The Sopranos

The Sopranos’ Cooze Perfectly Embodied The Show’s Smartest Gangster Trick

The late Robert LuPone played Dr. Cusamano, whose grim fascination with Tony's life of crime was at odds with the underlying themes of The Sopranos.

The late Robert LuPone played an understated minor cast member in The Sopranos whose character Bruce “Cooze” Cusamano embodied the show’s smart subversion of gangster movie tropes. The actor sadly passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2022, leaving behind an impressive list of Broadway and Off-Broadway credits, and the role of Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) neighbor and family physician. Despite only appearing in five episodes across The Sopranos‘ six seasons, Cooze played an integral role in Tony Soprano’s story arc

It’s Dr. Cusamano who refers Tony to Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), as the psychiatrist is a personal friend of the Cusamano family. It’s to the credit of The Sopranos creator David Chase and the show’s writers that they didn’t rely on the cheap comedy trope of an upstanding physician who lives next door to a gangster in the manner of crime comedies like The Whole Nine Yards or My Blue Heaven. The one time they do deploy that familiar comic storyline, they subvert it and make the upstanding member of society the butt of the joke – something LuPone plays perfectly.

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Dr. Cusamano’s first proper appearance in The Sopranos is also Robert LuPone’s most substantial performance in the role. The Sopranos season 1, episode 10, “A Hit is a Hit” sees Tony try and fail to make non-mafia friends. After a slightly awkward barbecue at Cusamano’s, Tony is invited to play a round of golf with him and his two friends at their club, which represents a sort of legitimate friendship to Tony. Sadly, the golf game is marred by Cusamano and his friends’ ghoulish interest in mafia figures, as they quiz Tony Soprano on the authenticity of The Godfather. Cusamano originally attempts to change the subject, but he soon gets involved in the conversation, suggesting that Tony knew the murdered mobster Carmine Galante. This scene and Tony’s subsequent revenge for his embarrassment and rejection from the club demonstrates how Robert LuPone’s character perfectly embodied everything that The Sopranos was striving against.

Robert LuPone’s Cooze Is One Of The Sopranos’ Unsung Heroes

Tony hands Cooze a suspicious package in The Sopranos season 1, episode 10

The three men treat Tony not as a human being, but as a mobster who can answer all their questions in gory detail. Finally, having had enough, Tony turns the tables on “Cooze” and his pals by telling them a ridiculous story about his connection to real-life gangster John Gotti. He says that Gotti once outbid him for an ice cream truck at an auction, and gave him a ride home in it. “Y’know he rang that bell, all the way home,” he says to his perplexed audience.

The scene sums up exactly what was so great about The Sopranos. It repeatedly subverted audience expectations about gangster movies by being more interested in its characters’ internal psychologies and the banality of their home lives than it was in hits and power grabs. Cusamano and his friends’ confusion at Tony’s ice cream truck story represents the people that tune into an episode of The Sopranos expecting a gritty gangster show, only to see the lead character converse with talking fish in a dream sequence.

At the end of “A Hit is a Hit,” Tony takes revenge on Cooze by wrapping up a box of sand. In explaining to Carmela what he’s doing, he says he’s going to ask him to “hold onto it for a while,” adopting a Marlon Brando voice. Bruce and his wife are absolutely horrified by what they’ve been asked to do, but the box being full of sand (rather than heroin) makes the joke about their media-informed perception of Tony, rather than Tony’s criminal status. It’s a beautifully played scene by the late Robert LuPone which perfectly demonstrates what made The Sopranos‘ mixture of comedy and pathos such a winning formula.

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