Tony Soprano, brilliantly essayed by James Gandolfini, had an equally formidable nemesis in New York underboss John Sacramioni, aka Johnny Sack, powerfully played by Vincent Curatola.
In fact, Gandolfini and Curatola provided much of the dramatic tension for “The Sopranos,” the award-winning HBO series.
“They always held Johnny Sack for the big stuff. When you saw Johnny come on screen, you knew something was about to happen,” Curatola recently told Cigar magazine.
Indeed, Curatola was in 32 out of 87 episodes of HBO’s hit series. He was a big character. He was one of the few people Tony Soprano ever feared.
Since then, Curatola has also taken his tough guy image on the hit show “Law and Order” that also featured Carol Burnett.
He’s also run his own masonry business and had his first film project with future Sopranos-star Tony Sirico. Curatola took some the time to sit with TheImproper for an interview:
Improper: Not to tread over too familiar territory, but when you first got the ‘Johnny Sack’ character to play, what did you think? Did you instantly know it was a keeper?
Curatola: No, it was only supposed to be one episode. Obviously, David Chase felt that the character and my portrayal of him was strong enough to go up against Tony Soprano. Both characters loved and feared each other’s resolve.
IM: I read another interview that depicted how you would have ended the show … any additional thoughts on that idea?
Curatola: I would like to have seen a long shot of the exterior of the Soprano house. Windows open. Drapes blowing, abandoned! The family disappeared.
IM: When you first witnessed David Chase’s ending, did you have the same reaction as the rest of America?
Curatola: Yes, the male main cast all watched together in a hotel in Florida, while doing a personal appearance. No one was prepared for the screen going black. A big surprise.
IM: What type of role and character immediately catches your eye?
Curatola: A sympathic psychopath.
IM: What roles and characters are you attracted to?
Curatola: A character that thinks, you can see their minds clicking. Let the viewers paint their own thoughts onto my face.
IM: I find your whole masonry experience fascinating. You built the business from the ground up. What did you get from it? And, how long did were you active in the business before you stepped aside?
Curatola: I always enjoyed construction because one can see the immediate result. Dealing with customers enhanced my ability to adjust my personality very quickly. My son, Ryan, now has the business. I was proud to be able to segue into acting, a true love.
IM: I think it’s amazing and obviously quite ironic, that the indie feature you produced and wrote, “Dearly Beloved,” featured future Sopranos cast member Tony Sirico and actor Michael Badalucco. Tell us about that experience?
Curatola: I wrote “Dearly Beloved” and filmed it in 1994. It was a shoestring budget. Tony Sirico and I spent many late nights in a downtown restaurant wondering when we would work. I felt that his character in my film would fit into the mold of a sympathic gangster. My role was easy to play because of real life bantering with Tony. Michael Badalucco was a pleasure to write for and remains a dear friend.
IM: Personally, I always loved your role role on Law and Order that you did with Carol Burnett. Give us some insight in to the experience. I also loved your role on Monk.
Curatola: A nice surprise when I found out I would be co-starring with her. As for “Monk,” it was a pleasant experience. Tony Shalhoub is a fan of “Johnny Sack”, another nice surprise.
IM: I see “Frankenstein” is one of your favorite movies, what do you like about it?
Curatola: The Monster is a completely misunderstood victim of Dr. Frankenstein’s egomania. The creature longs for affection and begs for the peacefulness of death. How many times have we all encountered those who wish to be in God’s hands? That’s why I love and respect Boris Karloff’s portrayal. I consider Mr. Karloff’s daughter, Sarah, a treasured friend.
IM: “The Sopranos” episode, “The Weight” (Season 4) is your favorite; why?
Curatola: In the midst of what the world can throw at a human being, i.e., the government, nefarious associates and the pressures of a life of crime , they were not enough to dilute the love Johnny Sack had for his family and their future. The episode written by Terence Winter is a stand-out of impeccable writing. Anything that Terry writes is a piece of cake for me to portray.
IM: I always think it’s great when an actor gives back to the various charities. You do more than your share, what do you get out of it?
Curatola: Before “The Sopranos” I wondered why I wanted to enter such a tough industry in my late 30’s. I made a deal with St. Jude that if he could help me succeed in my new endeavor I would use my celebrity for the benefit of those who in many cases do not have a voice.
IM: What’s next for you?
Curatola: In the process of reading some scripts.