After the pilot aired, a real-life "wise guy" told James Gandolfini never to wear shorts again. The encounter seems to have been incorporated into the first episode of season four, The Sopranos: For All Debts Public and Private (2002), when New York mob boss Carmine tells Tony that he'd heard about his recent backyard party, and that "a don doesn't wear shorts".
Four members of northern New Jersey's only real-life mob family, the DeCavalcantes, were secretly taped in 1999 by federal investigators talking about their similarity to the fictional DiMeo/Soprano crime family. On the tape, one mobster asks another, "Is this supposed to be us?" And his capo buddy replies, "You are in there. They mentioned your name in there".
David Chase had planned a major story line for the third season concerning Tony's efforts to prevent Livia from testifying against him in court. However, Nancy Marchand's death caused Chase to revise a large portion of the season.
Tony Sirico only agreed to sign on for the show if it was guaranteed that his character Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri would not be a "rat", an informant. As Sirico explained in James Toback's documentary The Big Bang (1989), he had served time in prison for robbery. Altogether, Sirico's rap sheet included at least 28 arrests. Reportedly, he also appeared briefly in an uncredited role in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Before David Chase chose "Woke Up This Morning" by UK band Alabama 3 (from their 1997 debut album "Exile on Coldharbour Lane"), he wanted to open every episode with a different song. HBO executives convinced him that viewers needed to be able to identify the show with a theme song. However, every "Sopranos" episode ends with a different song.
Drea de Matteo had to spend four hours in hair and makeup before shooting each episode in order to achieve her "mob girl" look. It took two hours to prepare her hair, and in the instances in which her arms, legs, and/or torso were uncovered, an hour and a half to apply makeup to cover her tattoos.
Michael Rispoli originally auditioned for the role of Tony. David Chase liked Rispoli's audition so much that he adjusted the role of Jackie Aprile Sr., originally a much older character, to fit Rispoli's age.
David Chase was a longtime fan of Steven Van Zandt's music and had always wanted to write a role for him. When Chase saw Van Zandt induct The Rascals into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he invited him to audition for Tony Soprano, even though he had never acted before. Van Zandt did not want to take a role away from a real actor, so Chase wrote the role of Silvio Dante for him. The Rascals' performance footage ended up being featured in 1999's seventh episode, The Sopranos: Down Neck (1999).
Many local New Jersey businesses are used as locations in the series. In the opening credits, we see a shot of a pizza shack known as Pizza Land. They get calls for pizza orders from all over the country as a result. In one episode, an actual sporting goods store, Ramsey Outdoor in Paramus, was portrayed as going out of business. So many people thought the real store was closing that the owners had to place ads explaining that they were still open.
Ray Liotta was the top choice to play Tony Soprano but he turned it down, stating he did not want to commit to a television series. Later Liotta was in talks to play Ralph Cifaretto but turned that down as well.
HBO was worried that the title of the series would make the audience think it was about music. That is why the gun image is in the title logo. The network also considered other titles for the show, such as "Made in New Jersey".
Lorraine Bracco was originally asked to play the role of Carmela Soprano, but she felt that the part was too similar to her character in Goodfellas (1990). She decided the role of Dr. Melfi would be more challenging.
Drea de Matteo's unnamed "hostess" character appears in the pilot, in a quick restaurant scene. In the very next episode of the series she appears as Adriana La Cerva, Chris Moltisanti's girlfriend. Later she is Artie Bucco's hostess.
No one directed more The Sopranos (1999) episodes than Tim Van Patten--20 of the 86 shows, for which he received four EMMY nominations. He also shared a Writers Guild award for his story idea for Season #3's famous The Sopranos: Pine Barrens (2001)--which, oddly enough, he did not direct.
"Oogatz", as it is used in the show, means zero, nothing. It derives from the Italian slang "un cazzo" meaning "a dick". Similarly, Tony's boat is called "The Stugots', which also derives from the phrase "questo cazzo" meaning "this dick".
Michael Imperioli is the only major cast member whose credits also include writing or co-writing for the series, having worked on five episodes. Appearing in a recurring role, Toni Kalem, as Angie Bompensiero, also wrote one script and served as story editor on five episodes.
Joseph R. Gannascoli was originally cast in a Season One cameo as Gino, a customer in the the bakery where Christopher shoots a teenage counter boy in the foot. He was then recast as Vito Spatafore in Season Two, and continued in that role until the end of Season Six, part I.
The concept of family is an essential ingredient of this series about La Cosa Nostra ("Our Thing"), a fact also reflected in the show's production. Besides the LuPone and LaPaglia connections mentioned above, David Chase cast his daughter Michele DeCesare in six episodes as Meadow's friend, Hunter. Even more familial is the casting of real-life husband-and-wife Steven Van Zandt and Maureen Van Zandt as Silvio and Gabriella Dante. As well, on the series' production team, longtime writer/producers Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess are a married couple. In addition, co-star Lorraine Bracco's sister Elizabeth Bracco appears as Marie Spatafore in eight episodes. Dominic Chianese Jr., son of the actor portraying Uncle Junior, appears in three final-season shows as a soldier in the Lupertazzi crime family. Then there's Michael Buscemi, brother of the noted director and cast member Steve Buscemi, who shows up early on in the series' fourth episode. Finally, Joyce Van Patten, half-sister of The Sopranos (1999) veteran director Timothy Van Patten, appears in one episode in Season 4 while his daughter, Grace Van Patten, appears twice in the final season.
David Chase claims the relationship between Tony and his mother Livia is based on his relationship with his own mother, Norma. Livia is also the name of the Roman emperor Augustus' conniving, murderous wife, especially as portrayed in I, Claudius (1976).
In Season 5 a story about Feech La Manna was told, concerning his killing of a New Jersey longshoreman for refusing to give up his favorite seat in a bar. This story was based on a true-life incident involving former Philadelphia/Atlantic City crime boss Nicodemo Scarfo (aka "Little Nicky").
When Steven Van Zandt landed the role of Silvio, his character's suits were made by real-life underworld figure John Gotti's tailor. Gotti was serving a life sentence at the time. Van Zandt knew early on that he was about to become part of a TV series determined to reflect realism in mob life when he noticed the character Johnny Ola (Dominic Chianese from The Godfather: Part II (1974)) sitting opposite him in rehearsals.
Six cast members, in both major or recurring roles, in The Sopranos (1999) also appeared in the mob comedy Mickey Blue Eyes (1999). During an episode in Season Two--in an insider's type of gentle tweak--a movie-exec character dismisses "Mickey" as a box-office bomb.
The fictional DiMeo family, which was said to have run North Jersey earlier in the series, is a name that may have been a nod to series prop master Anthony Dimeo, who worked on almost half the series' episodes. Even more of a nod was given to another behind-the-scenes guy, assistant prop master Joseph Badalucco Jr., who did double duty on the show as an actor, playing capo Jimmy Altieri in eight episodes.
The increasingly long gap between seasons 3, 4, 5 and 6 was due to the fact that David Chase requested more time to prep their production, a suggestion made to him by friend Steven Van Zandt during the Season 3 wrap party.
The opening credits of the first three seasons are notable for one significant difference from the rest of the seasons' sequences: there is a shot in which the World Trade Center is visible in Tony Soprano's rear-view mirror which was, for obvious reasons, removed after 9/11.
The series started as a movie pitch. David Chase initially wanted his creation to be a film, and the original scripts that he wrote were for a feature-length production about a mobster who went to visit a psychiatrist. These themes were eventually carried over into the show, of course, mainly because Chase's manager believed that the characters were so well-written that they deserved the extensive time that they would be granted in a television serial.
Asked what he thought of the series, Martin Scorsese admitted that he watched a few episodes but couldn't get into the show, claiming that it was a different generation's gangster culture than what he remembered.
Whenever an actor would go to David Chase to complain about his/her character, arguing the character would never do this or that thing, it has been reported multiple times that Chase would respond: 'Who told you it is your character?'
The writers carefully researched the ways in which mobsters controlled and laundered their money in order to make Tony Soprano as realistic as possible, and they employed New York assistant district attorney Dan Castleman to advise them on this issue. When Castleman was asked how much they had decided Tony would realistically be worth, he stated that it was roughly 5 or 6 million dollars - an amount that fluctuated, of course, because of Tony's substantial gambling problem.
During several episodes a high-pitched squealing sound can be heard in some outdoor scenes. That is the sound of the elevated #7 train going around a turn one block from the studio where the indoor and some outdoor scenes are filmed in Queens, New York.
At least three prominent American film directors played characters in the series: Peter Bogdanovich as psychologist Dr. Elliot Kupferberg in the only major recurring role, but Paul Mazursky and Sydney Pollack also appeared in a total of three episodes. Among actor/directors, Steve Buscemi was not only a prominent cast member, featured in 13 episodes, but he also directed four other shows. Jon Favreau appears playing himself in Season 2, Episode 7. However, Martin Scorsese--referred to in some episodes by Sopranos characters familiar with his work simply as "Marty"--is played by a lookalike in the series' second episode when the director is supposed to have been spotted entering a club.
In Season 5, the race track they go to is actually Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, Long Island, NY. In the episode it was sold, but in real life it wasn't. So many people called the track wanting to know if it had been sold that the owners had to put a sign up saying that they hadn't sold.
David Chase's inspiration for the character Dr. Melfi came from his own psychiatrist at the time, Dr. Lorraine Kaufman, and eventually contributed to the psychological development of some of the characters.
Nancy Marchand, who played Tony's mother Livia Soprano, was born on June 19, 1928, and died one day before her 72nd birthday on June 18, 2000. James Gandolfini, who played her son Tony Soprano, died on Marchand's 85th birthday on June 19, 2013.
Patti LuPone auditioned for the role of Janice Soprano. While she never appeared in the series, her real-life older brother, Robert LuPone, appeared in five episodes as the Sopranos' neighbor and family physician, Dr. Bruce Cusamano.
Dan Castleman, who spent 30 years in the Manhattan District Attorney's office, as chief of the Rackets Bureau and then of Investigations, acted as a prosecutor in nine episodes and as a technical consultant in ten. Reportedly, in his career, when he was not endorsed by his boss to succeed him as Manhattan's next D.A., he left to become a private security consultant.
Three women contributed to the writing of the series: writer/producer Robin Green wrote or co-wrote 22 of the 86 episodes; Diane Frolov is credited with four, and cast member Toni Kalem wrote one episode and was the story editor on five others.
The character of Hesh, the Jewish gangster (played by Jerry Adler) who is a trusted associate of Tony Soprano, is said to have been based on Morris Levy, the founder of Roulette Records and onetime owner of the famous "Birdland" nightclub in New York City. Levy had long had a reputation as being a close associate of several high-ranking New York Mafia figures and had no compunction about using his ties with them to keep recalcitrant and/or ambitious Roulette artists in line or to steal artists from other labels. One story has it that when singer Jackie Wilson, at the time under contract to Roulette, tried to break his contract in order to take a more lucrative one offered him by Brunswick Records, Levy knocked him unconscious; when Wilson regained consciousness, Levy dragged him to the window of his tenth-floor office and hung him out of the window by his heels until he agreed to pay Levy several times more than his contract was worth in order to gain his release (and to also not be dropped ten stories to his death).
Drea de Matteo was completely unaware that her character (Adriana) would be killed off and written out of the series until she read the script before the episode shoot. Though she left the show prematurely, her performance for her final season earned her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
In an interview, David Chase revealed that if he hadn't gotten the show's pilot episode greenlighted, he was determined to shoot another hour of material and release it as a film, ending with the scene where Tony panics trying to kill his mother with a pillow.