INTERVIEW: Sopranos’ Silvio speaks

Eyes fixed, you watch as a curled lip whispers the words “Where’s my money?” Why is the Jersey accent so much scarier when there’s a gun involved? They told you not to mess with Tony Soprano; his cronies are dangerous. But you just had to bet an extra couple grand on that pair of jacks. I understand thrill seeking, but who bets money they don’t have with members of the mob? Now its time to pay the piper and Tony’s consigliere is not an accommodating collector. “Any last requests?”

“Yeah,” you say. “Can you play ‘Born to Run?'”

Nothing says “gangster” like a psychedelic headscarf. OK, so maybe Little Stevie Van Sandt is a bit of a contradiction, but you don’t want to mess with him, he’s got two bosses watching his back.

Van Sandt, noted as a long-time guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, also plays Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos” (you know, the hunched guy who likes to do Godfather impressions). He’s a big hitter on TV and in the musical world, noted for plenty of major collaborations and a notable solo career. Don’t be fooled by his wig on “The Sopranos,” he’s also a long-haired gypsy rocker, with remarkable chops.

As if he weren’t doing enough, Stevie’s made it his new mission, squeezed in between touring and taping, to revive the lost genre of rock ‘n’ roll. To this end he’s hooked up with the Hard Rock Cafe, working as a DJ for the new, widely syndicated “Little Stevie’s Underground Garage.” He’s a man on a mission, and he’s not above breaking a few kneecaps to get what he wants.

Hatchet: Are you sleeping? Between “The Sopranos” and touring and a radio show, when are you finding time?

Steven Van Sandt: Sleep is kind of a luxury I can no longer afford.

H: Do you get stressed out doing all this stuff?

SVS: No, I get stressed when I’m not working. I can’t be like, “Oh geeze, I have to go play for 20,000 people. What a drag, I have to go act. What a drag, I have to do this radio show where I play the coolest songs ever recorded.”

H: So I hear you’re really trying to bring back the rock?

SVS: Yeah, that’s the whole point. It’s just beginning to turn around. When we started this three years ago rock was dead. None of the syndicates would even take my show. They said ‘we can’t get rock and roll on the radio anymore.’ How can we give the next generation of people three choices when it comes to music – hard rock, hip-hop and pop? That’s not right.

H: What are you doing with Springsteen these days?

SVS: We’re on hiatus until the 27th of February. Then we do seven more months.

H: What? Are you still doing “The Sopranos?”

SVS: Well that’s the problem. It’s at the same time.

H: How are you gonna do it?

SVS: It’s gonna be a rough one, I must say. I’m gonna be in the show a little less, no doubt about it.

H: What’s it been like moving from the realm of music? Is that still your priority?

SVS: It wasn’t. I stopped around 1990. I just no longer related to what was going on. I just withdrew from everything, didn’t do a thing for seven years. Then David Chase called and said, ‘You wanna be an actor?’ I said, ‘why not, maybe that’s what’s next for me.’

H: I heard you originally auditioned for the part of Tony (the lead) on ‘The Sopranos.’

SVS: Yeah. I’d never acted before. I had no intention in being an actor. I had no interest in it. I did not go out and try to get the part. David Chase was a big music fan, and he knew me from that. He was looking for new faces. I think he liked the Jersey connection, but I have no idea how he imagined to see me in that role.

H: How did you go from being a guitarist to being an actor?

SVS: I really transformed myself completely. First I re-read every book and watched every movie. I went shopping where the mob shops. I wrote a biography of my character. I gained 60 pounds. Obviously I did the hair thing. I walked different, talked different and my facial expressions changed.

H: Did you have old buddies giving you trouble about all that?

SVS: No, no. I was off in my own world. The weight thing, you get bigger proportionately. Most people didn’t even notice. It was a transformation. I knew I’d be a different guy.

H: So when you’re thinking of doing something completely new, like ‘I’m going to start a radio show’ or ‘I’m gonna be an actor’ is that intimidating for you?

SVS: No, nothing’s intimidating to me. With the radio show it was kind of a selfish sort of thing – I want to hear my favorite song on the radio. It wasn’t until I got into it that I realized that it was important. I realized that these bands need somebody with some muscle to get them on the radio. Whatever celebrity capital I have, I spent. You don’t have the chance to be intimidated. It’s a step by step thing.

H: You’re public personality is a lot different than Silvio on ‘The Sopranos.’ Are you really different? Is it just pure acting?

SVS: With the character?

H: What I’m asking is, do you beat people up in toilets? You know, when was the last time you threw someone in the back of a trunk?

SVS: (laughs) No, no. There’re a lot of people I’d like to do that with. But it’s a whole different thing.

H: Do you have a tough guy mindset that you get into then?

SVS: Sure, you climb into that guy. That’s what all that physical stuff helps you do. I look in the mirror and I see him. Once I see him, I am him.

H: What I really want to know is, as a recognizable face on a mob show, have you had any interactions with the mob? Has anybody contacted you?

SVS: Let’s just say that guys who know guys have given their approval. You hear things, ya know. Which is good because you don’t want bad reviews from those guys.

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