''Omerta'' audiobooks -- The taped version of Mario Puzo's final novel will be voiced by Michael Imperioli

By Mike Flaherty
Updated June 16, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Unlike his Sopranos alter ego, Christopher Moltisanti, Michael Imperioli won’t be getting his made-man ”button” anytime soon. But the actor and gangland aficionado received a pretty prestigious real-life gig when he was tapped to record the audiobook of Mario Puzo’s final novel, Omerta. ”He was the guy who put the modern Mob on the map cinematically,” says Imperioli of the late author during a break at a Manhattan sound studio. ”I felt honored.”

The third installment of Puzo’s Mafia trilogy (following The Godfather and The Last Don), Omerta tells the story of Astorre Viola, the adopted son of deceased Sicilian kingpin Raymond Aprile, who inherits the don’s multibillion-dollar empire — and a gallery of bloodthirsty rivals. ”His job is to keep it together and settle all the scores,” says Imperioli. ”I really like how Puzo goes into what it means to be a mafioso in the Sicilian terms,” he adds. ”The codes of loyalty — settling your business among yourselves, not ratting out, not sleeping with another guy’s wife. In the modern day, the Mob is kind of falling apart because of the transgression of these codes.”

For Imperioli, laying the text down on tape was more difficult than TV acting, not least because of the same New York accent that’s served him so well as a Sopranos goombah. ”I’m used to playing one character and sticking to his inflections and rhythms,” he says. ”With this, you have to maintain a more consistent level. And you have to be perfect.” According to producer John McElroy, he was just that: ”I’ve never seen an actor pick up the medium as quickly as Michael has.” Although Imperioli had to tone down his accent, McElroy says, ”For something like this, you have to lose it a lot less. I mean, he’s not doing Proust.”

Maybe not, but the 34-year-old actor’s next project is the role of Rosencrantz in Hamlet in yet another film version, this one starring and directed by Campbell Scott. ”That’s about as far away as you can get,” says Imperioli, who then reconsiders: ”Actually, it’s about family and murder and revenge…so it’s kind of the same thing.”