“The Sopranos” actor Robert Iler remembered his late co-star Tony Sirico on a recent episode of “The Sopranos” podcast “Pod Yourself a Gun.” He attributed Sirico’s presence on set as the main reason he was never harassed, bullied or mistreated like so many other young teenage stars in Hollywood. Iler was around 12 years old when he started playing A.J. Soprano, the son of Tony and Carmela.
“When all the molesting stuff gets talked about… people always say to me, ‘Did anything happen like that on your set?'” Iler said. “And I’m like, you think Tony Sirico was standing around, if there were people eyeing me the wrong way, like ‘Oh, Rob looks really cute today,’ Tony Sirico is just gonna stand there and not do anything?”
Iler continued, “Once we did the second or third episode, Tony Sirico just came over to me and said, ‘Hey, uh, if anyone ever… bothers you, or anybody says anything, you tell Uncle Tony, okay?’ And that’s how I felt in fucking school, too.”
“Like I was 13 years old and I was like ‘Oh, this kid thinks he’s gonna mouth off to me? I’ll have Tony Sirico come down,'” the actor said. “No matter how old you are, you see somebody that has like black hair here and silver hair on the sides — and just the way he always had a handkerchief in his pocket — you go like this dude will fuck you up.”
Sirico, who died on July 8 at the age of 79, played mobster Paulie Walnuts on “The Sopranos” and quickly became a fan favorite due to his deadpan humor. The actor was a real-life gangster prior to starring on “The Sopranos” and even served a 20-month stint in jail for extortion and weapons possession. In other words, nobody wanted to mess with or make an enemy out of Sirico during his “Sopranos” days.
“The Sopranos” creator David Chase recently revealed that Sirico was the only cast member who ever convinced him to change a line of scripted dialogue. According to Chase, Sirico asked not to have Paulie be referred to as a “bully” in one scene. “Another character was talking about Paulie, and they said he was a bully. Tony didn’t like that,” the creator said. “He asked me to take the word ‘bully’ out of there. And I did.”