Tony Sirico once made David Chase an offer The Sopranos creator couldn’t refuse. In a conversation with Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz about the late character actor, who passed away on July 8, 2022 at the age of 79, Chase painted Sirico—who rose to fame as mama’s boy mobster Paulie “Walnuts” Gaultieri on the iconic HBO series—as truly one-of-a-kind. And when it came to the series’ scripts, he really was.
When Zoller Seitz asked Chase what kinds of questions Sirico would most often ask him about his character, Chase admitted that he couldn’t remember the actor asking him a single question about how he should be playing the role of Paulie. “He wasn’t the kind of actor who had a lot of questions about his character,” Chase said, before adding: “But he was the only one who ever asked me to have a line changed. And I did it.”
The line in question wasn’t even Sirico’s to deliver; it was about his character. “Another character was talking about Paulie, and they said he was a bully. Tony didn’t like that. He asked me to take the word ‘bully’ out of there. And I did.”
While Chase doesn’t recall what he changed the word to, he surmised that “bully” was some sort of a trigger word for Sirico given his real-life Sopranos-like past. “I wonder if that had something to do with why he was so sensitive about it,” Chase said. “Maybe he had been a bully as a young man. I’ve seen a picture of him as a young man standing out in the street next to a parking meter with a tank top on. Flexing his muscles, you know. He looked the part.”
Before Sirico began acting in the mid-1970s—one of his first roles was an uncredited part in The Godfather: Part II—Sirico was deeply immersed in the New York City crime world The Sopranos fictionalized. The Brooklyn native was arrested more than two dozen times in his early life, with charges ranging from assault to robbery. According to The Smoking Gun, a judge once described Sirico as “a danger to society.”
“He told me some stories, oh my God,” Chase told Vulture.
In 1971, Sirico was convicted on felony weapons possession and sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison; he ended up serving just 20 months of his sentence and turned his life around when he found acting following his release from Sing Sing.