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Aida Turturro: Sis Gumbah

The actress hopes to raise her profile as Tony’s twisted sister

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She was done in by a shark in Deep Blue Sea. Now Aida Turturro gets to play one as Janice Soprano, the scam-artist sibling of big-fish crime boss Tony, who’s eager to wriggle her way back into the family’s predatory biz.

Not yet as well known as her cousins John (Barton Fink, Quiz Show) and Nicholas (TV’s NYPD Blue), Aida stands to raise her profile in a hurry with this season-long guest role. She came to it by way of costar James Gandolfini, whom she met in a Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire (they played bickering marrieds the Hubbells). ”James called and said, ‘You’ve got to get in on this.’ But it’s not like he could get me the part, or like I’d want him to. Anyway, they’re really strict about making their own decisions at this show.”

Though she’s done stage and TV work and appeared in roughly three dozen movies — from Nancy Savoca’s Bronx fable True Love to bits in Celebrity and Mickey Blue Eyes — Turturro, 36, says some auditions still get her ”crazy stressed.” After an initial Sopranos reading, she heard the producers felt she looked too young. ”I broke down in tears,” she confesses. ”I needed this job.” So while she practiced playing older, her friends prayed (”Suddenly everybody was Catholic—I had Jewish friends saying novenas”).

Of course, Gandolfini was always confident she’d make it on merit. ”Sometimes the way she acts belies how smart she really is,” he says. ”She’s all over the place sometimes when you’re talking to her. But she’s incredibly smart about people. The way they act, their emotions.” Watch the way Janice slaps a bug while bitching about her brother Tony at a family cookout and you can see what Gandolfini’s talking about. Turturro’s having a blast in the part—even though she’s not sure how long Janice’s life span will be. ”I don’t know about next season, honey,” she admits. ”I hope I have a job. I gotta leave it in God’s hands.” Ai Madon’, it’s prayer time again.

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