Multiple podcast series put ‘Sopranos’ stars back in limelight

Multiple podcast series put ‘Sopranos’ stars back in limelight

Cast members reach out to fans with inside stories about the hit HBO series

Actors Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler, along with Kassem Gharaibeh, star in the Pajama Pants podcast series, which offers behind-the-scenes info about the making of The Sopranos TV show.

Sitting around in pajama pants, Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, friends who starred together on The Sopranos, decided to start a podcast.

The weekly podcast they launched last fall, “Pajama Pants,” features Iler, Sigler and internet personality Kassem Gharaibeh, known as Kassem G. The podcast includes guests such as Katherine Narducci, a Sopranos veteran whose acting credits also include playing the wife of Mafia boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) in Martin Scorsese’s 2019 movie The Irishman.

In The Sopranos crime series on HBO from 1999 to 2007, Iler and Sigler played the children of New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (the late James Gandolfini) and his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco).

Topics on “Pajama Pants” range from life observations to comments about The Sopranos series. The three hosts even discussed how to pronounce “pajama.” Gharaibeh says pa-JAM-a, while the other two say pa-JAH-ma.

Iler, once a drug user, heavy drinker and serious poker player, moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in the fall of 2019 to start the podcast with Sigler.

He mentioned all this, including how he and Sigler came up with the idea, while appearing as a guest on “Talking Sopranos,” another podcast about the TV show, this one hosted by actors Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa.

Actors Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa host the Talking Sopranos podcast series, in which they discuss Sopranos episodes.

In the HBO series, Imperioli played Christopher Moltisanti, while Schirripa portrayed Bobby “Bacala” Baccilieri.

This recent boom in Sopranos-centered podcasts includes a third one, “Made Women: A Sopranos Re-Watch Podcast,” with Sopranos cast member Drea De Matteo and her friend Chris Kushner, an entrepreneur from New Jersey. People magazine named “Made Women” one of 15 binge-worthy podcasts about TV shows.

“The series is the only female-led Sopranos podcast,” the magazine notes, “and their celebrity pals get candid about motherhood, marriage, relationships family, of course — all things Italian.”

These three Sopranos podcasts are available in an audio-only format and on YouTube.

Based on YouTube views, the most popular so far is the one by Imperioli and Schirripa. In the YouTube version, the two appear on a split screen, wearing headsets, with similar red curtains behind each as a backdrop. Every week, Imperioli and Schirripa discuss different Sopranos episodes, providing insights into casting decisions and other behind-the-scenes details.

Imperioli said the podcast was planned before the coronavirus pandemic hit. After that, he and Schirripa considered not doing it. “We’re aware that there’s a lot of suffering right now,” he said in the first episode, recorded March 30 and posted April 6. “It’s a terrible, terrible crisis.”

However, fans who have been bingeing on the television show while sheltering in place asked for the podcast, Imperioli said. The original plan was to have the two hosts work together in the same studio, but Imperioli participates from Southern California, while Schirripa is in New York City.

The recent episode with Iler led to news stories partly focusing on his past alcohol and drug use. Iler, who was 12 years old when he won his role after making creator David Chase laugh at his use of the f-word, has kept a low public profile since the series ended. The 35-year-old Iler told the “Talking Sopranos” hosts that he stopped getting drunk and abusing hard drugs about seven years ago and quit using Xanax five years ago with the help of a specialist. He also said he has not been interested in doing much acting since the show ended but could see himself being involved in something like the Netflix crime series Ozark.

“It blew me away,” he said of Ozark.

The “Talking Sopranos” podcast also came up on “Coffee With Cullotta,” a YouTube program featuring Frank Cullotta, an 81-year-old former mobster in Las Vegas. In a recent episode, Cullotta said he knew Schirripa when the future Sopranos star was a bouncer at a Las Vegas nightclub, Paul Anka’s Jubilation. The nightclub on Harmon Avenue across from what is now Planet Hollywood has been demolished, but during its heyday Schirripa would allow Cullotta and Mob enforcer Tony Spilotro cut to the front of the line at the door to get in. During the 1970s and ’80s, Spilotro oversaw criminal activity in Las Vegas for the Chicago Outfit, with his boyhood friend Cullotta serving as a lieutenant. In 1986, Chicago mobsters beat the high-profile Spilotro and his brother, Michael, to death and buried them in an Indiana cornfield.

Actress Drea De Matteo and friend Chris Kushner host Made Women: A Sopranos Re-Watch Podcast.

Later, when the 1995 movie Casino was being filmed in Las Vegas, Schirripa, then the entertainment director at the Riviera hotel-casino, approached Cullotta in the hotel and asked if the former mobster could help him land a part in the movie. Cullotta had been in the federal witness protection program but was out by then, working as a consultant on the Martin Scorsese film. Cullotta, who appeared briefly in the movie, helped Schirripa land a role as an extra in a bar scene where Joe Pesci, portraying a character based on Spilotro, stabs another man with a pen. Cullotta said that role helped launch Schirripa’s acting career.

“From then on he went on to be as famous as he is,” Cullotta said.

In addition to his YouTube show, Cullotta appears in an 11-episode podcast, “Mobbed Up: The Fight For Las Vegas,” produced by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in partnership with The Mob Museum. This is one of several podcasts from around the country about organized crime histories in different cities.

Michael Green, a UNLV associate professor of history and a Mob Museum board member, said interest in Mob podcasts demonstrates that people “don’t necessarily want to praise mobsters, but they sure enjoy finding out about them.”

As a topic, organized crime is a great way to draw listeners to podcasts, he said.

While fans are turning to podcasts like “Made Women,” with its focus on The Sopranos, a movie prequel based on the TV series is scheduled to be released March 12, 2021. Titled The Many Saints of Newark and featuring James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, the film is set in 1960s Newark, New Jersey, “when the African American and Italian communities are often at each other’s throats,” according to its website.

Kushner, who co-hosts “Made Women,” said the podcast is connecting with an equal number of men and women and is reaching a new audience of younger fans. “All these young people are now addicted to The Sopranos,” she said in an interview for this story.

In an appearance on “Pajama Pants,” Imperioli said one reason he and Schirripa decided to do “Talking Sopranos” is that younger people are watching the TV show and are active on social media sites dedicated to The Sopranos. Series creator David Chase, who gave the podcast his support, asked Imperioli during an off-air phone conversation why this continued interest is happening.

Imperioli replied that he didn’t mean to sound flippant, but it is because the TV series is “very, very, very good.”

Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist. He served as press secretary for Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and was political editor at the Las Vegas Sun and managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. Henry taught journalism at Haas Hall Academy in Bentonville, Arkansas, and now is the headmaster at the school’s campus in Rogers, Arkansas.