No show has transformed modern television quite like HBO’s The Sopranos. David Chase’s mobster master opus was appointment television on Sunday nights during its six season run, creating a widespread cultural phenomena from 1999 to 2007.
A decade and a half later, it’s still impossible to overstate the cultural impact of The Sopranos. Tony Soprano and his merry band of ball-busting New Jersey wise guys were everywhere in those years. Every beach town t-shirt shop sold Sopranos t-shirts. Tourists could book tours around Northern New Jersey to popular Soprano’s filming locations and restaurants. Phrases from the show were peppered into the conversational lexicon at the time: goomah, goomba, prujoot, gabagool, etc.
Great things happen when you mix powerful writing, visionary directing, and incredible acting into a slow simmering ragù on premium cable where storytelling boundaries can be pushed. The Sopranos evolved the made man-movie genre with a cast of complicated characters that were both lovable, funny, endearing, and heinously evil. Rather than three hours of Cosa Nostra cat-and-mouse a la Goodfellas or The Godfather, The Sopranos allowed the audience to spend 60+ hours in Tony Soprano’s chaotic and charismatic orbit. Simultaneously, the show’s characters reveal Shakespearean self-awareness that just wasn’t really present in the television format at the time.
As a result, audiences felt a level of relatable familiarity and intimacy with characters on The Sopranos that they just didn’t feel with other basic cable or network shows at the time. Like TV comfort food.
My experience watching The Sopranos was a pretty typical experience for someone my age at the time; a mix of “catching up” via marathon DVD binges with college friends and tuning-in on Sunday nights for the last couple seasons. Now, 21 years after the show first premiered, a new generation gets to enjoy the Sopranos binge-watching experience on platforms like HBO Max.
The show defines some of my most coming-of-age years. It came out just as I entered high school, with its finale right before my senior year of college. I’m convinced its legacy will be talked about for the rest of my lifetime.
Which leads to the point of those whole article: I was shocked to learn this week that two of the actors who played main characters on The Sopranos haven’t really watched the show that defined a big part of their life and careers.
Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Rob Iler (aka Meadow and AJ Soprano from The Sopranos) joined Jack Wagner and Brandon Wardell’s Yeah But Still podcast to discuss what it was like doing the show back in the day. They open by explaining how neither of them really watched the show in any meaningful capacity, both back in the heyday and up to the current moment.
Jamie mentions that she only recently started to stream the show, noting that she’s in season three of the show at the moment.
Robert has only seen the pilot of each season because, as a member of the cast, he had to go to the premiere before it aired.
Here’s a rough transcription from the beginning of the Yeah But Still episode:
Have you really not seen the show?
Jamie-Lynn Sigler: No, Rob still hasn’t seen it. I’ve never watch it. I’m watching it for the very first time right now – for whatever reason I’m so glad that I waited this long because I think there’s been enough time. I was so young at the time and I’m past the self-critical thing that comes when you watch yourself act. I can only just now start being an audience member. I’ve always such deep appreciation of being part of that show and from what I knew it meant to people but I feel as if right now, I actually really getting into it and I’m really enjoying it as an audience.
I love this story. I love the characters. So it’s kind of weird that I’m able to kind of take myself out of it personally and enjoy it as a program and I love it.
Rob, you straight up never seen it?
Rob Iler: (jokes) No, I can’t squeeze it in between 90 Day Fiancee and Real Housewives – I don’t have the time, is what it really is.
That’s hilarious. It’s probably so frustrating for people who approach you – imagine people approach you all the time and reference the show to you. It’s probably maddening.
Rob Iler: We used to do so much stuff together as a cast (when filming the show). I was living in New York and we’d always be with a bunch of guys from Sopranos. I would see fans come up and I was immediately the first one they would stop talking to. Even if someone from the cast was just on like thee episodes, they’d rather talk to them because they can relate to what they’re talking about. They would ask me a question and I’d be like “sorry, I have no idea.” Then they’d ask another question. “I really I have no idea what you talk about it never seen the show.” Then they would kind of back away and go talk to someone else.
I get it, no one likes watching or listening to themselves. It’s a brutally painful experience, with lots of cringing at yourself. But it seems incomprehensible when it comes to being apart of something as culturally special as The Sopranos.
Iler goes on to compare being on The Sopranos to playing for the Yankees, which is why he’s dipped out of public eye for the most part since the show ended in 2007 at the age of 22. To this day, he doesn’t have social media (…though he just started a podcast with his best friend Kassem G and Jamie-Lynn Sigler called Pajama Pants). He explains that he went on to do months-long stints in Vegas playing professional poker and partying before sobering up in 2013 and moving to Los Angeles.
Later in the episode, Sigler mentions the close bond the two of them had with James Gandolfini, who died suddenly in 2013.
Sigler: Now that I’m watching it, I’m unable to really relate to him as the actor. The whole show, who he was personally to me mattered a whole lot more. From the outside I had like a very basic life – white girl, Jewish, Long Island life. But I had a lot of really f*cked up person shit happen to me during those ten years and he was somebody that helped a lot.
Now when I watch the show, I have an appreciation for his workload and I just can really understand how difficult that must have been to carry that show the way that he did.
Still he had this energy – he’d always wonder how you’re doing and like make sure that you’re good and is there anything you can do to help.
I think we kind of like he just fell into the role and felt responsibility for Rob and I – to lookout for us. I think especially we were so young and the show was kind of no taking off and I think he wanted to protect us in his own way.
It is painful to watch him to know that he’s gone but at the same time it’s just like really cool to get to see him that much again because he was somebody that was like so incredibly special to both of us.
Rob continues with a story about filming the later seasons of the show. He and a couple members of the cast headed out to a club in New York. This was the one time they took James Gandolfini with him. Gandolfini, in true TV dad fashion, was smitten to see Rob enter the club as a VIP, shaking hands with the door guy and knowing everyone in the room.
Real man-of-the-hour kind of stuff.
Give it a listen if you’re a Sopranos fan. The stories Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Rob Iller share from their peak NYC life and clubbing days are gold. And Sigler shares a tidbit about their paths crossing with Donald Trump and Jeffery Epstein at the time.