Tony Sirico had a couple of firm rules when it came to his beloved Sopranos character, and he would not compromise. In fact, he was so upset over one word in a script for the HBO classic series that he lobbied for a rare script change.
The fan-favorite actor died Friday. He was 79.
Sirico starred in The Sopranos as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, a New Jersey gangster who was as deadly as he was cheap and obnoxious.
On their former popular podcast Talking Sopranos, hosts and show alums Steve Schirripa and Michael Imperioli once talked about Sirico taking issue with a reference to Paulie in season one, episode 11, “Nobody Knows Anything.”
“One of the only times an actor influenced a change in the script, and it wasn’t even their line,” Imperioli began, setting up the moment. “Makazian [John Heard] didn’t like Paulie. In the original script, he said he didn’t like Paulie. ‘Paulie was a bully.’ Tony Sirico read that and was horrified and was very angry that Paulie was labeled a bully. [He] went to [episode writer] Frank [Renzulli], maybe David [Chase], and said, ‘Paulie is not a bully! I don’t like this!’ So they took it into consideration, thought about it, and said, ‘How about psycho?’ And Tony Sirico said, ‘Fine.’”
Imperioli reiterated that was one of the few times in the show’s run an actor was able to have an impact for a script change.
Another popular anecdote floating around for years is that Sirico agreed to do the series as long as Paulie never became a “rat,” aka government informant, as the actor had a criminal past and took the issue seriously. It seems that is most likely accurate, as Schirripa noted that Sirico said, “I’ll never play a rat.”