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Steven Van Zandt on How His Friendship With Bruce Springsteen Informed His ‘Sopranos’ Role

Steven Van Zandt
Courtesy of Big Hassle

Steven Van Zandt

Spending decades as Bruce Springsteen’s righthand man helped Steven Van Zandt craft his on-screen performance as Silvio Dante, Tony Sopranos’ childhood friend and consigliere.

Speaking to The Times about revelations in his upcoming memoir Unrequited Infatuations, which is out on Sept. 28, the E Street guitarist and Sopranos star said that he “could certainly draw on my relationship with Bruce” to play the role of Tony’s second in command.

“Part of the obligation of being a best friend is that sometimes you have to bring the bad news, to express an opinion that they’re not going to like,” Van Zandt said. “With success like Bruce had in the ’80s, you cannot help but lose perspective. You start thinking you’re a genius, the greatest thing in the world, and who’s gonna argue with you?”

The actor and musician said that in the position he was in, he was up against the mindset of “did you just sell 20 million albums?” But where others might be more hesitant to call out Springsteen or characters like Tony, he was going to speak his mind. “I was the only guy who wasn’t scared of Bruce, so I could tell him what I thought,” he said.

The Irishman and Lillyhammer star also shared his thoughts on his near casting as Tony, and the scene he called both “horrifying” and “less than pleasant” to film.

In Vanity Fair's 2012 oral history of the HBO show, creator David Chase revealed that he was already a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and liked the similarities between Steven Van Zandt’s look and Al Pacino in The Godfather. But when Chase was casting the Sopranos pilot, he caught Van Zandt on VH1 speaking during a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

“He was very, very funny and magnetic,” Chase recalled. “I said to my wife, ‘That guy has got to be in the show!'”

Van Dante, said that his “New Jersey pedigree really counted for [Chase],” who pushed Van Zandt to act in the series. But the artist chalked Chase’s belief in him, as well as filming in New Jersey, to “a crazy idea.”

“The reason all the TV networks apart from HBO passed on The Sopranos is because Chase insisted on filming in New Jersey,” he said. “Nobody films in New Jersey. Not unless they have to. And who looks at a hippy rock’n’roll guitarist and says, ‘I’m going to cast him as the lead in my new TV show’? It was a crazy idea.”

As for the scene the actor recalled being so unpleasant, that goes to his character Silvio’s murder of Adriana La Cerva, fiancée to Tony’s “nephew” and an FBI mole. “I’ve got a serious problem with bullies in general, all the political stuff I’ve done has been about taking bullies down, so filming that for a few hours was not pleasant.”

“It wasn’t so much killing her that was the problem,” he continued. “It was putting my hands around her neck and dragging her out of the car. But Drea de Matteo is such a great actor that she said, ‘If this is going to be my last scene, let’s make it real. Don’t go easy on me.’ As far as I was concerned it was horrifying.”

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.