Thursday, June 22, 2023

Books: "Woke Up This Morning” By Michael Imperioli & Steve Schirripa


Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos

By Michael Imperioli & Steve Schirripa, with Philip Lerman

William Morrow Paperbacks; paperback, 528 pages; $22.99

Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa will always be known for the characters they played on the Sopranos, Christopher Moltisanti and Bobby Bacala, which ran from 1999 to 2005. Presently, Imperioli can be seen on the Emmy-winning series The White Lotus, and he also is the author of the acclaimed novel The Perfume Burned His Eyes and the short story "YASIRI." Schirripa has played Detective Anthony Abetemarco on the revered CBS hit series Blue Bloods, and he is the New York Times bestselling author of several books, including A Goomba's Guide to Life and the young adult novel Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family. For the record, Imperioli also appeared on Blue Bloods in 2016 in a three-episode arc as Robert Lewis.

It's incredible to think that it's been two decades since The Sopranos, which ran from 1999 to 2005, was in its heyday, but it has a new relevance in recent years. With many new ways to access the series, it was exposed to a whole new audience the past few years, especially as people binge-watched it during the pandemic lockdowns. 

This renewed interest, which happened in the years before March 2020, drove Imperioli and Schirripa to create the Talking Sopranos podcast, which led to this book, the comprehensive behind-the-scenes history of the groundbreaking HBO series, which was originally released in 2021 and is now a New York Times bestseller.

Woke Up This Morning has exclusive interviews with the cast, crew, producers, writers, directors, and series creator David Chase, as they talk intimately and openly about what went into making the thoroughly unique landmark series. It covers the entire history of The Sopranos series, from the original concept pitch and casting to the infamous cut to black in the finale that is still debated to this day. 

Some of the questions die-hard fans want answered include, Who made the phone call that got HBO to launch The Sopranos? What's the significance of all those eggs? What the hell ever happened to the Russian? 

This engrossing book has all the answers, starting with how Vinny Pastore talks about how he learned that his character "Big Pussy" was getting whacked, Lorraine Bracco on the phone call that got HBO to pick up the show, Edie Falco revealing her favorite scene, and Jamie Lynn-Sigler's heartfelt moments with James Gandolfini. Lynn-Sigler played Meadow Soprano, daughter of Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, and that is especially poignant because it is now ten years since his untimely passing.

One of the things that is clear in reading this book is how The Sopranos ushered in a golden era of television, full of shows that were movie-quality. It set new standards for cinematography, writing, acting, and a flourishing creativity that remains unmatched.

In this excerpt, Imperioli and Schirippa write of the birth of the podcast and how the world was when it began: "THIS ALMOST NEVER HAPPENED.

This book grew out of our podcast, Talking Sopranos, which started in April of 2020, and quickly found a great following of wonderful, dedicated fans. They've been enormously supportive of us from day one - actually, from before day one.

Because if it weren't for them, we wouldn't be here now. 

The Sopranos has been off the air for nearly fifteen years now, but the fascination with the show has never ebbed. In fact, there seem to be more people watching it now than when it originally aired. The support of the fans, both those who are watching it again and those who are discovering it for the first time, has been fantastic.

We started noticing it around the time we were celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the show's premiere, early in 2019. Michael was working on a pilot in New York that March and shooting a scene in Central Park when a young man, maybe all of twenty years old, walking through the park with his father, politely approached him. He said they were visiting from Scotland, visiting the city for the first time, and were so excited to see a cast member from their favorite show. Suddenly, the young man rolled up his pant leg - and revealed a tattoo of Michael's face on his calf! He explained that he had discovered the show in the past year and it had quickly become a huge part of his life, to the point where he felt the need to have one of the show's main characters permanently etched into his flesh. It gave us both pause: what the heck was going on out there?

It was about that time we both entered the wide, wild wilderness of social media via Instagram and Facebook. Before long, it became evident to us that The Sopranos had found an entire new flock of passionate followers. We found tons of fan pages, meme pages, Sopranos fashion pages, Sopranos food pages, Sopranos music pages - you name it. It was obvious that social media was the domain of the young  - and these tweens, twentysomethings, and thirtysomethings were now streaming The Sopranos on their iPhones and Androids.

We'd known for a long time that we had legions of loyal fans - most of them close to our own age, give or take a decade or two - but the fact that we were being taken up by a whole new demographic gave us an idea. Not many shows have the ability to be passed down to a younger generation that embraces it as wholeheartedly as their parents did. And so we wondered, what if we tried to meet these newfound devotees on their own turf - the podcast?

The two of us had worked together on a ton of projects, both Sopranos-related and otherwise. We did a movie called Nicky Deuce, based on a book by Steve; the movie The Hungry Ghosts, written and directed by Michael, which Steve starred in; and a number of other films.

We also did a stage show, along with Vinny Pastore - you know him as Big Pussy - called Conversations with the Sopranos, which we toured around the country and as far away as Australia. And we're very close friends in real life - when one of us gets to go on vacation, the other's the first to get a call to come along and bring the family.

So when the idea came up to do a podcast in which two buddies would sit down and chat, rewatch all eighty-six episodes of The Sopranos, and bring on all the other cast members, directors, writers, everybody - from the sound guy to series creator David Chase - it seemed like a natural. It was announced, we did a whirlwind press tour, and were ready to go into the studio to record together starting March 25. 

And then COVID hit.

On March 13, the day a national emergency was declared - the day the world stopped turning for all of us - Michael was stuck in California, sick as a dog. Later, we realized he and his wife probably had come down with COVID. Steve had holed up with his family in his apartment in New York, depressed as hell. The thought of doing the podcast remotely never occurred to us - we didn't even know it was possible. None of us had even heard of Zoom yet.

And besides, to be perfectly honest, we didn't think we should do it anymore, either. We thought doing a podcast in the midst of all this tragedy was totally tone deaf. After all, who could possibly want to hear us talk about a TV show, with all the suffering that was going on in the world?

But then we started hearing from the fans, both the older generation who'd watched the show back in the day and the legion of new young followers. We're stuck at home, they told us. We're sheltering in place, like we're supposed to. We're binge-watching The Sopranos. We're waiting for the podcast. We want you to watch it with us.

Where the hell are you?

And so, reluctantly, we started talking to our producers about trying to do the podcast from our homes. We had a crash course in virtual programming, in creating home studios, in setting up our lights and mikes and backgrounds. We didn't even have time to talk about what the hell we were going to do once the tape started rolling. On March 30, we just jumped into the deep end and recorded our first show.

We were both depressed, and worried as hell. We had a mutual friend who passed away just before we went to air. But here's what Steve said on that first podcast:

'If we could give you a moment of joy, I guess that's what we're doing. I'm int he house twenty-four hours a day. I know people have it a lot worse than I do. Listen, we'll do it for the fans. We'll do it for ourselves. We'll see what happens.

And here's what happened: As soon as that first episode aired, we heard from a ton of people, saying they wanted more. They told us that listening to the podcast buoyed their spirits, and hearing their kind words buoyed ours. More than they'll ever know."

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