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‘Sopranos’ actor takes new role



Published: Sat, December 8, 2007 @ 2:00 a.m.

The Emmy winner is happy that his son also has a role in the new film.

By CHUCK BARNEY

CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Most television fans best know Emmy winner Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti, the hotheaded young mobster who was brutally whacked by Tony (James Gandolfini) shortly before “The Sopranos” ended its critically lauded run earlier this year.

But now that David Chase’s landmark crime drama is in the books, Imperioli, 41, is looking to expand his résumé with new roles and varied characters. Next year, he’ll appear in feature film “The Lovely Bones.” And Sunday he returns to prime time as the main protagonist in “Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day” (9 p.m., ABC).

With shades of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the movie has Imperioli playing Chick Benetto, a boozing, washed-up baseball player whose thoughts of suicide are interrupted by a magical visit from his mother’s ghost (Ellen Burstyn), who shows him the error of his ways.

Also appearing in the film is Imperioli’s 7-year-old son, Vadim, who plays Chick in childhood flashbacks. It’s Vadim’s first screen role.

We caught up with Imperioli recently to talk about the film and life after “The Sopranos.”

Q. What do you like about this character and why did you want to play him?

A. I like playing people for whom the stakes are very high — people who are struggling with something in their lives. This is a guy who never quite lived up to who he wanted to be. He had a taste of his dream (a short stint in the majors), but it died on the vine when he was very young. And because it died, he can’t accept himself and he gets lost in alcohol. It’s a very honest, relatable story and, hopefully, viewers will feel compassion for him.

Q. How fun was it watching your son make his screen debut with this film?

A. I was a very proud dad. The only other real acting he had done was in a play about a year and half ago that my wife and I produced. He has great instincts, and I thought he handled the material pretty well.

Q. I’ve heard you’re a big Yankees fan. So did it bother you to put on the uniform of the Mets — the team Chick plays for?

A. It didn’t bother me any more, or any less, than having to dismember a torso for “The Sopranos.”

Q. How was it working with an actress with the stature of Ellen Burstyn?

A. She’s just so impressive. She’s a very smart woman, who makes intelligent choices. She’s emotionally honest. There are no false moments with her. ... There’s a scene where our characters are supposed to be talking in a cemetery and she suggested (to the director) we do it while sitting up against a tombstone. It wound up retaining the reverence of the scene, but gave it a casual quality that really made for a wonderful moment. Like I say, a smart woman.

Q. The character you play in the film is rather tragic partially because he will never again experience that glorious high that came with playing big league baseball. Do you ever find yourself wondering if you’ll experience anything so culturally powerful as “The Sopranos”?

A. I realize that could be a once-in-lifetime kind of thing, but I’m pretty good at moving on and trying new things. I don’t have to be in the top 10 to be happy. So, I don’t miss it and I don’t look to the past.

Q. The “Sopranos” controversial finale got a lot of attention, but one of the most memorable moments of the last season is the scene in which Tony suffocated you after a car crash. Is that the way you wanted to go out?

A. I thought it was a great idea. David told me about it about a year ahead of time, and I was totally on board. I thought it was a great way to go out — the fact that Tony was like a father figure to me and I was like his wayward son. And through the nature of what we (the characters) do, this brutal, awful thing happens between them. It was somehow fitting.


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