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 season four, episode one, "For All Debts Public and Private", when New York City 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."
It is said that during some scenes, James Gandolfini inserted a small stone in his shoe to anger him, making him play the role of Tony Soprano more authentically. He would also stay awake all night for some of the breakfast scenes, to achieve a tired look.
Series Creator 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 season one, episode seven, "Down Neck".
Before Series Creator David Chase chose "Woke Up This Morning" by the U.K. 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 episode ends with a different song.
David Chase had planned a major storyline 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 twenty-eight arrests. Reportedly, he appeared briefly in an uncredited role in The Godfather: Part II (1974). Some aspects of Sirico's real-life, a brief stint in the military, et cetera, were added to Paulie's life as well.
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.
Michael Rispoli originally auditioned for the role of Tony. Series Creator 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.
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".
Drea de Matteo had to spend four hours in hair and make-up 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 make-up to cover her tattoos.
In the second season the word "fu-ck" is said seven hundred fifteen times. Tony (two hundred sixty-four), Sil (thirty-four), Paulie (thirty-one), Christopher (sixty-eight), Carmela (nine), Others (three hundred nine).
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.
Ray Liotta was a 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 ended up not taking the part.
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.
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 five or six million dollars, an amount that fluctuated, of course, because of Tony's substantial gambling problem.
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.
Drea de Matteo's unnamed "hostess" character appeared in the pilot, in a quick restaurant scene. In the next episode, she appeared as Adriana La Cerva, Chris Moltisanti's girlfriend. Later, she is Artie Bucco's hostess.
David Chase claims the relationship between Tony and his mother Livia was 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).
"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 "sto (questo) cazzo" meaning "this dick".
Tony refers to Christopher as his "nephew" throughout the series. However, Christopher is Carmela's second cousin on his father's side, who is known as Dickie, and Christopher is Tony's first cousin once removed on his mother's side, since Christopher's mother is Tony's first cousin.
In season five, 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 (a.k.a. "Little Nicky").
In season one, episode ten, "A Hit Is a Hit", Christopher says Silvio owned rock clubs in Asbury. Silvio was played by Steven Van Zandt, who is a member of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who got their start playing at the Stone Pony (a rock club) in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
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 television 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.
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 and grew up around.
No one directed more episodes than Tim Van Patten, twenty of the eighty-six shows, for which he received four Emmy nominations. He also shared a Writers Guild award for his story idea for season three, episode eleven, "Pine Barrens", which, oddly enough, he did not direct.
Whenever an actor or actress would go to David Chase to complain about his or 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?"
In season five, the race track to which they go was Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, Long Island, New York. 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.
The increasingly long gap between seasons three, four, five, and six was due to the fact that Series Creator David Chase requested more time to prep their production, a suggestion made to him by friend Steven Van Zandt during the season three wrap party.
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 Writers and Producers Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess are a married couple. In addition, Lorraine Bracco's sister Elizabeth Bracco appeared 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 showed 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 four, while his daughter, Grace Van Patten, appeared twice in the final season.
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 re-cast as Vito Spatafore in season two, and continued in that role until the end of season six, part 1.
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.
The series started as a movie pitch. David Chase initially wanted his creation to be a movie, 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 series.
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 were filmed in Queens, New York.
The character of Hesh, the Jewish gangster (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 one-time owner of the famous "Birdland" nightclub in New York City. Levy had a long reputation as being a close associate of several high-ranking New York City 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).
Six cast members, in major or recurring roles, in this show 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 executive 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.
At least three prominent American movie 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. Amongst actors/directors, Steve Buscemi was not only a prominent cast member, featured in thirteen episodes, but he also directed four other shows. Jon Favreau appeared playing himself in season two, episode seven, "D-Girl". However, Martin Scorsese, referred to in some episodes by Sopranos characters familiar with his work simply as "Marty", was played by a look-a-like in season one, episode two, "46 Long", when Scorsese is supposed to have been spotted entering a club.
Joseph Siravo and Rocco Sisto, who play brothers Johnny Boy and the younger Junior Soprano, appeared as members the same "family" in Carlito's Way (1993). Also, both attempted to kill David Kleinfeld at different points in the movie.
Nancy Marchand (Tony's mother Livia Soprano) was born on June 19, 1928, and died one day before her seventy-second birthday on June 18, 2000. James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) died on Marchand's eighty-fifth 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 thirty 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.
In season three, the word "fu-ck" is said six hundred four times. Tony (one hundred sixty-nine), Sil (nineteen), Paulie (eighty-one), Christopher (seventy-two), Carmela (three), Others (two hundred sixty).
The introduction music to the show was ninety beats per minute for the first season, and for the DVD title music. However, from season two onward, the speed of the music was increased to ninety-three and a half beats per minute. The pitch also lifted respectively. This may have been to cut down on time.
In season six, part 1, the word "fu-ck" was said four hundred fifty-two times. Tony (one hundred twenty-five), Sil (thirteen), Paulie (forty-eight), Christopher (sixty-five), Carmela (eight), Others (one hundred ninety-three).
In the middle of the series, Tony told his son, A J., that his favorite scene in The Godfather was when Michael Corlione killed rival mobsters by entering a restaurant and then going into the restroom to retrieve a hidden gun. Because of that, it stands to reason this was also what awaited Tony in the mysterious final episode where the man in the Members Only jacket enters the restaurant where Tony and his family are having dinner.
In season one, the word "fu-ck" was said four hundred thirty-seven times. Tony (one hundred thirty-four), Sil (twenty), Paulie (twenty-five), Christopher (sixty-one), Carmela (five), Others (one hundred ninety-two).
In the pilot, "Satriale's" was "Centanni's Meat Market". Centanni's is an actual neighborhood butcher, but they couldn't shut down every time the show needed to shoot. Location scouts went out and found an abandoned building and modelled it into a pork store, which became Satriale's.
In season five, episode four, "All Happy Families..." Tony (James Gandolfini) gives his cousin Tony (Steve Buscemi) an old hand crank drill claiming "I don't know what happened to the DeWalt", a nod to a previous episode in season three, where he lent the drill to Carmela's cousin Brian as a cover for Tony to give him an expensive watch.
In season four, the word "fu-ck" was said four hundred twenty-five times. Tony (one hundred fifty-five), Sil (twelve), Paulie (eighteen), Christopher (forty-eight), Carmela (ten), Others (one hundred eighty-two).
Three women contributed to the writing of the series: Writer and Producer Robin Green wrote or co-wrote twenty-two episodes; Diane Frolov is credited with four, and cast member Toni Kalem wrote one episode, and was the story editor on five others.
In a 2019 interview with the New York Times, David Chase was asked what Tony would have made of Donald Trump becoming president. Chase said: "He would think the guy was full of shit. Whether he thought he was a good president or not, I don't know that Tony thought much about that question at all, with anybody who was in office. But I know Tony would have thought Trump was penny ante, in terms of his lying and presentation."
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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 greenlit, he was determined to shoot another hour of material and release it as a movie, ending with the scene where Tony panics trying to kill his mother with a pillow.
The final scene of the series in the episode "Made in America", follows a pattern of showing Tony's face and then what Tony sees in front of him. This pattern repeats throughout Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'". When we see the man in the 'members only jacket' step into the bathroom (behind Tony, an ideal placement to assassinate him). The final shots and the last time we see the pattern; we are shown Tony's face, and then what he sees...a black screen. In previous episodes in the season, characters such as Silvio and Bobby (speaking on the subject of being killed) talk about how "you don't even hear it coming" and "I didn't know what happened until it was over". This has lead some fans to speculate (with the pattern in mind) that Tony was assassinated by the man who went into the bathroom just a few minutes earlier, and that the black screen was in fact what Tony sees because he was killed. David Chase has never confirmed this theory (although he originally wanted the black screen to run for three minutes, instead of the credits), so the end is as intended; open for interpretation.
The hit on Adriana may have been based on or inspired by the real-life hit of Theresa Ferrara in 1979. Like Adriana, she was the mistress of a prominent mobster (Tommy De Simone, the real-life inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas (1990)) and turned government informant after being caught selling drugs to an undercover agent. Her dismembered body was discovered three months after she left the beauty salon where she worked for a mysterious meeting.
Except for Uncle Junior and Larry "boy" Barese , all of the "made" Soprano crime family members that address Tony Soprano as "Anthony" at some point throughout the series, do not live to the series finale.