'Sopranos' Stars Made by the Mob

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 12:54 PM

April 8, 2007 — -- In the back alleys and empty warehouses of New Jersey, wielding a gun and spouting obscenities might make a man a mobster.

In Hollywood, it can make an actor a star.

But what happens when TV's most iconic mafia series comes to a close?

"The Sopranos," the Emmy award-winning HBO drama that begins its final run Sunday, turned a cast of little-known actors into familiar faces.

Now, as the eight-year-old show winds down, these actors are staring down the barrel of careers made by breaking knuckles and dumping bodies. Undoubtedly, the "Sopranos" stigma will stick to these actors for years to come. But some will have an easier time living with their mob ties than others.

Call it the curse of the cult phenomenon. Variety television editor Jo Adalain explained that as with so many landmark television series -- "Friends," "Seinfeld," "Sex and the City" -- "The Sopranos" created a class of iconic stars for whom typecasting is inevitable.

"You've got Drea [de Matteo] playing a version of herself from 'The Sopranos' on 'Joey' on NBC," Adalain said. "The smaller mobsters like Tony Soprano's advisers star in commercials as mobsters. I'm sure the Italian-American community loves that."

Alan Sepinwall, a Newark Star Ledger TV critic who has covered "The Sopranos" since its start, likened the show's legacy to that of "Star Trek." While the Kirks and Picards of "The Sopranos" will likely live long and prosper in the industry, those who played smaller roles may find fame only in the drama's equivalent of a Trekkie convention.

"James Gandolfini's a great actor. He will get other work. Edie Falco will get other work, even if it's just on the stage. Michael Imperioli will get other work. But if Bacala shows up in another movie, I think people will laugh and go 'Hey, Bacala!" Sepinwall said, talking about Steve Schirripa's "Sopranos" character, Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri.

Sepinwall pointed out that while it may be inseparable from "The Sopranos," Schirripa's celebrity has furthered his career. Thanks to his reputation as a lovable mobster, the actor has co-written a handful of books espousing the Bacala lifestyle, including "A Goomba's Guide to Life" and "The Goomba Diet."