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''Sopranos'' casting call turns into a mob scene

Thousands of wannabe Mafiosi are told by police to fugeddaboutit

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Sopranos: Hirsch Steven/Corbis Sygma

More than 15,000 gangster wannabes descended on the small town of Harrison, N.J., on Saturday for a chance to audition for bit parts on HBO’s ”The Sopranos.” But the widely publicized casting session turned out to be a bust for most of the aspiring actors, who were turned away by police because of overcrowding and traffic tie-ups around the Emmy-nominated series’ temporary production offices in a local high school.

Though the open call for ”Italian-American-looking” extras and background players was supposed to last from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., police shut down the operation by 10:45 a.m., when a queue of big-haired, polyester-clad auditioners wrapped around Harrison High School and spilled out onto Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. Casting directors managed to see about 5,000 aspiring actors, and collected an additional 7,000 headshots after the shutdown. By then, wiseguys and gals from as far away as Green Bay, Wis., were being rejected like day-old cannoli.

Still, the show’s production team said it was pleased with the event. Casting director Georgianne Walken, who helped recruit ”Sopranos” stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, issued a statement saying, ”We saw some great faces… it was very successful.” The view from the lineup was even more optimistic. ”I just want to be famous,” said Paulie Prestia, a 27 year old from Manhattan with slicked-back hair, an all-black outfit and a pinkie ring. ”My dad told me to be a lawyer. I became a lawyer and now I’m bored. But I got pizzazz — that’s what I got going for me.”

Bobby ”Fingers” Haber, a big guy with a salt and pepper goatee, was aiming to fill the cement shoes of Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore), the FBI informant character who was killed off last season. ”I’m looking for a legit job,” joked the native New Yorker. ”You know what I’m saying?”

He wasn’t the only one waiting for a chance at TV stardom. Lou Viola of New Jersey, an older man with mustache and Brillo pad hair, claimed he was an ideal candidate for ”The Sopranos” because, he said, he is ”a real Italian — a real Nicky Newark.”

Lisa Merelli, a peroxide blond from Westchester, N.Y., already knew what part she wanted to play. ”I’m gonna be Carmela’s stepsister,’ she said, showing off a fake and bake tan and body-hugging print dress.

Lou ”Rocks” Roca of New Castle, Del., was one of the lucky ones who managed to get his mug before HBO personnel. ”I left the house at 4:30 in the morning and got here at 7,” said Roca, who accessorized his shark-skin suit and pin-striped shirt with a pair of handcuffs and a well-chewed stogie.

He and thousands of others will find out next month if the trip was worth it, when production and casting for the show’s third season begins. New episodes of ”The Sopranos” are scheduled to air in March. ”We can’t say for sure how many will be called back, but all of them will be put on file,” said Diego Aldona, an HBO spokesman. ”There’s nothing in the works to do this again.” In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

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