New York Daily News

‘Sopranos’ con cries for Tony


WHILE FAMILY, friends and former colleagues are gathering at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine to mourn acting legend James Gandolfini at 10 a.m. Thursday, former “Sopranos” co-star Lillo Brancato Jr. (top photo)will be staring at his Hudson Correction­al Facility prison walls.

“I couldn’t believe my ears,” says Brancato, thinking back to last week, when he was standing near his prison’s phone bank and a friend who was on a call passed along the sad news. “I thought it was a mistake,” he said.

Gandolfini’s (r.) service is one of many things the “Bronx Tale” actor will have missed since 2008, when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his part in a botched 2005 robbery that left police officer Daniel Enchautegu­i dead in the Bronx. Hardly a sympatheti­c figure, former drug addict Brancato’s life can be summed up by one of the last lines his “Bronx Tale” character delivers in that 1993 mobster film: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.”

Even now, Brancato can only speak to Confidenti@l through his old pal Noel Ashman, who also keeps his Twitter account up to date.

“I’ve missed a lot of things while I’ve been in here, and I’ve accepted that,” says the 37-year-old con.

Brancato, who says he cried upon hearing about Gandolfini, is up for parole in 2014 and hopes to be back home in Yonkers by this time next year.

He first worked alongside Gandolfini in the 1995 film “Crimson Tide,” but came to know him better in season two of “The Sopranos.” Brancato played cocky two-bit thief Matt Bevilaqua, who Gandolfini — as Tony Soprano — shot repeatedly in an abandoned warehouse after the punk kid unsuccessf­ully tried to murder the mob boss’ right-hand man. Though he remembers Gandolfini as a humble man, far different from the mob kingpin he played on “The Sopranos,” Brancato says he still recalls the day his character was whacked.

“When my character was killed off by Tony Soprano, I was actually scared that day because he was so in character,” says Brancato. “I’ve never seen him like that. It was terrifying.” But right after the director called, “Cut,” Tony Soprano was gone and back came Gandolfini.

“As soon as the scene was over he gave me a big hug and said, ‘You did great,’ ” according to Brancato.

“I admired him so much as an actor and so much as a person,” says Brancato, who was discovered by Robert De Niro. “I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most renowned people in Hollywood. He was right there with them.”

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