cakes and claimed to be
a writer from Scottsdale working on a book about boxing. Here's a scene right
after Johnny Cakes figured out that Vito wasn't who he said he was.

(Soundbite from "The Sopranos")

Mr. JOHN COSTELLOE: (As Jim "Johnny Cakes") Are you even a sports writer? I
mean, here we are talking about taking the next step in this relationship. I
asked you to share my home and you can't even be straight with me.

Mr. JOSEPH GANNASCOLI: (As Vito Spatafore) (Censored).

Unidentified Man #1: Nice knowing you, Vincent.

Unidentified Man #2: Jimbo, come on.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: (As Vito Spatafore) I'm not a writer, OK? I'm not from
Scottsdale. And the car's not my sister's. I'm actually from New Jersey.

Mr. COSTELLOE: (As Jim "Johnny Cakes") I knew it.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: (As Spatafore) Some...(word censored)...went down. I had to
leave--my home, my contracting business, my wife, my kids.

Mr. COSTELLOE: (As Jim "Johnny Cakes") Are you drunk? It's not even 11:00.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: (As Spatafore) You think it's easy? I miss my home so bad
my heart's a (censored) lump. I'm barely holding together. Stuck in the
sticks running out of money. And now this? You think I was looking for you?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Soon after this scene, Vito decided to return to New Jersey, where his
fellow mobsters were waiting to kill him.

Terry spoke with Joey Gannascoli last year, just after Vito met his untimely
fate. Gannascoli was a chef before he became an actor and recently
co-authored a novel called "A Meal to Die For." It's about a gourmet chef
who's connected to the mob.


Joseph Gannascoli, welcome to FRESH AIR. And congratulations on this season.
It was--you've just been really good. It's been a great, great part for you,
and it was really fun to watch you.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Thank you.

GROSS: Now, all the people in Tony's crew are revolted by the idea that Vito
is a homosexual...


GROSS: And after Vito is outed, they no longer trust you, and it's obvious...


GROSS: ...pretty obvious right away you're going to get killed eventually.
Do you have any friends who are as homophobic as the characters in "The
Sopranos" and who were revolted by your portrayal in the same way that the
characters in the series were revolted by Vito when they found out who he was?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: You know, I--you know--anybody--I mean, my friends were
like, `Eeeh, how many times are you going to kiss this guy?' And they would
ask like, you know, I guess, you know, I--if I would have killed 20 guys in a
night, there would have been, you know, I'd--you know--a lot more pleased with
that. But to be with another guy, it's something else. You know, I'm from
Brooklyn also, and I go to restaurants that, you know, known mob hangouts and,
you know, some guys give me dirty looks, you know. They're a little upset
about it. But, you know, I'm acting, and, you know, it happens, and it's a
role that made me--you know, made a name for myself, so I don't have a problem
with it.

GROSS: Just as your character Vito is becoming sympathetic, you know, and we
realize, `Oh, you know, this character's been repressed. He could have had a
different life. He could have had a better life.' You know, `He didn't
necessarily have to be,' you know, `killing people in the mob.' Then, you
know, you decide that even though you're in New Hampshire, that you're in New
Hampshire and you miss your kids and you miss part of your old life in the


GROSS: So you leave New Hampshire, and you're driving on this like country
road going back to Jersey and you hit a car that's stopped next to a mailbox,
and the driver has been checking his mail. The driver insists that the
accident has to be reported to the insurance company, and you can't afford to
do that because then you'd be discovered and probably killed, so you just
shoot him in the back of the head.


GROSS: And, I mean, I thought the writers were so brilliant in that scene,
because really, you're not a good person in the series. You know, you've
killed other people. You shot Jackie Jr. in the back of the head.


GROSS: And that's like just one of the things that you've done. And you
still have it in it--in you to just be a killer. And--did you like that

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Up until then, I thought I was very sympathetic and--but one
thing great about David Chase is that he doesn't want you to really like these
people. Everyone--every, you know, people start saying, `Ah, they're regular
guys,' you know, `they're sitting around watching a game at a strip place,' or
`they're,' you know, `just hanging out,' and then they do something like when
Paulie Walnuts had to kill his mother's friend just to give Tony, you know,
some money. And when people are thinking, like, `Yeah, you know, the guy just
wants to, you know, live and let live,' he shows them that's who they are.
They're killers. They're, you know, not nice people, and I was upset about
that because, you know, I thought, you know, these people are going to really
think I'm a sympathetic character then I did that. But that's what he does.
He doesn't want to you to like these people. That's who they are. And Vito
missed the life, and he wanted to get back and, you know, get back in the mob
life. And that's what he missed, the action. It was a little boring although
it was great seeing people, you know gays living with straight people, getting
along and live and let live, but it was the old life that he missed. And his
kids, you know.

GROSS: Let's talk about how you were killed. There's like three guys with
bats who are waiting--baseball bats are waiting for you in your motel room.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Pool sticks.

GROSS: Pool sticks. Oh, I remembered them as bats. OK.


GROSS: They're pool sticks. Yeah. So, and then--and then Phil Leotardo,
who's the number two in the New York mob, is just like sitting on the bed
watching as they--as they beat you to death and, of course...


GROSS:'re his brother-in-law.


GROSS: So can you talk about shooting that scene and how much of a beating
you actually took in it?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Well, first of all, did you notice what Phil came out of,

GROSS: What do you mean, what he came out of?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: When you first saw him.

GROSS: Oh, he came from behind the curtain, you mean.


GROSS: Was it a closet?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah. He came out of the closet.

GROSS: You know, in my mind, I always remember things wrong. In my mind,
he's like standing behind like the drapes in the room, and he comes from
behind there. So he came out of the closet. That's funny. That's really

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah, that's funny. That's David Chase's sense of humor.

GROSS: Boy, that went right past me!

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah. So, they--first of all, because of my--you know, I
just had a double hip replacement seven weeks ago.

GROSS: In real life. In real life.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yes. Seven weeks ago. And you always see me limping on the

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: And my legs are crooked. It was really hard to watch. Now,
you know, I'm pain-free. I was in so much pain, but I'm pain-free. And so it
was hard to do a lot of these scenes. For the most part, I tried to do as
much as I could. You know, in the fight scenes, I couldn't get down. But I'd
push the guy, and I did as much as I could, but it was very painful.

But so I walked in, and they didn't really--they didn't hit me, they hit the
stunt double. Or did they hit me? I think they did hit me, but then I was
down on the ground. They showed that. But a lot of this stuff, my stunt
double did. And that scene there--I mean, I was really pleading for my life,
and it was very emotional, and a couple times...

GROSS: You're pleading with gaffer's tape over your mouth. You're trying to

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Exactly.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Exactly. And they didn't use a lot of it. I was--I was
surprised by that. I remember I actually had chest pains because I was
really, you know, pleading for my life. And I was upset they didn't use more
of it because I thought it was a great moment for me, because you saw the
terror in my eyes, you know.

GROSS: So this season, you lost a lot of weight in real life.


GROSS: I read it was something like 160 pounds...


GROSS: ...while the show was on hiatus. Did you have to like tell the
people, `I lost 160 pounds, so you better write it in'?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: No, no, no. They knew I did it. Maybe at the end of season
five, which was maybe like almost three years ago now, I had the band--you
see, I was very thin, then I started opening restaurants, and I started
gaining weight, maybe 10, 12 pounds a year. I stopped going to the gym. I
didn't have time to work out. I stopped being active. And then my hips were
bothering me, so I didn't realize what it was, so I went less and less and
started eating and drinking and gambling, which we'll get into about what's in
my book, but 10, 12 pounds a year. So then, finally, I had enough, I had the
band done, the gastric band, and you know, I started--that was in the end of
season five, I had it done. And when we came back, I just, you know, was
losing weight so maybe a two and a half year period. So they knew I had it
done, and they knew that, you know, there was going to be a weight loss. So
they worked it into the script. Mmm.

GROSS: There's several characters on the show who are very heavy. I mean,
over the years, like, Big Pussy, Bobby. Tony's put on a few pounds lately.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah. Tony put on--well, Bobby Baccalieri, they put a fat
suit on him.

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: What was--that wasn't his gut.


Mr. GANNASCOLI: Nah. He's a big guy, and he put on some weight but that
wasn't--he had a big gut on him. They took it off him this year. Tony's put
on weight, and I think that was for another role he did. And I think it goes
with his character. I mean, that's an in-joke. Like nine times out of 10,
anytime you see him, it's usually in the house, he's always eating.

GROSS: Do you think your weight helped you get the part?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah. I think it definitely did. I think they were looking
for a big guy. I mean, there is a lot of big guys in the mob. You know, they
eat. There's this story about this guy--undercover guy. He put on 80 pounds,
working, you know, when he was doing undercover. You know, I guess it's all
about restaurants and eating out. And, you know, it's the life.

BIANCULLI: Joey Gannascoli speaking to Terry Gross last year. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our salute to "The Sopranos," resuming an
interview Terry conducted last year with one of its cast members.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Joe Gannascoli, and he plays
Vito Spatafore in "The Sopranos"...


GROSS: Played. Yes. That's right.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: We can use past tense now.

GROSS: He's been whacked. It's all over for Vito unless he comes back in


GROSS: But as for Joe Gannascoli, this is probably really good for you. I
mean, you have so much attention now because...


GROSS: ...of this season that...


GROSS: ...probably'll open up doors for you...

Mr. GANNASCOLI: I hope so.

GROSS: And also I want to ask you about your novel. You have a novel that
you co-wrote called "A Meal to Die For"...


GROSS: ...subtitled "A Culinary Novel of Crime." And this is about a guy who
owns a restaurant that's, you know, connected with small-time crime. You've
worked in a lot of restaurants. You've owned one or more restaurants.


GROSS: Do people want to think that you've been connected? Does that get you
like more cred as a "Sopranos" character?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Well, I think we all were at one point. We know guys that
are in this life, you know, being from Brooklyn, and I know who is and who
isn't and what's their position and so on and so forth. But this book I wrote
was loosely based on my life as a chef. And I was a bad gambler, I used to
gamble a lot. That's what led me to acting. But I was--when I was gambling
and losing, I used to lose--you know, you win, you lose, you win, you lose,
but you never beat the bookie. You never beat the odds. And one summer I
lost $60,000 gambling on football games. Fifteen, 15 and then 30 was my
get-even game. And if I ever win an award, I've got to thank Cody Carlson
because he was the backup quarterback for the Houston Oilers back in 1990, and
it was a Sunday, and they were resting in their place for the playoffs. The
Pittsburgh Steelers, number one defense, were resting their players, and Cody
Carlson, the backup quarterback for Warren Moon, threw for like 500 yards, and
I was just like sitting there, watching the game stunned and thinking like, `I
just lost 60,000. I've got to get out. I've got to pay everybody off. I've
got to sell my interest in the restaurant, and I'm moving to LA to pursue

GROSS: What made you think you'd make money as an actor?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: (Unintelligible) when I was winning and losing, winning
and losing, you know, I was--to help pay my debts off, I was--became known as
a `food fence' and...

GROSS: What's a food fence?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: A food fence is like a jewelry fence, but I knew how to move
hot food, and wine with phony labels. You know, homemade wine, we'd make
phony wine labels and sell them, you know, not what it was. Oil transfusions,
we called them, you know, canola oil cut with like some bootleg olive oil and
then we'd, you know, recan them or we'd rebottle them. So I know how to do

GROSS: So you basically put cheap food in fancy bottles?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah. It wasn't what it said it was, not that it was bad.
I mean, you know. I still had a little integrity. But it just wasn't what it
said it was.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: And so on. So...

GROSS: You felt OK about doing that?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Well, at the time--I mean, I was like hustling. You know,
I, you know, it just--you know, it was something I would use. But it just
wasn't what it said it was, and you know, I was hustling. That's what we do
in Brooklyn.

GROSS: So you didn't mind that you were taking advantage of people?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Well, back then. You know, I have more scruples now or
some. But, I mean, that's what, you know, what the book's about. But, you
know, this is, you know, this is how I had to--I hustled. You know, if
someone said, `Listen, I've got this shrimp,' you know. `Can you move it?'
And I'd say, `Yeah, I can move it.'

BIANCULLI: Joey Gannascoli speaking to Terry Gross last year. We'll continue
their conversation in the second half of the show.

This is Domenic Chianese singing. He plays Uncle Junior.

I'm Dave Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music being sung in foreign language)


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross.

Let's get back to Terry's interview with Joey Gannascoli, who played Vito
Spatafore on "The Sopranos." Vito was killed last season, and in the coming
months, as the series presents its final episodes, he's bond to have plenty of
company. Gannascoli used to be in the restaurant business. When we left off,
he was telling Terry that he decided to get out of the business and pursue
acting after he lost $60,000 gambling.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: I called up my friend Tim Kelleher, who's a working actor,
and I said, `Tim'--I told him what happened. I said, `I'm just going to go
out in LA and, you know, pursue it.' And I did that for three and a half
years, just getting bit parts, and I was hustling. But, you know, I was tired
of being broke again. I moved back to LA. My family wouldn't even talk to me
for the first year because of, you know, what I did. I lost everything. I
left this girl I was seeing and so on. And then I was, you know, working in
menial--cooking in jobs, cooking in restaurants and not making much money. I
was tired of that. But, you know, again, I--you know, because I'm from
Brooklyn what I used to do, is--you know what the breakdowns are? I don't
know if you know what the breakdowns are.

GROSS: Is that for betting?



Mr. GANNASCOLI: Breakdowns are what casting directors...

GROSS: Oh, oh.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah, send out to what they--you know for episodes and
movies, episodic TVs, and if they're looking for a character, say 40 years
old, six lines, balding, you know, it's a description of what they need for
the movie or the episode, you know.


Mr. GANNASCOLI: And the only ones that get these breakdowns are the agents.
So I started working with this agent out of his house, and--but he was a young
kid. He wasn't like--you know, I'd be up at 6:00 raring to go and drinking
coffee and waiting until 9:00, so I could go to his house and help him go
through it, just to see what's out there and wondering if they was submitting
me--he was submitting me for the--you know, sending my picture and hopefully
I'd get the call. And I'd say, `Did you call, did you call, did you call?' So
this lasted for about two weeks, and I was driving him nuts, you know. So I
says, `You know what. I don't really trust this guy. I don't think he's
doing the right job.' So I would go wake up at 5 in the morning, run to his
house, grab these breakdowns, ran--run to Kinko's, copy them, then bring them
back to his house, and then I would go through them myself. And I started
submitting my own picture. And then I would call up in a few days and say,
`Listen, my name is James Hoving. I'm Joe Gannascoli's manager. I'm in town
for a few days, and I want to make sure...'

GROSS: You would pretend you were James Hoving, Joe Gannascoli's manager.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Manager. Yes. And I would--they'd say, `Who are you?' I
said, `James Hoving. I'm Joe Gannascoli's manager. I want to make sure--I'm
in town for a few days--I want to make sure that he gets seen for this role.'
And they'd go, `What--where'd you say you were from?' and I'd say--I'd have to
say it--and I changed my answering machine at home to say `James Hoving
Talent.' I say, `You know, I have an East Coast and a West Coast office.' And
that's how I started getting my auditions. That's how I got my first role.
And I got my SAG card.

GROSS: Did anyone discover this like little con game you were playing?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: No, no, no. And then I--my roommate, Tim, you know, the
Jesuit, he said, `Listen, I need a James Hoving call. Can you--can you, you
know, call for me?' I'd make the call for him. The funny role--funny story is
that he wanted to get seen for a Bobby Kennedy movie. And they said--and I
said, `Listen, you've got to see Tim Kelleher, he's great.' As a matter of
fact, I signed him when he was playing all three Kennedys in an off-Broadway
play because his agent wasn't getting him in, and I got him into--he didn't
get the role, but I got him in for the audition. So everyone was asking me to
make James Hoving calls because I started submitting, you know, I said,
`Listen, there's a thing that's being cast you're really right for, so submit
yourself and I'll call up.' And so I was doing people favors.

GROSS: So did James Hoving...


GROSS: you get your role on "The Sopranos"?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: No, no, no. By that time, you know, I was back in New York.
You know, I did maybe--did I do any? Yeah, I did those two movies. And
I--they said just call us up and see, you know, what's right--what you're
right for. So they said, `Well, listen, we're doing this show called "The
Sopranos," and we want to bring you in.' At the time, I didn't want to do it,
because I said, `Well, I don't want to do TV. You know, I just want to do
film.' And they said, `No, you come in and do this. It's going to be big.'
And you know, it was.

GROSS: Tell me one of your favorite stories about life on the set at "The

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Let's see. Well, usually, when we kill someone, we take
them out to dinner. I haven't got my dinner yet.

GROSS: Oh, god! Really?

Mr. GANNASCOLI: Yeah, we--you know--we--and I take--like we took Jackie Jr.,
and we took the guy who hung himself, Bobby Funaro. I'm waiting for my, you
know--it's usually a fun night.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. GANNASCOLI: My pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Joey Gannascoli speaking to Terry Gross last year. His character
Vito is dead now, but he lives on and dies again in the latest "Sopranos" DVD
boxed set. Coming up, a "Sopranos" cast member who's still cashing paychecks,
Lorraine Bracco, who plays Tony's therapist, Dr. Melfi.

This is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Lorraine Bracco discusses "The Sopranos," her book
"On the Couch," and suffering from depression
DAVID BIANCULLI, guest host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

Dr. Melfi, the therapist who has helped Tony Soprano confront his demons has
been a key "Sopranos" character from the first episode. She's still with us,
talking Tony through his latest fixations, legacy and mortality. Dr. Melfi
is played by Lorraine Bracco, who spoke with Terry Gross last year. Let's
listen in to a therapy session.

Tony, played by James Gandolfini, is in Dr. Melfi's office and has just told
her he hates his son AJ.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

Ms. LORRAINE BRACCO: (As Dr. Melfi) Anthony, I think your anger towards AJ
has been building for some time. We have to deal with this.

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) All I know is it's a good thing my
father's not alive because, let me tell you, he'd find this...(censored by

Ms. BRACCO: (As Dr. Melfi) Find what hilarious?

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Tony) The kind of son I produced.

Ms. BRACCO: (As Dr. Melfi) You mean because Anthony doesn't conform to your
father's idea of what a man should be?

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Tony) His, mine or anybody's. Let me tell you, if
Carmela let met kick AJ's ass like my father kicked my ass, he might have
grown up with some...(censored by station).

Ms. BRACCO: (As Dr. Melfi) Like you.

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Tony) Yeah. Like me.

Ms. BRACCO: (As Dr. Melfi) He might have also grown up taking out his anger
at his father's brutality towards him on others. He might have grown up with
a desperate need to dominate and control. Anthony, we've been dancing around
this for years, how you live. What is it you want from your life?

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Tony) I couldn't even hit him if I wanted to, he's
so...(censored by station)...little. It's Carmela's side of the family.
They're small people. Her father, you could knock him over with a...(censored
by station)...feather.

Ms. BRACCO: (As Dr. Melfi) OK. But I have to point out, what you resent
Carmela doing for AJ, protecting him from his father, is the very thing you
had often wished your mother had done for you.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Lorraine Bracco, welcome to FRESH AIR. What's the best advice you've
even given Tony Soprano?

Ms. BRACCO: You know, I do love the fact that she continues to try to make
him look at his relationship with the mother. I think that's a very important
aspect of his issues. And so anything that surrounds Olivia, I think, is
always very interesting. I don't know if it's advice, and the advice since,
but I like all the stuff with the mother. I think it's all very, very
interesting and, of course, pokes and prods him in ways that he squirms, and I
like that.

GROSS: I can't remember how many seasons ago this was when your character was

Ms. BRACCO: Yes.

GROSS: And how did you feel about that? I mean, it's such a violation of
your character. I don't mean a script-writing violation. I mean rape is an
incredible violation. And on the one hand...

Ms. BRACCO: Oh, I was stunned.

GROSS: Yeah. On the one hand when something major happens in the life of one
of the characters, it seems like good news for the actor because you get more
attention. But did you kind of feel the pain, you know, when the character
was raped?

Ms. BRACCO: Oh, of course. Of course. I mean, David came to me and said,
OK, I don't remember what season or what episode, but he said, you know, `Come
into my office.' And we sat down, and he started to tell me the story. And I
was like, `What? Why would you hurt Dr. Melfi? Why would you do that to
her?' `Well, it's a random rape.' I said, `David, I'm the only decent person
here! Why would you do that to me?' And he said, `OK, all right. Let's not
get hysterical. Read the script and call me.' So he gave me the script, you
know, a couple weeks or a month before, you know, we were even going to go
into it. And I read the script, and I read it again. And it was the second
time that I read it, I said, `OK. I get it.' It wasn't about hurting Dr.
Melfi. It wasn't the violence against her. What it was was her morality.
And, yes, she could have told Tony, and, yes, she could have become a

GROSS: She could have asked him for revenge, and he would have gladly taken

Ms. BRACCO: Of course. Of course he would have. But it was the question of
her morality. Who was she? And to me that was so much bigger than anything.
And a lot of people I'm not sure 100 percent got that. I mean, my father was
standing up screaming at the television, screaming, `Tell him! Tell him!'
And, I mean, you know, it was like, well, then she would have just become one
of them.

GROSS: Now, when the series started, you were going through a terrible
depression, which you write about in your new memoir. You were going through
a bad separation with Harvey Keitel, who you'd been with for years. You had a
daughter together, and you were having a custody battle over your daughter.
And you were very, very deep in debt, like $2 million, in part because of the
steep legal fees that you had to pay. And you finally went into therapy. Did
therapy help you through that depression?

Ms. BRACCO: Oh, yes it did. And medication helped me.

GROSS: What did the therapy, since you're playing a therapist now and have to
really think about the value and the limitations of therapy, what did the
therapy do for you? What are some of the insights that it gave you that you
could actually use to change your life?

Ms. BRACCO: All right, well, you know, when you ask that question, my mind
is going all over the place. A couple of things I want you to know. David
Chase has been through therapy, and when I met David and we talked about Dr.
Melfi, one of the things I said to him was, `Listen, I don't really know you
very well right now, and you don't know me, but I've been in therapy. And
I've been in crises mode, and therapy was very, very important to me.' And I
told him also that I'd been on medication. And he was very open, and I say we
had a very strong meeting. And I was very open with him because I didn't want
him to think that--besides, it was a great role that I loved, it was something
that I was working on. And I said to him the therapy had been very important
to me and I wasn't willing to make a mockery of therapy. I was not willing to
become the psycho killer, I wasn't willing to become the sex fiend
psychiatrist. And if he had those plans for this character, I was not his
girl because, in my own life, I always felt it saved me. And David was very
honest and open with me and said he'd been in therapy and been through a lot,
and, no, he wasn't going to make a mockery of the therapy. Would he take a
little artistic license? Yes. I said, `That I can live with. But I won't
live with, you know, the, you know, the sex fiend psychiatrist who, you know,
dances in the bada-bing.'

GROSS: You know, you first became really well known for your role in
"Goodfellas" as Karen Hill, the, you know...

Ms. BRACCO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...the woman who becomes the wife of the wiseguy of the film, this
small-time mobster, Henry Hill.

Ms. BRACCO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: It was directed by Martin Scorsese, who you already knew through your
long-time partner Harvey Keitel.

Ms. BRACCO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: In the film, your character of Karen is Jewish and, of course, Henry
Hill is Italian. And...

Ms. BRACCO: Italian-Irish.

GROSS: Italian-Irish. Now, you grew up in--you're a Catholic. You grew up
in Bay Ridge. And then when you were a little older, your family moved to a
neighborhood in Long Island that was primarily Jewish. And you said, you
know, all your friends were in B'Nai Brith, so you wanted to join too, even
though you're Catholic.

Ms. BRACCO: Right.

GROSS: But that's what everybody was doing. So did spending part of your
growing up time in a Jewish neighborhood help you in playing Karen?

Ms. BRACCO: I think it's why Marty gave me the role. I mean, that's...

GROSS: How did it help you?

Ms. BRACCO: Because I knew both sides of the coin. I grew up in a Jewish
neighborhood. I was the only, you know, Catholic kid. And I was Catholic and
with an Italian father at home. So I understood both lives, and that
intrigued Marty. And Marty always felt I could play Jewish, not just Italian.
I could do that, and the fact that I was from Long Island, and that's where
Karen Hill was originally from, from Lawrence.

GROSS: I want to play a scene from "Goodfellas," and this is a scene, you and
Henry Hill have recently married, but you're both living in your parents'

Ms. BRACCO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And in this scene, Henry Hill has been out all night, and it's not the
first time. And your mother is really mad at him, and I think she's just kind
of mad at you for marrying him in the first place.


GROSS: So this is a scene with you and your mother.

Ms. BRACCO: And just, I know this has got nothing to do with nothing, but
you realize Suzanne Shepherd, who plays my mother in "Goodfellas," plays...
Come on, Terry. Come on. It's a great trivia question.

GROSS: I don't know.

Ms. BRACCO: Plays Edie's mother in "Sopranos."

GROSS: No, really?

Ms. BRACCO: Same actress.

GROSS: I didn't realize that.

Ms. BRACCO: Ah. See?

GROSS: Oh, you got me. That's great.

Ms. BRACCO: All right. Just a little trivia.

GROSS: Well, that's great. Well, let's hear the scene, and we can think
about that as we listen.

(Soundbite of "Goodfellas")

Ms. SUZANNE SHEPHERD: (As Karen Hill's mother) He didn't call?

Ms. BRACCO: (As Karen Hill) He's with his friends.

Ms. SHEPHERD: (As mother) What kind of a person doesn't call?

Ms. BRACCO (As Karen) Ma, he's a grownup. He doesn't have to call every five

Ms. SHEPHERD: (As mother) If he was such a grownup, why doesn't he get you
two an apartment?

Ms. BRACCO (As Karen) Oy, don't start, Mom. You're the one who wanted us

Ms. SHEPHERD: (As mother) Listen, you're here a month, and sometimes I know
he doesn't come home at all. What kind of people are these?

Ms. BRACCO (As Karen) Ma, what do you want me to do?

Ms. SHEPHERD: (As mother) Do? What can you do? He's not Jewish. Did you
know how these people live? Did you know what they were like? Your father
never stayed out all night without calling.

Ms. BRACCO (As Karen) Stay out? Daddy never went out at all, Ma. Keep out
of it! You don't know how I feel!

Ms. SHEPHERD: (As mother) Feel? How do you feel now? You don't know where
he is. You don't know who he's with.

Ms. BRACCO (As Karen) He's with his friends! Dad!

Ms. SHEPHERD: (As mother) Will you leave him out of this? He's suffered
enough. The man hasn't been able to digest a decent meal in six weeks.

(Soundbite of door slamming)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's my guest Lorraine Bracco with Suzanne Shepherd in a scene from

GROSS: I have another question about Dr. Melfi. One of the things I
sometimes wonder about Dr. Melfi is this. When seeing Tony Soprano, would
she really be wearing skirts and stockings that reveal her very beautiful
legs? Or would she be trying to be like as nonsexual as possible in a therapy
relationship like that?

Ms. BRACCO: OK, so I have a couple of things on the subject. You ready?


Ms. BRACCO: One, Terry...


Ms. BRACCO: is a TV show. And Mr. Gandolfini goes to our fantastic
costume designer, Juliet, and begs her to shorten my skirts. Just so you
know, a little artistic license there. You know, if you know me and if you
meet me, you will see I'm a much more alive woman than Dr. Melfi, and I have
a big sexuality about me. So Dr. Melfi is, for me, I work so hard to tone
her down and not be me. People just can't believe when they meet me in
person, they say, `Oh, my god. They make you so ugly on television.' But
because I don't bring in me. I don't bring in Lorraine Bracco. Yes, there's
a part of me I bring in. But I have to glue my ass down to the chair. I have
to get rid of me to make her.

GROSS: Lorraine Bracco, thanks so much for talking with us.

Ms. BRACCO: Oh, you're sweet, Terry. I hope you had fun.

BIANCULLI: Lorraine Bracco speaking to Terry last year. The final episodes
of "The Sopranos" begin rolling out on HBO Sunday.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "Grindhouse." This is FRESH AIR.


(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: David Edelstein reviews Quentin Tarantino's and Robert
Rodriguez's "Grindhouse"
DAVID BIANCULLI, guest host:

Before the multiplexes, before the age of the VCR and DVD, there was a kind of
independent theater known as "the grindhouse." It was typically dilapidated
and urban, in places like New York's old 42nd Street, and the bill always was
a double or triple feature--exploitation, sexploitation, blacksploitation, or
maybe an Italian cannibal or mondo picture, often accompanied by the sound of
winos snoring. Today's exploitation auteurs, Quentin Tarantino and Robert
Rodriguez, have collaborated on a cinematic time machine called "Grindhouse."
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: "Grindhouse" is both an ode to the era of scuzzy
exploitation theaters and an orgy for those who want to live, or relive, the
dream. It's a three hour switchback ride into the belly of the B-movie beast,
two rowdy full-length features, a slew of garish fake coming attractions, and
steady eruptions of carnage and cruelty. All I missed from the old days were
the pungent aromas of urine and dope. Robert Rodriguez wrote and directed the
first feature, "Planet Terror." Quentin Tarantino took the reins for the
second, called "Death Proof." The boisterously shallow Rodriguez serves up an
entertaining Tex-Mex bouillabaisse, a zombie-contagion shoot-'em-up in which
blood explodes like water balloons. There's some kind of Iraq chemical weapon
that's gotten loose, but I couldn't follow it, frankly. Bruce Willis pops up
as an infected commando whose face bubbles when he stops breathing the
short-term antidote through a gas mask, but the movie's central, luscious
camera object is Rose McGowan, who opens "Planet Terror" with a seminaked pole
dance. When rampaging zombies rip off one of her gams and the hot-rod hero,
played by Freddy Rodriguez, screws a submachine gun into her stump, McGowan
edges out Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" as the ultimate abused and fetishized
action movie femme.

In "Planet Terror"'s brief but tumultuous running time, Rodriguez pays homage
to a long line of directors from Howard Hawks to George Romero to John
Carpenter to Tarantino, who shows up as an actor in his favorite kind of role,
a sexual sadist who gets a gory comeuppance. Which brings us to Tarantino's
"Death Proof," in which the brutality is more shocking, because we get to know
the characters. What makes some critics' knee-jerk derision of Tarantino so
vexing is that he's more than a violence peddler. He's a humanist. OK, he's
a predatory humanist. He just loves to hang out with the characters who are
going to get roughed up and killed.

In this case, it's two sets of women. The first three are a celebrity Austin
DJ known as Jungle Julia, played by Sydney Tamiia Poitier and her friend
Shanna, played by Jordan Ladd, and Arlene, played by Vanessa Ferlito. All
three are chafing under their roles as women of color and objects of lust, but
they do stretch out in short-shorts while they're chafing. In a local
watering hole, they're eyeballed by a scarred, macho man at the bar who calls
himself Stuntman Mike and drives a black Charger he boasts is reinforced for
high-speed collisions and rollovers. Death proof. That's Kurt Russell.

(Soundbite of "Death Proof")

Mr. KURT RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) Do I frighten you? Is it my scar?

Unidentified Woman #1: It's your car.

Mr. RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) Yeah, I know. Sorry.

Woman #1: Have you been following us?

Mr. RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) No, but that's what I love about Austin,
it's just so damn small.

Unidentified Woman #2: You've seen this guy before?

Woman: I saw him outside of Juaro's.

Mr. RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) And I saw you outside Juaro's too. You saw
my car, I saw your legs. Now, look, I ain't stalking y'all, but I didn't say
I wasn't a wolf.

Woman #1: So you really weren't following us?

Mr. RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) I'm not following you, butterfly. I just
got lucky.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: The second set of women take over the film before we've fully
digested the fate of the first. But these are ladies of a different stripe,
fresh from a movie shoot, including Rosario Dawson as a makeup person and a
pair of stuntwomen played by Tracie Thoms and real-life stuntperson Zoe Bell.
They gush about vintage speedsters and car movies like "Vanishing Point and
"Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry." They remind you that grindhouses offered powerful
women before Hollywood did, from Russ Myers' big-breasted kickboxers to Pam
Grier's foxy vigilantes. "Death Proof" is a grim stalker picture, a car chase
picture, and a raucous anthem to female empowerment. It seems dredged up from
the psyche of a movie freak who loves women onscreen almost as much as he
loves to punish women on screen and who gets off most on his own ambivalence.

The fun of "Grindhouse" is in our breathless anticipation of what they'll hurl
at us next, and I'm sad that, like all movies, it will be seen by most people
on video. It should be consumed in a theater full of live, shrieking,
gasping, cheering exploitation movie junkies, just like in the old days. We
get too much sex and violence at home in front of our TVs. We need to get out

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

(Soundbite of music)


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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