Although James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony Soprano is iconic, one other actor from The Sopranos almost got the part. It’s hard to imagine anyone in Tony Soprano’s role but James Gandolfini, as the actor’s beloved six-season-long performance has been held up as one of the best dramatic performances of all time. As it turns out, though, if The Sopranos creator David Chase had gotten his way, someone else would have taken James Gandolfini’s place.
The Sopranos follows washed-up mobster Tony Soprano as he deals with his biological family and his crime family, causing him to secretly seek help from a therapist. The HBO series has become a staple of prestige TV, with it being considered one of the best TV shows of all time. Although it’s hard to imagine The Sopranos as any different than it turned out to be, one key part of the show was nearly completely different: Tony Soprano’s actor.
Steven Van Zandt Almost Played Tony Soprano
Before James Gandolfini was cast, the actor that David Chase had in mind for Tony Soprano was Steven Van Zandt. Van Zandt is now most known for playing Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, the comedic but tightly-wound consigliere for Tony. While Steven Van Zandt does great in his role as Silvio, in the early days of the show the musician-turned-actor was meant to have the spotlight to himself. David Chase was inspired to cast Van Zandt in 1997 after seeing him induct The Rascals into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, believing that his humor and intensity were perfect for Tony.
David Chase’s interest in Van Zandt went so far that the musician actually got an audition for the part, but HBO turned him down. HBO believed that an inexperienced actor couldn’t carry The Sopranos, causing David Chase and the team to continue their search for Tony somewhere else. Although James Gandolfini was eventually found, David Chase wasn’t done with Van Zandt, writing the part of Silvio Dante specifically for him.
Casting Van Zandt As Tony Would’ve Hurt The Sopranos
While it’s interesting to think about what a Steven Van Zandt-led version of The Sopranos would have been like, it’s a good thing that he wasn’t cast as Tony Soprano. Van Zandt playing Tony would have only hurt the show, making it an instance in which HBO was right to go with someone else. James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony is spectacular, so even if Van Zandt did a good job, he still wouldn’t be able to live up to Gandolfini’s career-defining role.
On top of that Van Zandt just doesn’t have the range to play Tony. In The Sopranos, Silvio is more one-dimensional than many of his other mobster friends. While Van Zandt does get some great laughs with his one-note character, the character’s emotional range isn’t nearly as present as those of Tony, Christopher, Paulie, Vito, or the rest. Van Zandt did get his chance to star in the short-lived mobster show Lilyhammer, which just further proved that The Sopranos probably wouldn’t have worked with him in the leading role. Ultimately, the casting worked out exactly as it should have.