It’s no secret that I am a diehard Sopranos fan but I was a little late to the party. I came on board towards the end of the second season; I had friends who knew I loved mob movies so they kept telling me to watch. I saw one show and was hooked. I then started noticing Federico Castelluccio who played the imported strong arm guy/”newbie” from Sicily walking around my neighborhood on the Upper East Side. Sure enough, I bumped into him at a party with his lovely then fiancée one night and it turned out that he lived just a few doors east of me. This past weekend, he turned up to meet the fans along with pretty much the entire cast at the long-awaited SopranosCon at Meadowlands Exposition Center in Seacaucus, NJ. (Only the cast members who played the immediate Soprano family were missing as were Lorraine Bracco who played Dr. Jennifer Mekki and Aida Turturro who played Tony’s trouble making sister Janice.)
Fans were greeted by a giant red SopranosCon sign sitting on the floor on the way in that made for an awesome photo op. My first order of business was heading over to the table of Vincent Pastore who played the ill-fated Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. I got to hang in Pastore’s booth for about 45 minutes, check out the cool Sopranos merchandise behind him including a signed Sopranos toy truck and chat with his crew. I fortunately got to get in a few quick questions while he took a break from the long line of fans waiting to meet him. Pastore’s enthusiasm was contagious and he said right off the bat that “Federico (Castelluccio) and I were the first two cast members to sign up for SopranosCon.” Pastore just launched a “true Neopolitan style” marinara sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes that is presently at A & S Fine Foods in Merrick, NY but will be branching out to other stores in the next year (you can also order it on Amazon). It is indeed the real marinara sauce Pastore makes at home–my foodie journalist pals have told me that it is remarkable and I am having it for the first time this week. It should come as no surprise that Pastore is a man of many talents. Prior to being an actor, he was a nightclub entrepreneur in New Rochelle, NY (where he still lives) and he keeps his hands in both the the music and acting worlds. Interestingly enough, he revealed, “When I first decided that I wanted to be an actor I studied at HB Studios (on Bank Street in Manhattan) and now I am an actor’s workshop instructor there.” Pastore can currently be seen as a recurring character named Larry in the 10-episode Hulu series called Wu-Tang: An American Saga. He added, “I have the (mob crime) film Birthday Cake with Val Kilmer, Evan MacGregor and Lorraine Bracco coming up soon and I am very excited about it.” If all this is not enough, he MCs classic rock or what some call “Jersey Rock” shows that travel around the country called Big Pussy’s Gangster Squad–the show schedule can be found on the Big Pussy’s Gangster Squad Facebook page. Since the occasion was SopranosCon, I had to ask the affable Pastore if he still likes being approached by fans and he said, “I love it–that is why we have what is going on here today!” When I asked Pastore what his favorite scene playing Big Pussy, he remarked rather surprisingly that it was one with AJ Soprano where his godfatherly duties were discussed (Big Pussy was also AJ’s confirmation sponsor). The gruff but friendly thespian is excited about the Sopranos prequel film Saints Of Newark and says candidly, “When we lost Jimmy, they could only go backwards. There are people playing us all as kids and I am looking forward to seeing the final result.” Sopranos fans have their next chance to see Pastore with Big Pussy’s Gangster Squad on February 9th at Resorts World Casino in Jamaica, Queens and in May all over the UK when he and fellow Soprano star Michael Imperioli do a 14-city appearance tour called A Conversation With The Sopranos. One of the fan favorites was Dominic Chianese who also sang for the crowd on Saturday and brought some people to tears with his operatic tenor. Everyone found him easygoing and approachable. I met him in the past at Sopranos season premiere parties as well as at the party for Enough Said, James Gandolfini’s final film before his passing which co-starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus.The handsome Jason Cerbone played a deceitful suitor of Meadow Soprano, Jackie Aprile Jr. but maybe it will make you feel better to know he’s a great guy in real life–and even more handsome than he appears on the small screen.There was much more than fan meet and greets although that was the main reason everyone came. There was a mini Bada Bing Club set up complete wit a couple of dancers who appeared on the show. Needless to say, this was a big hit with the red-blooded American males in the crowd although a lot of them dragged their girlfriends along. I liked that all the food was tied into the show’s episodes and set up as an Italian feast. There was sweets and Sopranos-themed merchandise from Holsten’s in Bloomfield where the final scene of the series was shot as well delicious pastries from several New Jersey-based Italian bakeries. The fictional Satriale’s Pork Store where Tony and his crew held meetings became real and guests could buy hard salami and other famous types of Italian charcuterie.There were artistic tributes to cast members all over the Meadowlands Exposition Center but this ten-foot-tall hand painted mural of the late James Gandolfini was arguably the most moving. On Saturday, Gandolfini’s wife and son held a special presentation where they discussed the late, great actor’s work and how much the show meant to him.There were over 20 costumes from the Sopranos wardrobe on display. Most of it was regular every day wear although there were fake blood spatters on a few of them–yes, they kept that catsup spattered clothing as it was when the “hit” scenes were filmed. There were some unique props scattered about including a coffin used in funeral scenes and James Gandolfini’s real early 60s vintage white Cadillac convertible that he drove around northern NJ in back in his late teens. (He grew up in Park Ridge in Bergen County.) No Sopranos fan convention of any sort would be complete without a list of everyone who was “whacked” on the show. There was also a memorial wall of all the cast members who had passed in real life including Nancy Marchand, who played Tony’s relentlessly grumpy and demanding mother so incredibly well.I was thrilled that I got to hang in the VIP room pictured above but all the action was really out on the floor. It was nice to get free Jersey pizza and cannolis and have a super comfy couch to “plotz” down on, but the event was really about mingling with the fans. I will indeed be back next year. I loved the people, the food and the festivities–which included cannoli eating and trivia contests. For more info on this marvelous fan fest, go to www.sopranoscon.com.