In a resurfaced podcast episode of “Pod Yourself a Gun” from February 2022 (via Uproxx), actor Robert Iler looked back on Sirico’s commanding presence while filming the HBO series. Iler spoke about how Sirico, who died at age 79 on July 8, took a protective stance toward the then-adolescent actor.
Sirico played darkly comedic mob crony Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri; Iler starred as AJ, the son of mafia don Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). In real life, Sirico served a 20-month sentence at Sing Sing for extortion, coercion, and weapons possession in 1971 before making his acting debut in 1974 with “Crazy Joe.” During “The Sopranos,” Sirico was a force to be reckoned with on set.
Iler explained on “Pod Yourself a Gun” that Sirico was the main reason he never was “messed with” as a child star on a critically acclaimed TV series in the early 2000s.
“When all the molesting stuff gets talked about,” Iler explained. “People always say to me, ‘Did anything happen like that on your set?’ 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 “Sopranos” alum added, “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.”
“Sopranos” creator David Chase also recently revealed that Sirico was the only actor to ever convince him to change a script. Turns out, Chase’s original dialogue referencing Sirico’s character Paulie used a term that was offensive to the star.
“He was the only one who ever asked me to have a line changed. And I did it,” Chase told Vulture after Sirico’s passing. “Another character was talking about Paulie, and they said he was a bully. Tony didn’t like that,” Chase said. “He asked me to take the word ‘bully’ out of there. And I did.”
Chase continued, “The important thing is, he didn’t like that word. He didn’t like it at all,” before speculating, “I wonder if [his past had] something to do with why he was so sensitive about it. Maybe he had been a bully as a young man. I’ve seen a picture of him as a young man standing out in the street next to a parking meter with a tank top on. Flexing his muscles, you know. He looked the part.”