Interview: Entertainer Vincent Pastore Talks About his Present, his Past and Most Importantly the Legacy of the The Sopranos Family and His Own
by Suzanne Ordas Curry
Vincent Pastore, best known as Big Pussy on the iconic HBO series The Sopranos, did not plan on becoming an actor. Raised in a suburb of New York City, growing up in a humble home, he wasn’t one of those guys that dreamed of being in front of the screen growing up. In his twenties he worked at a nightclub and was just happy where he was. Ironically, as a night club manager his job and life could have easily been reflected as a character on an episode of The Sopranos.
But flash forward 20 years. He made a name for himself on one of the biggest shows ever to hit TV, and HBO. Flash forward today, 20 years after The Sopranos and he still gets recognized on the streets for his role.
He’s had a lot of roles in movies and tv. He admits he’s been typecast as a certain kind of character, but that’s okay. His body of work is varied and huge. His IMDB profile shows over 170 roles. Yes, many of them have Italian-sounding names, but there's also a soap opera role on GH in there, and voice work on an animated movie, Shark Tale. If you start looking for him when you watch a movie, you're bound to find him, and he continues even at his current age on TV, recently being seen on The Neighborhood and in films not even released yet. Yet this versatile thespian doesn’t call himself an actor, he says he’s an “entertainer.” He is truly a star of stage, screen, television and radio, just as his website states.
After speaking to him, it was clear to me that this tough person, actor and persona has taken in the best and worst of life and is now setting new priorities. At this time in his life he just wants to give back, so he teaches students the craft at HBstudio in New York City. He also hosts a radio show with his good friend Stevie Van Zandt. Can anyone say dream job? I think Vincent would agree.
But mostly, his life now is about giving back. About leaving a legacy, and about enjoying every busy moment of life.
I had the honor of chatting with him through a mutual friend, one of his students, Brad Forenza. Brad is an emerging filmmaker and is key student in his class. Vincent happily accepted a role in one of Brad’s shorts, Awakening Arlene, which is now making the film festival circuit. (You can see it in Ridgewood, NJ on April 25th at the Ridgewood Guild International Film Festival.)
Here’s more of what Vincent had to say about his life, his future, his family and his Sopranos family.
His Most Proud Achievement
Being a father to my daughter and a grandfather to my granddaughter.
Advice to His 25 Year Old Self
I was doing good when I was 25. I don’t regret anything I did. I was on a nice road. A nice journey. At that time, I was going to college on the GI bill, and working at a nightclub. I don’t regret anything I did in my life. I went down the road less taken. I’m on a nice journey.
On Doing What Makes Him and His Family Happy
I’m very happy. We do this to make us happy. How many people have to work- do things they don’t want to do just so they could put food on the table? And entertainers, well they, we have a different life. They can choose their venue, they can pick. How fortunate it is that my family, especially my daughter, was able to see me as this person as she grew up. She has these great memories. One of her first memories was that I took her to the set of a movie. When she was 12 years old, I took her to Awakeningswith Penny Marshall, and she met Penny, and she would come to all my movie premieres and she would bring her brother, and she would meet all the Sopranos, so this whole journey that I’m on, that journey my family is on too. I’m happy that I made my family happy. It’s all about the legacy.
It’s about what you leave behind.
Why He Teaches
Now I’m teaching, and I said this to Brad (Forenza), it’s time for me to give back. And I am directing a play with some of my students, I was working on it last night. I don’t make any money on it and I am spending my time doing it, and it just felt so good. These kids - well they’re adults- they were just in my workshop a year a go, and now they’re directing their own play. And that’s the satisfaction I get, from what I do with my life. You know I want to give back, That’s what it’s all about, it’s about the legacy. It’s about what they’re going to put on your gravestone, in your obituary.
On Traveling the World with the Sopranos
I mean, God Bless, it’s been 20 years and I run around with Michael Imperioli and Steve Shiripa, and we do these events. We just did one at the Borgata (Atlantic City) and we’re heading to Australia, I mean who would have thought that 20 years after we did that work, that we’d be taking it all over the world, to meet our fans, that’s what makes me happy.
On Making the Most of your Life
When I was down at the Borgata, I was talking to the promoter Brian, on the phone. Then I met him down in the lobby and he was in a wheelchair. And I asked him, are you okay? And he told me how he had a swimming accident when he was a kid. And I connected with this guy. And I had him on my radio show. I think he even forgot he was in a wheelchair. We had such a good time, and that makes me feel good. And we became friends. Sometimes I think I have it bad. I can’t sleep thinking about problems I have. but I don’t have it bad at all. And this guy runs the whole thing down there. And he’s in a wheelchair almost his whole life. That's what he does.
You gotta start thinking about that.
On His Friend Tony Lip and Oscar-Winning Green Book
Like there’s this movie Green Book. It’s about my friend, Tony Lip. I got my union card on the set of a TV show with Tony and Lou Gosset. And me and Tony became friends, he was like my uncle, my godfather. And when Nicky, his son, told me he was writing a movie about his dad, he said, Vinny, I don’t see you in the movie, because it’s back then, and I’ve been talking to the director, the Farrelly brothers, and they really don’t want to use the Sopranos, I said, Nicky, do what you gotta do, the movies up for an Academy award!
I’m going to Tony Lip's restaurant out in Jersey, his son Frankie has a restaurant there called Tony Lip's . We’re going to have the Academy Awards on, and if itwins, we’re gonna go NUTS. (Note: They went nuts as it won multiple awards). Whoever thought that Tony, and stuff that he did in his life down South which is courageous, and it’s all in the movie…. Who would have thought they would make a movie out of that? That’s the good stuff. That’s his obituary. That’s it. That’s his legacy. No matter what he did bad in his life it doesn’t matter. What matters is that his son paid tribute, and wrote about it. And it’s a great story, it’s about segregation in the sixties, which we’ve all been through, and it’s a tribute to his father. So maybe some day my daughter will write a book about me, or my granddaughter, who knows?
You never know where life is going to take you.
On Getting Awards
I'm getting a lifetime achievement award from the New York International Film Festival. I’ve only been acting part of my life. The first part of my life.. very different. I wasn't an actor.
When people get an award, they get up there and thank their fellow actors and such, which is good but then they dive into the salt. When I got my SAG award for the Sopranos, I raised that statue up to heaven,and I said, thank you Mom, because that’s where the inspiration comes from, it comes from your parents. My family. I gotta thank my family for believing in me.Like I go to dinner... with my granddaughter, and she’s like, Grandpa, how come everyone wants your autograph? And I said, well they see me on television. And she said, So your famous? And I said no, Grandpa’s not famous. She said yes you are. And she’s amazed by this.
She wanted to see Bruce Springsteen, I said you’re 6 years old, you’re not going to see Bruce Springsteen. But she did, and they gave her earphones, and a great seat.
On the New Generation of Sopranos Fans
There’s a whole other generation of Sopranos fans. What about these young kids that watch the Sopranos now? I’m walking down the street, and they look at me, and they tell me, I couldn’t watch it when I was young, but I watch it now and I can’t believe how great that show is, See, that’s part of the legacy. That’s part of what you leave behind. Let’s turn the corner. Let’s think about some people who did bad things in their life, but it didn’t catch up with them till the end of their life (like Bill Cosby), it’ doesn’t matter how many Jellos he sold, hes’ going to jail for being a bad person, just like Weinstien. If I see something bad coming into my life, I have to be strong. You have to keep it out of your life. What’s at stake is your family, your legacy.
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When you’re in a position like I am.. you have to be careful. People can turn against you, look at Freddie Mercury’s manager. They can say all this negative stuff and anything they want and people can sue anyone they want in our society. And then you have to prove it DIDN’T happen. It’s time and money. It hurts your rhthem, you career, it hurts your family, so who is wrong and who is right?
On Raising Your Kids Right
I feel bad, for the young people growing up now, like my daughter, because it's either left or right or right or wrong or black or white.. There’s no middle. I grew up in the sixties in New Rochelle, NY. It was an integrated city.We didn't have racial discrimination, or riots like they did in Newark or the problem they had in Selma. We were integrated from the beginning and it’s because of the way we were brought up and what we were taught, it was the culture. I was what our parents taught us. We played football together, we shared the same locker room.
When my father died the bishop who gave the eulogy was black. Somebody...made a comment. I said “So what?” That’s how I as raised, that’s how I raised my daughter and that’s how my granddaughter is being raised. So what? When I was young, I was the minority. We were the only white family in the low-income projects, and we were lucky we got that housing because the city respected my father.
I was taught and raised right.
Favorite Memory from the Sopranos
That would be the day I met Steven Van Zandt, I was always a fan.
And James Gandolfini.
Best Pizza in New York City
Anything on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
Favorite Movies Big Movie Buff, John Wayne movies
What He’s Watching on TV These Days
Vincent had to run to his class, he had 25 students that day.
He ended the interview with a “God Bless ya.”
Vincent is not on any social media.
To keep up with what he's up to visit his website at: