The Sopranos is one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and fittingly, it also centers on one of the best fictional characters of all time: Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). He’s a middle-aged man who needs to balance his family life with his work life, and his line of work happens to be running a criminal organization. This leads him to interact with a host of interesting, funny, and often terrifying characters, with the scope of the show – and its lengthy six-season-long run – allowing the total cast to number in the hundreds.
With so many people being featured in a total of 86 episodes, some characters ultimately only show up for an episode or two. Despite this, the writers were frequently great at making these minor characters remain memorable, even with their minimal screen time. The following Sopranos characters are all a testament to this, as none appear in more than five episodes, yet all play important and hard-to-forget roles within the overall show.
The following article contains spoilers for The Sopranos’ characters discussed.
Appearing throughout the first season of The Sopranos, Vin Makazian is a corrupt police detective and associate of Tony Soprano. He meets with Tony and gives him certain information about what the police are up to, though the relationship is short-lived, as Vin is arrested at one point and fears for his safety, and so ends his life on his own terms.
He sticks out for being one of the first characters (seemingly) on the other side of the law to Tony, who gets proper character development, and for being important enough to Tony to show up in one of his dreams years after his death. That he’s also played by John Heard (who’s best known for playing Kevin’s dad in Home Alone) also helps him stand out among other supporting characters.
Like Vin, Jackie Aprile (Michael Rispoli) is another character introduced and killed off before the first season ends. At the show’s start, he’s the Acting Boss of the crime family that Tony eventually becomes the head of. His death (due to stomach cancer) happening three years into his tenure kicks off the conflict between Tony and his uncle, Corrado “Junior” Soprano (Dominic Chianese), given both want to be the head of the family.
His level-headedness makes him stand out from the more fiery and aggressive members of Tony’s crew, and his demise is essential for the direction the show goes in. Without Jackie Aprile dying, things may have turned out very differently for Tony and the other characters and might have even been better for them in the long run.
Introduced in Season 2, Beansie Gaeta (Paul Herman) is one of the more sympathetic mob associates in The Sopranos. He’s introduced as someone who’s distanced himself a little from mob life and has even invested in running successful pizza parlors, some of which admittedly get used sometimes by Tony for money laundering.
He clashes with the violent and terrifying Richie Aprile and is made paraplegic in a violent attack, further escalating the conflict between Tony and Richie. Beansie distances himself even more from mob life, residing and working in Miami. However, he remains a background character in the show through further appearances in its final couple of seasons.
The Season 3 episode “University” is one of the most powerful, bleak, and notorious in the show’s entire run. Much of the plot centers around Tracee (Ariel Kiley), a young woman who works as a dancer at Tony and his crew’s main hangout: The Bada Bing strip club. She gets involved with Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), one of the most despicable mobsters in the show, leading to Tracee suffering a grim fate at his hands.
Tracee’s notable for being given a compelling story that’s contained within a single episode and for also being one of the few dancers at the club — which is a part of almost every episode — to get prominent screen time. Her character serves to show how horrible the main characters can be, with “University” specifically showing the misogynistic violence that members of the mafia are capable of committing (and subsequently covering up).
6Johnny Boy Soprano
Giovanni Francis “Johnny Boy” Soprano (Joseph Siravo) is the father of Tony and an ex-capo of the crew Tony eventually runs. He’s notable for being a character who only appears in The Sopranos through flashbacks (and one dream sequence). This is because he passed away in 1986, with the show proper beginning in the late 1990s, more than a decade later.
He’s viewed through the eyes of a child Tony in his several flashback appearances. These sequences are vital to exploring who Tony is and how his father shaped his adult life, even after passing away. Johnny Boy leaves an impact despite being in very few episodes overall, and the character was further explored in the 2021 prequel movie The Many Saints of Newark.
5Feech La Manna
In the fifth season of The Sopranos, various characters are released from prison and re-enter the mafia lifestyle that ultimately had them imprisoned in the first place. One such character is Feech La Manna (Robert Loggia), with him returning to the mob a much older man, given his sentence lasted 20 years.
He serves as an illustration of how few people manage to leave the mob once in it and also represents the conflict between the different generations of mobsters that was first explored in Season 1, with the in-fighting between Tony and Junior. Feech is also memorable for being incredibly aggressive and obnoxious, and while he doesn’t last long before going back to prison, he remains memorable.
4Ben Kingsley & Lauren Bacall (As Themselves)
There were a host of notable guest stars featured throughout all six seasons of The Sopranos, with few being as high-profile as Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall. They appear in the Season 6 episode “Luxury Lounge,” which mostly revolves around Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Little Carmine (Ray Abruzzo) traveling to Los Angeles, as the former has a movie idea that he wants to get off the ground.
Along the way, they run into Kingsley and Bacall, who amusingly play themselves and be used to present a satirical look at Hollywood. Both end up serving as fun cameos that are relevant to the overall season, given that Christopher spends much of Season 6 working on a schlocky horror film that’s eventually released as “Cleaver.”
Throughout The Sopranos, Tony’s daughter, Meadow (Jamie Lynn-Sigler), had various boyfriends who seldom lasted more than a season or so. The first was Noah Tannenbaum (Patrick Tully), a fellow student at Columbia who clashed with Tony because of Tony’s racism.
Like all of Meadow’s boyfriends, Noah’s not exactly known for being a likable character, but how he stands up to Tony and genuinely gets under his skin makes him memorable. Tony always likes to be in control, or at least give the impression that he’s under control, and Noah joins Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) as one of the few characters who proved capable of driving Tony into a state of genuine panic.
Everyone on The Sopranos is shown to suffer in some way and at some point, but few suffer as frequently as J.T. Dolan (Tim Daly). He meets Christopher while the two are at an AA meeting and eventually works with him as a screenwriter on Cleaver.
Getting involved with someone as dysfunctional and anger prone as Christopher never ends well for anyone, and this is something that J.T. learns the hard way. He gets psychologically tormented, beaten up, and even killed in cold blood by Christopher. He sticks out as yet another character who serves to show how destructive the mafia can be to otherwise ordinary people who get wrapped up — either directly or indirectly — with that way of life.
1Valery (AKA The Russian)
Valery (Vitali Baganov) is a member of the Russian mob who appears in two episodes in Season 3 and is especially prominent in “Pine Barrens,” which is often regarded as one of the show’s finest hours. Christopher and Paulie (Tony Sirico) are tasked with retrieving money from him, though physical conflict ensues, leading to the two driving him out into the forest to execute him.
Things go wrong for Christopher and Paulie, and Valery escapes, with his fate after this point unknown. The mystique of Valery — and the way he overpowered two men who seemed to have the upper hand — makes him a legendary minor character from The Sopranos. The fact he never returns makes him all the more memorable, with plenty of fan theories surrounding what might have happened after his escape.