The new season is -- finally! -- here, and it's time for the brains of the ''Sopranos'' operation to give us some insight about raising an organized-crime family on television
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David Chase, Michael Imperioli
Credit: The Sopranos: Doug Hyun
James Gandolfini

DALTON ROSS: You started this show, I assume, with an outline of where you wanted to go. How much, if at all, have you moved away from what you originally planned?
I had no plan beyond the first season because I didn’t expect it to be well received at all. I mean, the chances of success in television are minuscule. It’s a tiny, tiny, little bull’s-eye. Most things die. The show filming over here — The Book of Daniel — I watched them working over there for eight months. I would see racks of clothing going back and forth, people on the phone running around — work, work work. Two episodes it lasted. That’s usually what happens. So, we didn’t have any long-term plans. In fact, I used to say that The Sopranos was like the Mir Space Station. It wasn’t supposed to stay up there for five years. It wasn’t built for that.

What about any of the main characters? Do you look at them any differently since you first started because of how they’ve evolved?
I think what’s been good about it is that the lead characters have been able to develop and change. I worked on The Rockford Files when I was young. It was one of my first really good jobs, and it was a great show to work on — but in the five years we did that show, Jim Rockford did not change. From the day he started to the day he ended, he was this wise, laconic, low-key smart guy who solved crimes. This has been different. These people have actually changed over time.

You’ve had people criticize seasons for not being violent enough, and then for being too violent. Do you find that really odd, as if there is some sort of body-count quota you’re expected to hit?
Yeah, it’s very strange. And no one’s ever happy. It’s too brutal. It’s not brutal enough. How could they kill that girl? Why did they murder that chimpanzee? It’s endless. We try not to listen to any of that. We’re not doing a documentary. It’s a drama. In terms of organized crime nowadays, there are not that many killings. There really aren’t. So we try to keep that in mind. And that’s why people say, ”How come there aren’t more murders?” Because when you pick up the paper you don’t really see it that much.

When you guys get sued by the American Italian Defense Association, or actors from the show are blasted by Italian groups for marching in a Columbus Day parade, how much does that sting?
If you live in the Tri-State area and you pick up the newspaper on any given day, there are stories about organized crime. Those stories involve people with Italian surnames. That’s part of the landscape here; that’s part of the landscape in America. And they would say, well, why do you have to focus on that? Probably for the same reason that when you do Westerns, you focus on the gunfighters. You don’t focus on the guy who owns the dry-goods store because his life isn’t exciting or dramatic. But what I really feel is that they’re asking themselves the wrong question. They should ask themselves: Why does this story of the Italian Mafia and organized crime have such longevity? Why do people love it so much? It’s sort of an inverse badge of honor in some way. The general public has not responded to stories about Russian crime, Chinese Tong wars, black drug-dealing things. And I think those groups should ask themselves: What is that about? Because everybody commits violence. Everybody curses. Any criminal will do that and have topless girls dancing around. So what is it about the Italian story that people are interested in?

Music plays such a big part of the show, in that you have a lot of musicians as actors and the songs in the final credits are always weaved in so well to the theme of the episode, but there is often very little to no music during the actual episode, except for the very occasional music montage. Is that just to keep everything as real as possible?
You know, I never thought of it that way. You’re saying that to me now and I’ve never noticed that or thought about that. I guess it’s just the way I see the show. We have done some montages, but I think the music montage is really an abused form. I think we’re going to do one this season, but I think it’s really been overdone. That whole rock & roll, pop music thing with images, you know, it’s used to sell cars, shirts, and feminine-hygiene spray. It’s all become too easy. And you have to be very careful about the songs you pick. I mean, if I ever hear ”My Girl” used one more time, or ”Try a Little Tenderness” — great songs that have been pillaged. You have to really be careful of it. And whatever I do next, I think I’ve got to get away from that. I’d like to test some other muscles.

You’ll have your characters watching TV a lot. Not only do you do it, but you hold a few extra beats on the show they are watching, whether it’s Three Amigos or the History Channel. Why is that?
People spend a huge amount of time watching television, but for some reason on television you don’t see people watching television! Something similar to that for me is in America everybody talks about money, and on television shows you don’t see people talking about money, like money doesn’t exist. So, our show, we talk about money all the time. We pass money back and forth, it’s all about money, money, money, and people are watching television and there’s some link I guess in the advertising aspect of it — between money and TV. You’ll also see a lot of our characters watching commercials and infomercials. It’s so much a part of people’s lives.

You’ve said you wanted your next project to be a psychological thriller, but expressed fear at taking on the difficulties of the genre. Why? Because we’ve seen it so often? It’s been done?
It should all add up; you shouldn’t be left with these questions. Remember that movie What Lies Beneath? Okay, well, that was a fairly effective thriller, but in the end, it was a ghost story, so that’s a cheat. It’s not exactly a thriller. If the answer is supernatural, that’s easy to do. ”Oh, a spirit caused it all. Or the Wicked Witch of the West.” That’s not the same thing as a rigorous study in psychological fear.

James Gandolfini
The Sopranos
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