MICHAEL Imperioli wants you to know he doesn’t wear Fila tracksuits, he isn’t a mobster and he wasn’t born in New Jersey.
For fans of The Sopranos, the long-running mafia series that put Imperioli on the TV map, that may come as a shock.
Until his sticky end by the side of a highway, suffocated by Tony Soprano to stop his drugaddled foot soldier singing to the authorities, Imperioli was Christopher Moltisanti for the seven years of the acclaimed show.
Even now, switching sides of the law in new police drama Detroit 1-8-7, the 45-year-old admits he struggles to convince some he’s not some hood from the ’ burbs.
Stepping out of the shadow of Sopranos costar James Gandolfini to lead the cast as detective Louis Finch has given Imperioli the chance to prove himself and shine.
‘‘ I think it’s helped people who have seen my work to remember that I’m an actor and not some mobster guy from New Jersey,’’ he says.
Poking fun at the Hollywood stereotype of actors of Italian descent and MTV series Jersey Shore are not helping matters, he says. ‘‘ I think a lot of people thought that someone found me in a shopping mall or in a tanning salon and said, ‘ Come and be on TV’, and didn’t know I’d been an actor for 13 years before (The Sopranos). This helps shatter that perception,’’ he says.
There’s no denying his talent in Detroit, playing Finch, the head detective of an overworked homicide squad.
Tapping his funny side attracted Imperioli to the role.
‘‘ I thought the show had a lot of humour, which I think is really important and very lacking from a lot of cop shows. Homicide detectives are some of the funniest people you’ll ever meet. They have so much tragedy and pain and darkness all the time that humour is a crucial element of their lives,’’ he says.
Also critical to the show’s authenticity is a commitment by producers to film on the streets of Detroit. Once the home of Motown and pulsing as the car-manufacturing hub of the US, the city built its name on hard work.
Now, as the country’s murder capital, comes with other challenges.
Filming around abandoned warehouses or torched public housing, it’s necessary for police to guard the production. It’s for traffic control and ‘‘ just to make sure everything’s safe’’, Imperioli says. Hesitant to move his family to the city at first, Imperioli now sees its potential as a metaphor for the US.
‘‘ For the most part, a lot of these buildings have fallen into disrepair, but are starting to now be renovated. I think there’s been long periods of time where a lot of these neighbourhoods have really suffered . . . it’s an interesting point in the history of the city that they’re kind of starting to resurrect themselves from difficulties,’’ he says.
it Detroit 1-8-7, Channel 7, Wednesday, 9pm Other side now: Michael Imperioli has gone from hood to cop in his new show