When The Sopranos (which is available to stream on HBO NOW) had hit its stride, it had made household names out of a handful of actors that had made their livelihood playing bit parts in mostly mafia-themed movies. One notable example was Genaro Anthony Sirico, who played Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri, a hilarious, quirky, tough-as-nails enforcer for the Soprano crime family with an unforgettable hairdo.
Sirico had originally auditioned for the role of Uncle Junior, along with Frank Vincent, who’d later be cast as big bad Phil Leotardo, and Dominic Chianese, who landed the role. After getting a call from showrunner David Chase to tell him he’d lost out on the part he’d auditioned for, he was instead offered the part of Paulie. Sirico agreed, only on the condition that his character wouldn’t turn out to be a rat. While a seemingly unusual request for a struggling actor, it turns out that Sirico’s resume included a bit more than playing tough guys on screen. Namely, he made a living as one.