I recently had the pleasure of speaking with actor Frank Santorelli about his role as Georgie in The Sopranos. This was an enjoyable conversation where Frank gave me interesting insight as to what it was like to work on one of the greatest television shows of all time. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
The Audition Process
I’m a stand-up comic by trade, and I worked out of Boston. So right around ’85, I moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Boston to do stand-up because the comedy scene is so huge there. So off of that, people would see us on stage, commercial agents, and then I went to New York to do stand-up and from there I got an agent and a manager. Years ago, they used to be two different things. Now they can be one. Anyway, I got an agent from my stand-up, and I started auditioning for commercials and then slowly but surely that mutated into going in to audition for other stuff. It was 1998 when I auditioned for that show (The Sopranos) I got an audition, and nobody knew anything about it at that point. They were looking for a bartender or a bouncer. Television and movies are a visual medium first, so you have to be physically right for it if you’re going to get. I was like 6 two and a half and almost 300 lbs. when I walked in there.
I went in and Georgianne Walken, Christopher Walken’s wife, has her own casting agency and that’s where I went. I introduced myself and she brought me into this room, and there was James Gandolfini and David Chase. I can’t remember if anybody else is in the room, but I didn’t know either of those guys. I did know Gandolfini was in Crimson Tide and maybe something else, True Romance. I didn’t really know him though. Anyway, I went in and auditioned. It was the scene on the phone where I said, “hello, hello hello hello.” I stopped, and I said, “If I get this, I’m going to need some more lines.” The only person that laughed initially was Georgianne Walken. She just roared. I’m a comedian, so I kind of know what’s funny, and they all started laughing, and I thought, “I got them.” The role was actually just supposed to be a day player, meaning one day of work. About a week later I get a call from my agent and he says, “You know that Soprano thing? You got that”.
One day, one shooting day in Jersey at The Bada Bing, which was The Satin Dolls, a real strip club, probably about 20 minutes from Manhattan. The guy that owned the club thought he died and went to heaven. It went from being a sleazy little strip club to being world famous within a decade. They actually just tore it down, six months ago. Improper business practices, running prostitutes out the back, gambling. All the shit that was happening on The Sopranos was going on for real there. Even in the foyer there, you could buy G-Strings and hats. If you had gone there, you would be blown away because the foyer was huge and they were selling merch like crazy. Anyway, I was just supposed to be there one day.
Becoming a Reoccurring Character
While I was there shooting, I was goofing around. I can bounce things on my nose. I was sort of wiping the bar down like I lived there like I was already working there. I think it was Terence Winter who came up to me afterward and said, “You did a great job,” and I said, “ Thank you very much” and that was it. I left, and they called me for the next episode and then another, and they would call me up like the Mob and say you’re in the next episode. I didn’t have a contract like other people had contracts. It ended up being 13 episodes over the course of six seasons and I averaged like two episodes to a season. Here’s the thing with show business. If you’re easy to work with and you know what you’re doing, and you’re not a pain in the butt, they will hire you again.
I can tell you a long-winded story, but it would take all night, but Gandolfini came up and hugged me and got ink all over him from my tattoos. It was funny; we hit it off right away. He said to me, “You did a good job, man, you did a good job,” and they thought I was going to be gone. When I came back for the next episode, Paulie Walnuts, Tony Sirico, he sees me, and you know he’s a real actor. I’m not saying I’m not a real actor, but I’m a comedian really and the acting stuff is on the side. Some of these guys really didn’t like when they heard I was a stand-up. Like how does a stand-up comedian get on a show like this? I was introduced to Tony Sirico right at the beginning and I shake his hand, he says, “How you doing?” and that was it. Now he sees me like, and it’s got to be a month later, maybe like six weeks later because it’s like a month to shoot the whole episode. He sees me and says, “You must have done something right.” We became friends over the next four years. Not friends but you know he came to see me once in Brooklyn. I was in this terrible show called The Sopranos Last Supper where I was playing Georgie, and they were beating me up, and he came to the show. I was blown away. I was actually talking to him on the phone every once in a while. Same thing with Big Puss, Vincent Pastore. I’m friends with him and John Fiore who played Gigi, who died on the toilet. He lives in Medford right down the street from me. We hang out. We make appearances as Gigi and Georgie.
Maybe like two years later, after I was already on the show already, somebody ran into Tony Sirico, a friend of mine and they said, “Hey you know Frank Santorelli, he plays Georgie? Tony says, “Frankie, he’s a good boy.” He liked me because I wasn’t a pain and I wasn’t arrogant. There was one episode when I get hit in the face with a chain by Ralphie. He pokes me with the pool stick first. He jabs me with it, and I take it. I just I instinctively took it away from him and put it against the wall and said, “Cut it out, that f*cking hurts.” Tony Sirico came up to me and said, “You played it perfectly.” I said, “I did?” He said, “yeah, because if you make a move towards him, he’s a made guy, and you’re alligator food the next day.” That was interesting to hear. He was, you know, the real deal. Of all those people on that show…I don’t want to say he was connected, let’s just say he knew people (laughs). He was a great guy. I don’t talk to him at all today. But Big Puss and John Fiore I do keep in touch with. I did a New Year’s Eve show with Big Puss at the Catch a Rising Star in Lincoln, Rhode Island. I did stand up, and he came out going, “What the f*ck, you know? You wanna see the ball drop?” then he starts unbuckling his pants. That was hilarious. I did a couple of New Year’s Eves in a row with him, and I’ve done a couple of plays with him and he’s a great guy.
On Set Memories
Gandolfini was always with the scripts. He wasn’t you know, into busting chops — he had too much to do, too much to remember. He wasn’t someone I could come up to and just start telling jokes to. The set was very, very tough. What they call coverage, which means one scene with me saying “Hey Tony, the guy is on line 2”, they would shoot it from six different angles. Everything. Everything they did they get from 9, 10, 12 different angles, so they had complete and utter what they called coverage of everything that’s going on. So that when they go into the editing room they’ve got everything.
I didn’t hang out with any of those guys. I came in to do the read through and I would drive back to Boston. There was nothing else to do but read through the scripts, but everybody was there though which was kind of cool. It was a big square set up, and there was literally 150 people sitting around in a big square and everybody would introduce themselves and say, “My name is Frank, I play Georgie.” “My name is Jim, and I play Tony Soprano.” One by one everybody would say who they were and then we read through it.
Other than the read-throughs, it was shooting and then we eat. I actually ate with David Chase and James Gandolfini once. One time they actually came over to me and sat down. I was all by myself, and they came over and said we heard you do stand-up, we want to come to see you. I said, “I’m in the Village at a place called the Boston Comedy Club.” I told them that it’s kind of an earthy, granola kinda place, and Gandolfini says, “What, I’ve got to wear a f*cking beret?” He did ask me one night to go out and party with him but I couldn’t because I was driving back to Boston with John Fiore. We had to get back home.
There was so much work to do. They didn’t ask me if I knew my lines. They would have replaced me like a light bulb if I didn’t know what the hell I was going. Like I said, Gandolfini was all by himself. He was with his scripts and had people running lines with them all the time. It was always hot because we couldn’t run the air conditioner in the Bing. The air conditioner would mess with the sound. Everybody was sweating including the strippers — totally hot (laughs). Everybody’s sweating and girls are sliding down poles, and there’s 50 people sitting around the bar and the tech crew and hanging lights and it was 120 degrees in there—it was so hot. When we stopped shooting, they’d run the air conditioner but it never really never did anything.
People would see me on set and go, “Hey Georgie!” and they knew I was going to get beat up. I got beat up with a phone, a cash register drawer, one of those singing fish. I got beat up a whole bunch of different ways; I got beat up at the Christopher Columbus rally. They were hanging the effigy of Christopher Columbus. Those were real American Indians that were there, and they were unhappy because they don’t like Columbus. He was a slave trader, and that’s what they’re saying about him, but I have no idea. I’m not a history buff. That scene was funny because a friend of mine said here I am watching this iconic TV show, and then you come on the screen, and you ruined it for me (laughs).
The tattoos took five hours to put on. I had to go there early before everybody. I was there at 5 am for a noon shoot because it takes so long to put them on. They had to be put on the same way every time. David (Chase) came in and said “Put some tattoos on this guy” and then left. Well, she [makeup] just went crazy. At the end of that first shooting day, David Chase came in the makeup trailer and said to take a picture of the tattoos. When he left, she said, “This is huge.” I said, “why?” She said that means you might come back. I’m like, you’re kidding me. She says no why would else would he have me take a picture of your tattoos? Sure enough, she was right. I had to go in there five hours early because they had to put them on exactly the same way. She just was flying by the seat of her pants in the very beginning, not thinking she was going to have to do it again. She had to draw them on with pen and ink; there were stencils for the Chinese writing, lightning bolts, Celtic crosses. There was a lot of preparation for that. I would leave home at midnight and drive all night to Jersey and it would take me about five and a half, six hours, and I drove up to the makeup trailer and go in, and they would already be there at 5 am, waiting for me.
What The Sopranos Means to Him
It was an honor to me to be involved, to be cast. Everyone in that show was incredible. Right now, I’m still going on that. That is the best thing that I’ve done at this point and the most screen time that I’ve had. I got to be a part of the greatest TV show ever, the last TV show that everyone dropped everything to get home to see when it came on.
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