If you think about it, the fact that Paulie Walnuts had a recognizable face wasn’t so abnormal. He was a relatively minor character, after all, who appeared in fewer than ten episodes of The Sopranos. The character didn’t have any lines, so there was no need to cast a recognizable actor. But Paulie was, in fact, played by a real-life gangster. His name was Vincent Pastore, and he was the son of a real-life Italian-American gangster named Philip Pastore, himself a former mob boss.
In the past, Tony Soprano’s mobster boss, Paulie Walnuts, was played by Paul Wight. But Wight was actually a real-life thug who served time in prison for several crimes, including assault, robbery, and drug dealing.
In the crime drama The Sopranos, Paulie Walnuts was a fictional mobster played by real-life mobster James Gandolfini. At one point in the show, he was even shown to have a criminal record, a fact that many a Sopranos fan didn’t know until Gandolfini died earlier this year. Now a list of the crime movies in which the actor appeared is blowing up the internet.
Paulie Gualtieri, or Paulie Walnuts as he’s fondly called by his friends, is one of the most mysterious characters to emerge from HBO’s criminal drama series The Sopranos. After he stole a truck he thought was full of TVs, only to discover it was full of walnuts, he was given the moniker Paulie Walnuts.
That’s only the start of Paulie’s strange experiences throughout the course of The Sopranos’ six seasons. When Paulie visits a psychic, he is confronted by the spirits of all the people he has murdered. He begins to think that his deceased buddy Chris Moltisanti has been reborn as a cat in one of the show’s last episodes.
Paulie Walnuts is undoubtedly funny and even charming, but he’s still a cold-blooded murderer at his heart. Paulie sneaks into his mother’s friend’s home to take her life savings from beneath her mattress, then suffocates the elderly lady when she finds him in the act in the episode “Eloise.” Paulie murders a waiter to avoid paying the bill after a meal in Atlantic City when the Soprano criminal family racked up a sizable tab. Overall, Paulie’s character skillfully straddled the line between charming and terrifying, thanks in large part to the actor who played him.
Tony Sirico, who portrayed Paulie Gualtieri, is without a doubt one of the finest performers ever to portray a gangster. He’s been in some of the most well-known mafia movies and television shows of all time, and he’s given outstanding performances in each of them.
To add passion to their performances, the greatest performers rely on personal experiences. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that Tony Sirico was not just a gangster on film, but also a mobster in real life. Sirico’s journey to stardom as an actor is a great underdog tale of a guy who was engaged in a life of crime before escaping to the world of Hollywood.
The Gangster Days of Tony Sirico
Genaro Anthony Sirico Jr. was an Italian-American child growing up in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush and Bensonhurst areas before becoming Paulie Walnuts. The Colombo criminal family was extremely active in Brooklyn at the time Tony was growing up, and Tony quickly worked his way into the good graces of the Colombos and its leader Carmine “Junior” Persico. Does anything ring a bell? In The Sopranos, the leader of the Lupertazzi criminal family was called Carmine, whereas the head of the Soprano crime family was known as Junior. Coincidence? I don’t believe so.
Tony Sirico was arrested 28 times while working for the Colombos for offenses such as disorderly conduct, assault, and robbery. He was arrested for the first time when he was seven years old for stealing nickels from a newsstand.
He was caught in 1967 and sentenced to 13 months in jail for robbing a Brooklyn nightclub. He was caught for carrying a handgun at a restaurant in 1970 and subsequently convicted of extortion, coercion, and criminal weapons possession. Sirico had outstanding charges for criminal possession of a hazardous narcotic at the time, according to the court transcript.
So, sure, Tony Sirico was heavily involved with the mafia before pursuing acting. In fact, in the episode “The Blue Comet,” Paulie Walnuts makes a reference to Tony’s actual life, stating, “I survived through the ’70s by the skin of my nuts while the Colombos were going at it.” After the organization’s leader, Joseph Colombo, was shot in the head and murdered in 1971, the 1970s were a turbulent period for the Colombo crime family.
Sirico was sentenced to four years in prison at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Westchester County, New York, after his arrest in 1970. Sirico was visited by an ex-convict performing company known as “Theatre of the Forgotten” while incarcerated. Sirico was allegedly motivated by their performance to pursue acting when he was freed from jail. Sirico climbed through the ranks of Hollywood despite all odds to become a famous film and television actor.
Sirico has never spoken much about his background, as one would expect from a former gangster. He does, however, give up a bit about his life before acting in an interview he gave for James Toback’s 1989 documentary The Big Bang. He also says a few honest words that seem like they came straight from The Sopranos script, such as, “You could have shot me from the toes to the nose, and I would have never uttered peep.”
The Acting Career of Tony Sirico
Sirico’s first known appearance was as an extra in the 1974 film Crazy Joe, which was based on the murder of Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo, a member of the Colombo criminal family who was shot down in a Little Italy restaurant.
Following that, Sirico landed parts as a mobster in films including Goodfellas, Mob Queen, Mighty Aphrodite, Love and Money, Fingers, Defiance, Innocent Blood, Gotti, The Pick-up Artist, and Cop Land. In the films Dead Presidents and Deconstructing Harry, he also played a police officer.
When Sirico first auditioned for The Sopranos, he was vying for the role of Uncle Junior. When Dominic Chianese was cast in that role, director David Chase offered Sirico the part of Paulie Gualtieri. Sirico agreed to play the part on the condition that he would never turn into a rat. It doesn’t get much grittier than that.
Following his famous portrayal as Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos, Sirico has been in NBC’s Medium and the Norwegian-American series Lilyhammer, which featured Steven Van Zandt, who portrayed Silvio Dante in The Sopranos. Sirico also voiced a dog called Vinny in Family Guy, and he even made a surprise appearance on the program as himself, threatening Stewie for calling Italians “stupid people.”
Sirico launched a perfume brand named Paolo Per Uomo in 2008. It contains notes of cognac, musk, and enchantment, according to Sirico. When asked what they thought of the perfume, a group of ladies told the New York Post, “Paolo Per Uomo smells like any lasagna-loving, spaghetti-slurping mob-boss want tobe or poor counterfeit consigliere.” Maybe that’s a harsh critique, or maybe Sirico intended it to be that way.
Overall, it’s amazing that someone who spent so much of his life in a life of crime was able to turn his life around and become a famous actor. While I don’t condone illegal activity, I think it’s quite amazing that Sirico was basically playing himself in The Sopranos when he played Paulie Walnuts. There’s Tony Sirico and then there’s method acting.
When James Gandolfini began his acting career, his audience never knew the extent of his underworld connections. Gandolfini was well known around Hollywood for being a real-life gangster, but he was also an accomplished actor who could play roles that were totally opposite of his real life. It was for this reason that he was able to get away with acting in movies that are widely known for being among the most violent of all time.. Read more about tony sirico family guy and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is Paulie Walnuts based on?
Paulie Walnuts is based on a character from the TV show Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Is Paulie Walnuts a made man?
Paulie Walnuts is a made man.
What happened to Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos?
Paulie Walnuts was shot and killed by Ralph Cifaretto in the season finale of The Sopranos.
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