Did you develop a familial relationship with Gandolfini?
Absolutely. Doing that show was like going down to the corner and hanging out with your friends every day. That’s a very rare thing. He was such a tremendous talent and such a good actor, so committed, passionate and kind.
How do you feel about “The Many Saints of Newark,” the coming prequel movie to “The Sopranos”?
It’s going to focus on Christopher’s dad. I like that it’s going in that direction rather than something right after the last episode ended, picking up those pieces. Doing something that has the DNA of the show but is its own thing is really smart. I’m sure it’s going to be great.
How do you look at the other series you’ve done that haven’t lasted as long as “The Sopranos,” like “Life on Mars” and “Detroit 1-8-7”?
You just need to take each job as it comes. If you say, “I’ve got to wait for the next ‘Sopranos,’” you may be waiting forever. It’s such a difficult business to have longevity in, to be frank. You’ve got to find what you’re passionate about, and if you’re not getting the roles on TV and in movies you want, then try to do it yourself — independent film, theater and writing books.
Your novel is set in the New York City of the ’70s. Do you feel that city is gone?
I do. I didn’t start spending a lot of time in Manhattan until 1983, but in the ’70s I’d go to the city with my family to see a show or go to Rockefeller Center. I have a lot of nostalgia for the movies of the time, and I was always drawn to that period. I mean, everything changes, and New York City has changed as much as everywhere else. It’s hard to know if that feeling of nostalgia is for your youth or the city.
What was it like to get your break in “Goodfellas”?
I am so grateful for the way Marty Scorsese treated me. I had done three tiny roles in movies no one had seen. I was on the set for two days, and he treated me like all his other guys, with a lot of respect and freedom. At the time, I just kind of went with it, but looking back I realize how rare that is. He trusted me enough to allow me to basically improvise everything. All the other actors were really generous, too.
Listen, I was 22, an Italian-American kid from New York. It was like going from college to playing in the World Series for the Yankees.