USA TODAY International Edition

‘ Sopranos’ actors draw back the curtain

- Melissa Ruggieri

“The Sopranos” spawned a series of live sit- downs with fervent fans. Those sit- downs led to a hugely popular podcast. And now, the podcast has hatched a book certain to engross those who revel in the complex history and behind- the- scenes minutiae of the revered HBO drama.

“Woke Up This Morning,” its title shared with the show’s perfectly ominous theme song by A3, is out now. Billed as the “definitive oral history,” the nearly 500- page effort is an unflinching, humorous and detailpack­ed plunge into the six seasons of the show anchored by the pedigree of the book’s creators.

Chapters dedicated to talking with “Sopranos” czar David Chase, a fascinatin­g breakdown of the music used throughout the series, interviews with writers and casting directors and backstage storytelli­ng from authors Michael Imperioli (“Christophe­r Moltisanti”) and Steve Schirripa (“Bobby ‘ Bacala’ Baccalieri”) – with many tales about the late James Gandolfini (“Tony Soprano”) – elevate it beyond mere fandom.

The pair, who wrote the book with Philip Lerman, have hosted the “Talking Sopranos” podcast since April 2020. For their weekly chats, they drafted nearly every major player on the show, from Edie Falco (“Carmela Soprano”) to Dominic Chianese (“Uncle Junior”) to Lorraine Bracco (“Dr. Melfi”). Some of those conversati­ons are included in “Woke Up This Morning,” but most of the content was produced after the podcast mics were turned off – and with input from additional cast and crew members.

“We’d go back to some guests and go deeper, so the book is beyond the podcast,” Imperioli tells USA TODAY. “One of the reasons we decided to do the podcast was because there were several (“Sopranos”- themed ones) out there already, but none from people on the show. So, who better to do it? And then Steve’s book agent ( Schirripa has been writing for nearly 20 years) said, ‘ Why not do a book?’ And that was it.”

Schirripa, in a separate interview with USA TODAY, agrees that he and Imperioli bring unmatched insider insight into both podcast and book.

“I’ve done other books, and this is a good book. We’re very truthful in the book and give you a peek behind the curtain,” Schirripa says. “You’re getting it from two guys who were there. This is not hearsay.”

“The Sopranos” aired from 1999 to 2007, but the combinatio­n of streaming availabili­ty ( HBO Max) and pandemic- fueled binge- a- thons amplified interest among a new generation and revived curiosity among the faithful. The new prequel film “The Many Saints of Newark” – the backstory of the Moltisanti family that merges with the origin of Tony Soprano – also has reignited awareness of the characters.

“The taste is so strong in this world that David Chase created. It’s not just the Mob – you can get those shows up the wazoo – but this is about family, and there’s so much depth to these characters and people,” Schirripa says. “This word is thrown around too often, but David is a genius. If you saw a guy eating Fig Newtons in the show, there was a reason he was eating Fig Newtons. David was involved in every aspect.”

Some highlights from the book: Gandolfini was ‘ out of sorts’ shooting his final scene with Tony’s mom Actress Nancy Marchand, who played Tony Soprano’s manipulati­ve monster of a mother, Livia, with such

terrifying gusto, died between Seasons 2 and 3. Closure was mandatory in the relationsh­ip between Tony and his mother, so Chase had to figure out how to work around the loss of his actress.

Taking a cue from the movie “Gladiator,” whose Oliver Reed died during its shooting, Chase hired a body double and used a combinatio­n of cutting room floor footage and dialogue previously recorded by Marchand to cobble a scene.

“You could tell it was weird for Jim ( Gandolfini), acting with a different actress. I could just tell that Jim was a little out of sorts in this scene,” Schirripa says in the book.

That Led Zeppelin song cost $ 100,000

Producer Martin Bruestle – the person most involved with song selection in the series next to Chase – explains the licensing and publishing clearances needed to use songs on a TV show, as well as Chase’s editing process with music.

“The Sopranos” was the first TV show to use a Led Zeppelin song (“Rock and Roll,” to the tune of $ 100,000 for its use), but Prince and the estate of Jimi Hendrix turned down requests to include their music.

As for the theme song, Bruestle shares that Chase originally wanted a different song to open each episode, but HBO nixed the idea. “He heard ‘ Woke Up This Morning’ on his car radio in Santa Monica one day and fell in love with it. A lucky accident,” Bruestle says.

( Imperioli mentioned that an interview with A3 member Rob Spragg will air on an upcoming episode of “Talking Sopranos”).

Only those who know how to pronounce ‘ mozzarella,’ please

Chase tried to hire “true Italian folks” because “the details meant so much to me,” he says, adding that actor Michael Madsen was mad because he couldn’t get a role on the show. “He’s a great actor, but he has a Chicago accent, and I couldn’t see it.”

Shirripa concurs with Chase’s decision, saying in the book: “You put his group – guys and girls – all similar, from the same background. It sincerely was like a family with the cast, with the crew. We had so many laughs, so many drinks, so many parties. But everyone was really serious about the work. There was no ( messing) around then.”

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