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Still scratching your head over The Sopranos’ enigmatic final curtain? To help you make sense of it – and to look back over its eight years – we talk to Frank Vincent, aka wiseguy Phil Leotardo.
Paul Nolan, 01 Aug 2007
The final episode of The Sopranos has brought to an end one of the all time great television shows. From the beginning, the series’s winning mixture of mob feuds, familial drama and black comedy swiftly elevated it to the category marked “unmissable viewing”, a position it scarcely left during its eight-year run. Not that the show ended without controversy, mind, with some fans in the US complaining that the finale was inconclusive and somewhat anti-climactic.
A key character in the last season was Phil Leotardo, who originally made his entry at the beginning of series five. One of the wiseguys sent to prison during the Mafia crackdown of the 1980s, Leotardo served a 20 year sentence and quickly rejoined the Brooklyn based Lupertazzi crime family following his release. After several previous run-ins with Tony Soprano, things came to a head following the imprisonment of Johnny Sack, when Phil became boss of the Lupertazzi family and launched a war against Tony’s crew.
However, the strategy backfired and ended with Phil being shot dead in the final episode by an associate of Tony’s. Phil was played by Frank Vincent, the Italian-American actor noted for his work with top class directors like Spike Lee, Sidney Lumet, and most famously, Martin Scorsese. In recent times, Vincent has become more familiar to Irish audiences courtesy of his appearances in a series of advertisements for Permanent TSB.
I have been advised to ring Frank on his mobile, which, in a decidedly ironic twist, his Irish agent had abbreviated to his “mob” number in an email confirming the interview. The actor is on holiday in Florida, and he certainly sounds relaxed as he chats amiably to hotpress about his work on The Sopranos.
So how did he become involved in the show?
“David Chase auditioned everyone for the pilot,” remembers Frank, in that familiar New Jersey accent. “I auditioned for the same role with Dominic Chianese and Tony Sirico. We didn’t know what The Sopranos was beforehand, we thought it was a show about singers! Then Dominic got hired to play Junior, and David created the role of Paulie Walnuts, which Tony played. Subsequently, David told me that he didn’t hire me at the time because I had too much visibility as a result of Goodfellas, and he was looking more for unknown actors so that he could create really intense characters.