Jake Gyllenhaal, and...Joseph R. Gannascoli? In what
Gannascoli cheerfully calls "the year of the queer," when
Brokeback Mountain became a phenomenon and
Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar playing Truman Capote,
Gannascoli's character (spoiler alert: read no further
if you haven't seen the episode yet) was outed Sunday
night on The Sopranos.
appropriate leather bar attire, Vito Spatafore--the
heretofore closeted gay mobster--was sighted by
a couple of wise guys who came by the sweaty S/M joint
to collect their protection money.
"It's a joke,"
Vito weakly offers them, then begs: "Don't say
By the end of the
episode, he's checked into a motel with a gun, looking
Fans of the HBO
series were stunned last season when Meadow's boyfriend,
Finn, saw a security guard sitting in the driver's seat of a
truck--and then Vito's head popped up.
This season, Vito
has hung around the hospital while Tony Soprano was
recovering from a gunshot wound, trying to ingratiate
himself with Tony's wife while plotting with Paulie
Walnuts to grab her cut of a big score. And he's
chomped on carrots while prattling on about all the weight
he's losing. (In real life, he's down to 260 from a
high of 400 pounds.)
Now that the gay
story line is heating up, the 47-year-old Brooklyn-born
actor is immensely pleased, in part because it was his idea
to make Vito gay.
"I saw him as,
like, a cross between Mike Tyson and Liberace,"
Gannascoli told the Associated Press in an interview at his
home. "I wanted to make him sort of in self-denial,
self-loathing, a real gay hater."
suggestion was inspired by the book Murder Machine,
about the Gambino family, which had an openly gay member
also named Vito.
bother him about it, because I guess he was good at what
he did, which was chopping up bodies," Gannascoli said.
concedes that he had a self-serving motivation for making
the suggestion: Breaking out of the pack.
"I thought that
was a way of separating myself from the other actors,
because I would have been in the background most of the
time. You know, line here, line there, and nothing
really substantial," said Gannascoli, whose character
previously was best known for whacking Jackie Aprile
Jr. "To really make an impact is all I can ask for."
He also thought
it would create an interesting acting challenge. But even
amid all the recent gay buzz, Gannascoli knows the reaction
to Vito won't be all positive.
"I'm a Brooklyn
guy. I was just in Brooklyn last night. And, you know,
I had some real wise guys that look at me and they give me
dirty looks. I've had guys, like, come after me in
clubs," he said. He just hopes the "cerebral people"
will appreciate his performance.
The Sopranos has changed his life "in so
many ways.... Recognition, I'd say, the most. It allowed
me to get married."
It's also allowed
Gannascoli to buy his house ("which coming from a
rent-controlled apartment all my life was a huge step up"),
get his novel published (A Meal to Die For,
loosely based on his life in the restaurant business),
and develop a signature line of food (olive oil,
tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa, and wine).
"While I'm not
going to be 'cheffing' anymore, I'm going to be still
involved in food. Which is one of my passions."
becoming a lawyer like his older brother but dropped out of
St. John's University after two years. He did well the first
year but by his second year, "I had a huge Quaalude
business" that sidetracked him ("I was hustlin', you
He then bounced
around, working at various New York restaurants and
becoming a "self-taught" kitchen magician. He even headed to
New Orleans and learned Cajun cooking in the '80s.
He owned all or
part of a few restaurants over the years but disliked the
"day-to-day machinations" of keeping it going.
It was during one
of his numerous food-service jobs when acting felt like
the dish of the day. A waiter-friend (who, like so many in
New York, also was an aspiring actor) urged him to
audition for a play. He got the role and started
taking acting lessons. But he soon found himself pushing an
ice-cream cart on Wall Street before eventually opening
another eatery. He got burnt out from working 9 a.m.
to 2 at night and started gambling heavily.
On the last day
of the 1990 pro football regular season he was in a hole.
Like any desperate gambler, he tried to win it back fast.
"Cody Carlson is responsible for my acting,"
Gannascoli joked, able to laugh about it now. The
backup Houston Oilers quarterback started in place of
injured Hall of Famer Warren Moon and had a great game
against betting favorite Pittsburgh. The Steelers
lost, and Gannascoli was out $60,000.
off his debts with equity from his restaurant, thus
avoiding a real-life leg-breaking--or worse--and
then decided to head to L.A.
On the West
Coast, he met Benicio Del Toro, which led to an audition and
small role in the 1993 feature Money for
Nothing--and a meeting with Georgianne Walken
(Christopher Walken's wife) and Sheila Jaffe. Both
Jaffe and Walken are casting directors who've chosen
actors for roles in scores of films and TV
shows--including The Sopranos.
underwent hip-replacement surgery last week and hopes the
increased mobility will help him exercise and lose more
weight. But while controlling his Falstaffian
appetites, he'd loved to develop a hybrid
cooking-sports show. He'd have a famous athlete as a guest
and they'd cook up one of star's favorite dishes while
talking about his career and showing clips. He'd like
to call it Food Bowl. (AP)