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. That might be because in real life, 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, Sirico also appeared briefly in an uncredited role in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
After the pilot had aired, James Gandolfini was told by a real-life "wise guy" never to wear shorts again. This encounter seems to have been incorporated later in the first episode of Season Four ("For All Debts Public and Private") when New York mob boss Carmine indicates to 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 NJ mobster asks another, 'Is this supposed to be us?" And his capo buddy replies, "You are in there. They mentioned your name in there'.
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, but 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.
"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".
Before David Chase chose "Woke Up This Morning" by UK band Alabama 3 (from their 1997 debut album "Exile on Coldharbour Lane"), he originally wanted to use a different song in every episode's opening sequence. HBO executives convinced him that viewers needed to be able to identify the show with a theme song. However, every "Sopranos" episode does end with a different tune.
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. But Nancy Marchand's death caused Chase to revise a large portion of the season.
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 it down as well.
Six cast members, in both major or recurring roles, in The Sopranos (1999) also appeared in the 1994 mob comedy Mickey Blue Eyes (1999). And 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.
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".
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, Ramesey Outdoor in Paramus, was portrayed as going out of business. So many people thought the real store was closing, the store owners had to place ads to explain they were still open.
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 Young Rascals' into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he invited Van Zandt 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. And The Rascals performance footage ended up being featured in 1999's seventh episode, "Down Neck" .
Michael Imperioli is the only major 'Sopranos' cast member whose credits also include writing or co-writing for the series, having worked on five episodes. Appearing in a recurring role, actress Toni Kalem, as Angie Bompensiero, also wrote one script and served as story editor on five episodes.
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.
The concept of family is an essential ingredient of this series about La Cosa Nostra ("This Thing of Ours"), 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 & 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, young Grace Van Patten, appears twice in the final season.
David Chase claims the relationship in the story between Tony and his mother Livia is based on his relationship with his own mother, whose name was Norma. The name Livia is also immediately reminiscent of the Roman emperor Augustus's conniving, murderous wife, especially as portrayed in I, Claudius (1976).
Drea de Matteo's unnamed 'hostess' character appears in the pilot episode in a quick restaurant scene. But in the very next, second episode of the series, she has been 'promoted' and appears as Adriana La Cerva, Chris Moltisanti's girl friend, and later as Artie Bucco's hostess.
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.
The show was originally going to be a cable series on FOX starring Anthony LaPaglia before HBO picked it up. Coincidentally, LaPaglia's actor brother Jonathan LaPaglia much later would play the "Cleaver" horror-movie character in Season 6, Episode 14.
No one directed more "Sopranos" episodes than former actor Timothy Van Patten, half-brother of veterans Dick Van Patten and Joyce Van Patten. He helmed 20 of the 86 shows, for which he received four EMMY nominations. He also shared a Writers Guild award for Season #3's famous "Pine Barrens" episode, which--strangely enough--he did not direct.
The fictional DiMeo family who were said to have run North Jersey earlier in the series, is a name that may have been a nod to "Sopranos" props master Anthony Dimeo who worked on almost half the shows's episodes. Even more of a nod was given to another behind-the-scenes guy, assistant props master Joseph Badalucco Jr. who did double duty on the show, as an actor, playing capo Jimmy Altieri in eight episodes.
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.
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 City.
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. And Jon Favreau appears playing himself in Season 2, Episode 7. Yet, 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.
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.
In Season 5, the race track they go to is actually Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, Long Island. 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.
In an interview, David Chase revealed that if he hadn't get the pilot 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.
In Season 5 a story about Feech La Manna was told, concerning his killing 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 "Little Nicky" Scarfo.
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.
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.