The Sopranos has been one of the greatest American TV dramas of all time. Even though it ended its eight-year-run in 2008, the show’s popularity hasn’t dwindled. In fact, 2020 was marked by a sudden rise in its Gen-Z viewer base, introducing the New Jersey mob politics to a whole new audience.
For those who re-watch The Sopranos or watch it for the first time, an attentive eye can spot a few mainstream actors in brief roles or blink-and-miss moments. Most of these actors were still struggling extras back then, only to taste fame with their future roles.
Michael B. Jordan
Michael B. Jordan is a household name with several big-budget films to his name. He got his first major start in TV as Wallace in the HBO series The Wire. However, even before that, Jordan got his first screen credit as a ‘Rideland Kid’ in a New Jersey neighborhood. The scene takes place in a flashback sequence when mobster Tony Soprano reminiscences about his childhood.
A young Soprano gets off a city bus to an amusement park known as Rideland. As he throws a chocolate wrapper on a sidewalk, three boys (Jordan being one of them) then chase him, ordering him to pick it up.
Orange Is The New Black fans would remember Selenis Leyva as Gloria Mendoza, the uptight yet caring inmate at the show’s prison who handles the prison’s kitchen for a few seasons. Starting out with brief appearances in several episodes of Law & Order, she appeared as Jill Dibiaso in the sixth and final season of The Sopranos.
Most of the gangsters in the show are shown to have had mistresses (goomars). Levya plays the goomar of Vito Spatafore, a crew member who’s a closeted gay man. As Vito doesn’t engage in any intimate relationship with Jill, she’s shown to be yelling at him for just wasting her time.
The star of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda has gained immense popularity with his musical and acting endeavors. Like other actors on this list, his career too seems to be blessed by The Sopranos as his first on-screen credit was as a bellhop in the sixth season of the crime drama.
In retrospect, it’s an unintentionally hilarious scene as Paulie and Tony enquire him about a certain acquaintance while Miranda’s character robotically says, ‘I don’t know’. From the role of that awkward bellhop to the majestic Alexander Hamilton, his acting has definitely improved but he seems to have hardly aged.
Cast as a ‘partygoer’ in the fifth season finale, Michael Zegen makes a brief appearance at one of Anthony Soprano Jr’s college parties. His character doesn’t pay the minimum fee for the party and this results in a scuffle between him and one of Soprano Jr’s friends.
Zegen later went on to appear in films like Frances Ha and Brooklyn, while playing the gangster Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel in Boardwalk Empire (another HBO series featuring The Sopranos alumni). Currently, Zegen is mostly known as Joel Maisel, ‘Midge’ Maisel’s estranged husband in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Will Arnett’s most popular roles include ‘Gob’ Bluth in Arrested Development and as the voice of Bojack Horseman and LEGO Batman. Before his fame, Arnett appeared in The Sopranos‘ fourth season as plays Mike Waldrup, an FBI Special Agent and the husband of fellow-Agent Deborah Cicerone (who later goes undercover as Danielle).
Funnily, as revealed in an interview with James Corden, Arnett says that he was asked by showrunner David Chase and the casting director to just say ‘a line’ in his audition. Arnett decided to play smart and literally said ‘a line’. The joke cracked up Chase and Arnett feels that that’s what got him the role.
In Silicon Valley, Chris Diamantopoulos stars as an eccentric multi-billionaire called Russ Hanneman who appears like a parodied version of Dan Bilzerian. The actor was also known for portraying Moe Howard in the 2012 update on The Three Stooges, among other roles.
As for The Sopranos, he plays the role of Joe Barone, the son of Dick Barone, the owner of a sanitation business that served as a front for the illegal activities of the DiMeo crime family and the Sopranos crew. After his father’s death, Joe plans to change his business partners only to get intimidated by the Sopranos.
Known for his highly emotive acting, Paul Dano’s filmography comprises of a diverse and versatile range of roles. But before There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine, Dano sported a bowl cut and a pair of glasses while playing the teenager Patrick Whalen in The Sopranos.
A friend of Anthony Soprano Jr’s, he’s a no-nonsense sarcastic student who understands the mob connection that his classmate’s father has. He also asks AJ if his family leads the same life as depicted in The Godfather.
Compared to the other brief roles in this list, Tony Hale doesn’t even get a speaking part. He plays a nurse who is involved in the chemotherapy of Uncle Junior. At Conan, Hale joked on how he played a male nurse in The Sopranos that’s otherwise filled with hypermasculine characters.
Hale, of course, later on, got to play meatier parts with Buster Bluth in Arrested Development, and Gary Walsh in Veep, a role for which he received 2 Primetime Emmys for Best Supporting Actor.
The star of That 70s Show, Wilmer Valderrama was at the height of his stardom when The Sopranos used to air. Hence rather than the other struggling actors on this list, he appeared as himself in the episode that also guest-starred Sir Ben Kingsley.
The character Christopher Moltisanti arrives in Los Angeles to pitch a screenplay to Kingsley, who seems to be too busy with his vacationing plans. Christopher is surprised to find the number of free gifts that actors like Kingsley receive on account of their popularity. Valderrama similarly appears for a few seconds, being greeted with several free products by companies at an LA resort.
Lady Gaga, the musical hitmaker with a ‘Mezzo-Soprano’ vocal type, also appeared in the show that popularized the other kind of ‘Soprano’. At 15 years of age, the singer and actress had a super-brief role in The Telltale Moozadell, an episode from the show’s third season.
Credited at ‘Girl at swimming pool #2’, Gaga features with a few teens who are smoking and drinking with AJ breaking in their school’s swimming pool at night. The troublemakers then decide to vandalize school property and dunk some files and awards in the water. While AJ gets suspended, Lady Gaga’s character never appears again.