Did you ever wonder what happened to the character actor? The "everyman" with the interesting face, a real personality, and enough talent to mark a film indelibly. Where would you look today if you were casting the next Midnight Cowboy, Serpico, or a Taxi Driver? Where do you find the kind of talent with the teeth sharp enough and the credits to prove it?

Populating several weekly series and an ever-growing list of local film production companies are the New York actors whose presence add realism to any project.

The city is their inspiration. You want people, personalities, and faces who evoke an urban landscape and command the screen with sheer talent. New York still corners that market, and actors like Michael Imperioli inherit a rightful legacy in an industry which is now re-emerging.

He has appeared in over 30 films in the last ten years, various television roles and a critically acclaimed performance off-Broadway. He is currently featured in the new HBO series, The Sopranos (now headed for a second season).

This year promises the release of two more starring film performances as well as an appearance in the upcoming Spike Lee Joint, Summer of Sam which earned Michael co-writer and co-executive producer credits.

His name will certainly be heard more often this year. This is clearly not someone plotting a meteoric rise to the top of filmdom, but a man who wants to work close to his home in a growing industry in a city which rewards his type of wisdom.

IM: Michael, right now you have The Sopranos going on, tell me a little about working on that project.
MI
: Well, I think it provided an opportunity for a lot of actors in New York who normally wouldn't do a series, wouldn't invest their energies in something that's episodic, week after week. To me, it kind of reminded me of the old 50's and 60's golden age thing in New York

New York and the HBO series The Sopranos (348k wav)

IM: Which ones?
MI: Oh...Rod Serling, or something like Clifford Odetts', teleplays because they had a lot of interesting actors who you never usually saw on TV and they had a lot of interesting guest spots. The scripts had that certain dramatic nature to them which was unpredictable and relied strongly on the writing. The Sopranos is similar and it was a lot of fun.
The main cast is complimented by a bunch of local character actors who frequently turn up on various New York based productions, and they include several Goodfellas alumni.

IM: Would you liken this pool of New York actors to a repertory company?
MI: Definitely, because over the years you keep running into these people at different times and a lot of times the setting is a wedding or a funeral and so, it's like seeing an uncle or a cousin. You develop a rapport with each project you work on together, so it becomes like somebody you trust and feel good about working with.

IM: You've worked quite a bit in New York
MI
: Mostly.

IM: Do you think that's lucky, or do you put a lot of effort into that?
MI: I think its both... it's lucky to be able to make a living by working mostly in New York if that's what you want to do ... also, I guess for myself and for a lot of the people involved in The Sopranos, they're New York people so you're more likely to get cast in projects that take place here and ...it suits me fine because I like nothing better than that.

IM: Have you seen a big change recently in that more productions are happening here in New York?
MI: I think so, especially for television, and a lot of it, I think, is because of HBO and other cable stations which shoot here. They're doing a lot of new, interesting series which are not typically related to stuff you've seen on TV. They're not typical cops and robbers, you know ... situation comedy kind of things, they're taking more chances and I know they're building some new studios in Brooklyn.
IM: So it's the cable industry that's really leading this movement out here -
MI: For TV it is ... They've expanded, because, you know, most of the networks don't shoot their stuff (here) only a few shows like Law and Order, I know that Spin City shoots here. I don't know what else, there are not that many.

IM: What is it about New York that makes you ..
MI: Like to live here or like to work here -

IM: Both ...
MI: I think it's, for one, the constant push and pull and influx and outflux of energy which happens between the people here because it's a confrontational city. You're always involved with people. You know, you leave your door, you're on the street, and you're confronted with 8 million New Yorkers, who you interact with and rub shoulders with on the subway, on a day to day basis and ... it's a lot less lonely than a lot of other cities.

What is it about New York? (378k wav)

One thing about New York that's a lot different than most cities in America is that I always have a feeling that I know what's going on in the city even if I don't. I mean, just by being here, I feel a connection to the whole city. Whereas in other places, I feel more isolated, like ... if I'm in Los Angeles I don't know what the hell's going on anywhere. It's particularly evident when you have a big deal going on like a big snowstorm, or you have the Yankees, or something like that where you can feel everybody's attention tuned to the same thing at one time ...

 

IM: We're all in it together ...
MI: Yeah, it really feels like that - I remember when the Mets won the series back in the 80's, being on a bus and I don't know, someone had a radio on and there were 40 people on the bus who were totally into the game and it bonded all of us together for a while . When that last big snowstorm hit a few years ago, hundreds of people were walking down Broadway in the middle of the street and everybody was in a good mood. There's a sense of camaraderie here

I Remember the Mets (262k wav)

IM: Have you ever had any tempting offers that would've taken you out of New York for an extended period of time?
MI: Not that I know of, but I've tried to steer away from them, anyway. I mean, if it means re-locating, which is ... a series usually means that. If a series shoots in LA that means having to re-locate there. That hasn't been an option for me because I just wouldn't want to do it. I don't mind going away to work, but to re-locate at this point, it's not an option.
IM: Tell me what's going on with you right now, do you have projects that you're currently working on?
MI: I just recently finished a script, well a script is not really finished until it's made, but it's something I collaborated on with John Picardi. It's a black comedy, set in New York and it's kind of a modern day Faust-like story and now we're gonna begin walking down the long road toward production.
IM: And do you see yourself acting in it, directing?
MI: Maybe both. I'm not sure. But considering... hopefully I've learned from a lot of mistakes that I've made on the last writing project... The first time you go into production or are near production, you learn the hard way.

IM: It's a baptism by fire.
MI: Yeah, exactly and hopefully you take what you learn from that.

IM: Do you see yourself doing more writing and directing?
MI: I'd like to, as long as there are interesting stories to be told. When I was younger, I wanted to direct movies, which seemed far-fetched, but over time I now that if there's something that pushes me to tell the story, to write it or direct it...it's not an abstract career idea anymore. It just feels like, if there's something, then we'll do it.
IM: Do you feel like you have some space freed up for that, now that you have some steady work?
MI: I hope so! I mean, it's not the space that's as hard as it is getting people to believe in you, getting people to put their faith in you. Hopefully when Summer of Sam comes out this summer, if it does well, then that'll probably make the road a little bit easier. Although probably not. It's always hard.
Credits:

Interview by:

Fernando Gomes

Photo:

Courtesy of
TMT Entertainment
Group Inc.

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