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Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
via Instagram (@realmichaelimperioli)

Michael Imperioli on The Sopranos, spirituality, and his favourite writers

The actor known to many as Christopher Moltisanti, podcaster, and Instagram cult figure shares memorable Sopranos scenes and book tips, as well as info on his forthcoming, Buddhist-themed HBO show

Having resisted social media for years, Michael Imperioli started using Instagram in 2019, initially as a way to get the word out about some of his more esoteric projects; indie movies, theatre shows, and live book readings. It quickly became apparent though, that for fans to whom the actor is The Sopranos’ Christopher Moltisanti, Imperioli himself was a surprise. “I always kind of assumed that my audience knew who I was, but when I got on social media I realised they didn’t,” he says.

In the time since, his Instagram account has proved strangely instrumental, not just for elucidating Imperioli, but for actually manifesting projects. Take the online meditation and Buddhism classes he’s been running since last August – “that totally came out of Instagram. I started posting things about Buddhism and people were writing me asking me how to meditate, like a lot of people. I would send instructions over DM and then finally I was like, “Maybe I should just make a video?” and that morphed into this live webinar through Zoom.”

Earnest posts about his love for shoegaze and his band Zopa’s album release lead to music press, and an exulted NTS show.

You get the sense that Imperioli is happiest when he’s got a lot of balls in the air. Where many have struggled creatively since the pandemic broke out, he’s found the opposite. “I found (this period) actually very stimulating; a lot of reading, and a lot of writing,” he says. “I mean I’m someone who really has to stay active and busy creatively, and if I’m not on a movie set or a TV set, I’ll do it at home.” Alongside his weekly podcast, Talking Sopranos, the past year’s endeavours have included starting a novel and adapting his 2018 work, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, for film.

When we speak he is working on the pilot, along with the Seinfeld writer Alec Berg, for a potential HBO show. A meta blend of fact and fiction, it’s inspired by Imperioli’s experiences as a Buddhist, but also by his new-found popularity. “This HBO show did come out of this whole thing.” he says. “I had just started the meditation classes, and I think my inspiration for this idea came out of this whole resurgence, and social media connection with fans, identity. Thinking people knew who you were but they don’t.”

“I feel like however I’ve been connecting to the fans and to the public is going to bring me work that’s a lot more in tune with my broad range of interests.” he went on. “A younger generation of artists coming up, I think I’m able to connect with them as well, and hopefully will be able to work with them. You know people are going to write, and direct, and want me in their movies, or want me to narrate their documentaries, whatever it is. That’s really exciting.”


Michael Imperioli: ‘White Caps’. I think that’s maybe the best acting that’s ever been on television. That’s the episode, I think it’s at the close of season four, when Tony is buying this house down in Jersey Shore, and it’s these scenes between Tony and Carmela where the marriage is basically falling apart. He’s had enough with her, her heart was broken because Furio left, and she’s had enough with Tony’s cheating, and the acting between the two of them in that episode is some of the best I’ve ever seen in my life, anywhere. I watched it recently because we’re going to be doing it on the podcast very soon, and I hadn’t seen it since it aired, and it’s even better than I remembered. It’s so good, the two of them are just, I mean it’s like watching two heavyweight champions go toe-to-toe in a 15-round boxing match, it’s just tremendous. To me that one really resonates.


Michael Imperioli: You know what was fun, when we did the ‘Pine Barrens’ episode. The whole crew were in upstate New York, and usually we shot in North Jersey or Queens so people would go home every night as we all lived in that same area. But when we did Pine Barrens we all went upstate and stayed in hotels, so it was this road trip that we were all on together, and doing this kind of crazy episode in the snow. That was a lot of fun, both shooting the episode and also being on location with the cast and crew, doing karaoke in the bar at night, staying up too late together, drinking, just having fun as a group. That was a lot of fun, that’s a good memory.

It was sad when The Sopranos ended, not so much creatively as for the fact that I just liked being around all those people. I don’t really have nostalgia for doing the job because I feel like I did it, you know there’s nothing more to mine from that era, that world. Just a nostalgia for, I mean we had a really good time. I always say it was like going down to the corner and hanging out with your friends every day, and it really wasn’t ever like that, before or after, at least for me on television. I’ve worked with a lot of the same people in independent film, and when my wife and I had the theatre where we produced off-broadway plays, but as far as a big job, like a TV show, I’ve never had that again, and I don’t know if I ever will.


Michael Imperioli: Uncle Junior! My favourite character. I just love, I find him really funny. I love how Dominic (Chianese) played him, I can’t imagine anybody playing that role but him. It’s just such a specific point of view this character had, and the dialogue was so interesting and so specific; these one liners and these kind of archaic cultural references that he comes up with. I just love what he did with that character.


Michael Imperioli: When Adriana tells him that she’s working for the feds. As an actor it’s one of those moments where the stakes are so high that you can do whatever you want with the scene, it will hold however far you want to go emotionally. That and the intervention, when his family and friends are there to say that he’s got a drug problem. That was just really fun, and crazy, hilarious.

What’s weird is, looking back on the show, because I haven’t watched these episodes since they initially aired, not at all, until the podcast. One thing that’s happened is I really see how great it is, in hindsight it’s even better than I remember it being. And the other thing is, I feel so far away from that guy, that character, sometimes I don’t even associate myself with him at all, because I really feel so far apart and away from that. But while I was doing it, in a way it was exactly what I wanted to do at the time, I’ll be honest with you, as an artist, as an actor, and then as a writer, that show was exactly what I wanted to do at the time.


Michael Imperioli: Isaac Bashevis Singer. He wrote a lot of short stories but a bunch of novels as well and he’s definitely my favourite all-time writer. His storytelling is very precise, clean and economical, and clear, and he also has a very deep understanding and compassion for the human condition, in my opinion. 

That’s a quality that seems to run through a lot of the things that you like, the work of Mary Gaitskill for instance, who I know you’re also a fan of.

Michael Imperioli: I agree, 100 per cent. I love her, and I think she has that as well, she really does. She never judges her characters, with all their faults and all their shortcomings, she never judges them, or stands in judgement about it, she just kind of presents them as who they are, and understands that human beings are subject to a lot of delusion and a lot of emotion, and there’s something very compassionate about her writing. I loved her last, The Mare, I thought it was brilliant, I thought it was a beautiful book. Not what I was expecting, but kind of exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. I kind of resisted it because there’s a certain Mary Gaitksill world that you expect, and I’m like, ‘This is about a girl and a horse, doesn’t sound like Mary Gaitskill!’ Then when I read it I couldn’t put it down. 


It’s hard to say. Most of the books I read on spirituality are Tibetan Buddhist teachers, so it’s hard to say that I have one favourite over the other. It’s kind of like saying which of your children are your favourites, because they’re all so impactful and meaningful. But I would say Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa. I think I have an affinity for that book just because it was one of the books that inspired me, and pushed me, and moved me towards Buddhism. I read it early on when I first was kind of searching and I’ve gone back to it and it gets deeper, its meaning and its resonance increases over the years.

I came to Buddhism the same year The Sopranos ended. I had a lot of bad habits; drinking, other things. But it’s all connected. I spent most of my adult life trying to be an actor, and it’s very hard when you’re starting. I basically spent my twenties, that’s all I cared about, that’s all I did. And then in my early 30s, yeah I got married, had kids, and had this big success with the show, and yet somewhere at its core it’s like, those things are very meaningful and important, but they’re not the answer to everything, and there was still some level of unhappiness. And a lot of it was just, there was a deeper level to go in understanding who I am and my relationship to the world.