BY AMY Z. QUINN Life is, in fact, pretty sweet right now for Michael Imperioli. He’s the darkly handsome 41-year-old New York actor best known for playing Italian-American guys who meet untimely-yet-unsurprising ends, like that stutterin’ prick Spider from Goodfellas and everybody’s favorite cousin, Chrissy Moltisanti, on The Sopranos. As an actor, Imperioli has done stage work, TV (everything from Mitch Albom’s For One More Day to “The Simpsons” to “Law & Order”) and movies (including one of my own favorites, Household Saints).
He and his wife, Victoria, have two kids; the couple are co-artistic directors of Studio Dante, a New York jewel box theater spotlighting new and progressive productions, and Imperioli has writing credits to his name. All that ought to be enough to satisfy even the greediest creative appetite, but this week Imperioli will come to Philly fronting La Dolce Vita, a rock three-piece he put together in 2006 with drummer Olmo Tighe and bassist Elijah Amitin.
Imperioli told me he’d been playing the guitar for years and had done some time in downtown rock bands back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and hooked up with his new — and younger — bandmates through actor Olmo’s brother, actor Michael Tighe. Imperioli and Tighe had acted together in the movie Postcards From America, back when Olmo was a kid.
“We had this initial batch of songs I’d written, some of them like 20 years ago, and never really recorded or performed,” he said, and they’ve written more together. An EP is in the works. “Even though they’re much younger, they have really expansive musical knowledge.”
I ask him how fronting a band compares to acting — is he playing another character up there, or is this just Mike and his guitar?
“Well, it doesn’t feel like a character, but it is a very emotional art form that does have things that are similar, particularly to stage acting,” he says. “You have your lines, which can be your guitar parts and your vocal, and then you rehearse and you practice, but then you have to get up on stage and kind of let it go, and reach out to an audience and let them experience it.”
I tell him I keep reading how their sound has some kind of Patti Smith vs. The Pixies thing happening, what’s that all about?
“Whether or not we sound like that is a different story, but I will say it’s a very kind of New York vibe, since we’re all native New Yorkers,” he says, but with influences not just from Patti from Jersey, but post-punk outfits like the Smiths, Pixies and Nirvana.
The Silk City gig is the band’s first in Philly, but Imperioli said he’d spent some time out in Wayne shooting Peter Jackson’s version of The Lovely Bones, in which he plays the police detective who doggedly investigates a murder (and uh, intimately investigates the victim’s mother). I tell him it’s a shame he hasn’t spent more time here in the bosom of so many paisans who’d eat him up like pannacotta, and we laugh wondering what an “Italo-hipster” (thank you, Don Amorosi ) might be. Hairy guys with a Stella in one hand and a sfogliatelle in the other? Imperioli laughs. “I don’t know, maybe a bunch of guys who look like Christopher Moltisanti, rocking out? I guess we’ll see!”
Eventually, as I presume every interview with him does at some point, ours comes around to The Sopranos Question. He’s cool about it. One interview I’d read had him quoted saying he loved the series’ ending, but beyond that, what does he think happened to Tony at the end of that last episode, “Made In America”?
“At first I thought that there is no happening, that it is just the ending,” he says. “Like, at first I thought that David Chase is saying that Tony has to live his life with a lot of uncertainty and death around every corner, not unlike how we have to live in the post-9/11 world. That in the midst of uncertainty, that you keep what’s most important close to you. But then, I kept hearing David Chase talk about clues, and then I wasn’t sure.”
Chase has said that while there are no “esoteric clues” in the final episode — meaning, the onion rings were probably just onion rings and none of the other diner patrons were previously killed-off minor characters or whatever other craziness the Internet comes up with — all the evidence you need to decide what happened is right there. Though that doesn’t tell us whether the dude in the Members Only jacket came out of the can with a gun.
At this point I remind Imperioli that he worked for Chase for what, almost a decade, and of all people he ought to be able to call a brother up and ask him what’s what. Again, he cracks up. “I don’t think he’d tell me!”