Jamie-Lynn Sigler was a 16-year-old budding actress when she heard about a script titled “The Sopranos.”
A perfect fit, she figured, for her skill set. For as much as she enjoyed acting, it was singing and dancing that were her passions. And, wow, what great synergy — a show based on the lives of opera singers.
“I thought it was a musical,” Sigler laughs now, looking back at how she auditioned for — and ultimately was cast in — a show under false pretenses. A series that would completely reshape the TV landscape, transform a cable network and launch her professional career.
“The end is becoming more of a reality now,” Sigler says while shooting the series’ final episode. “It would take so many words to describe my feelings — sad, scary, exciting. I’ve been doing this for 9½ years. It’s something I’ve always had and was able to look forward to.”
Both Sigler, who plays Meadow Soprano, and her onscreen brother, A.J., played by Robert Iler, are quick to disassociate themselves from the characters they portrayed. They realize the visceral connection that audiences have made with them, but it certainly hasn’t turned the pair into mini-mobsters.
Yet they’re exceptionally qualified to offer opinions on growing up Soprano, living in a home where Dad’s job as a “waste management consultant” was quickly followed by a wink-wink.
Despite Tony and Carmela’s best attempts to hide the truth about who they were while living in a posh house in the burbs, Sigler says Meadow knew from a young age that her family was a bit out of the ordinary.
“She was always wise and knew what was going on,” Sigler says. “She didn’t like to be lied and babied to, and it interfered with her life. She went through her rebellious stage but, in the end, she’s come to accept who her family is. To Meadow, Tony is her hero. He’s her dad, and she has a special bond with him.”
In describing A.J.’s teen years, Iler agrees that the character has had a hard time grappling with the weight of being a Soprano, i.e., the son of a Mob boss.
“I don’t see A.J. as being too mature, but he has changed,” Iler explains. “At the beginning, he had no clue as to what his father did, but now he finally knows … yet he’s like every kid: There are very few who don’t rebel at some point. Some just do it more hardcore than others.”
Dr. Joshua Coleman, a Bay Area psychologist and “Sopranos” fan, says A.J.’s often-destructive behavior — missing classes and partaking in vandalism at school, partying all night, disobeying his parents — is not atypical considering his upbringing and what he’s learned about how his father makes a living.
“All children want to admire their parents and look up to them. So if you know your parent is a criminal, that has the potential to affect your ability to be successful and feel proud about yourself and good about yourself,” he says.
Both Sigler and Iler are fully aware that their career bios will always start with their roles on the show, and yet while they’re each completely comfortable with that, they don’t want those characters to define them.
Iler has plans to direct and write future projects while also pursuing acting — “I’m not worried at all about typecasting. I’m Irish and have been playing Italian for 10 years. I feel I could do something totally different” — and Sigler, who recently hit the Broadway stage with “Beauty and the Beast,” feels “The Sopranos” is more of a beginning than an end.
“We’re all actors,” she says. “If it means I have to prove myself again, that’s OK.”