I hope that this next issue finds you well and in the best of health. As we examine cultural stereotypes, I thought that it would be fitting to chat with two actors whom I admire a great deal and whom I have directed in several of my own films. Artie Pasquale and Danny Grimaldi are two dear friends of mine, and I am lucky enough to not only have worked with them but also to consider them as industry mentors to me. As we tackle cinematic stereotypes, I think that it is only fitting to start with a conversation regarding The Sopranos as both Artie (Burt Gervasi) and Danny (Phil and Patsy Parisi) played significant roles in the series. The Sopranos is one of the most popular television shows of all time; or has also sparked much debate in the Italian American Community. Should the show’s ‘humor’ and comedic beats be taken at face value (or are they merely tongue in cheek as stated by Artie)? Did the show create dangerous stereotypes regarding the Italian community and the mob (or is the show about people that live a miserable life and therefore a warning)? Why did many viewers imitate what they saw in the series? Certainly it can be said that after the show many Velour Tracksuits were purchased.
My interest in the show presents questions that haunt me as a professor insensately: where and how does art imitate reality and reality imitate art? Can we as viewers in 2021 distinguish between parody and truth? As I spoke with Artie and Danny it became clear that they as educators (they both are teachers) learned a great deal from the series. It is my hope in structuring this issue that we engage in conversation and debate in order to grow as viewers, writers; and most importantly, as readers! The objective of Animo Quarterly is to publish, encourage and promote contrasting views to learn from those who think differently than we do. In an age where the media promotes division, it is our hope that through embracing (and publishing) our corresponding disagreements, we find the most interesting allies and friends.
Wishing you all my very best,
P.S.- If you would like to contribute to our quarterly, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talking shop with Artie Pasquale and Dan Grimaldi
It should be noted that the interview was conducted separately during the summer months of 2021. Not all of the same questions were asked of each actor. If one actor does not “reply” it is because he was not asked that particular question.
DJH: You both are educators and two people I admire a great deal. I loved directing you both (in my films Pasquale’s Magic Veal and Santino) and wanted to get your take on The Sopranos from the perspective of two teachers. Can you explain your role in education throughout the years and what the show taught you?
Artie: As a teacher and coach you get gratification seeing students perform positively, knowing you had some role in their success. The Sopranos’ success was due to the variety of "teachers" (actors, writers, directors, editors) contributing in their own way. The show taught me what greatness really was in the making of The Sopranos.
Dan: I have been a college professor since 1983. It has been my “waiter’s job” (laughs). I love being able to help young people move forward in their lives and careers. It has been a great journey. I thought that I would only be doing it for a year and (then) become rich and famous… however at this point in my life it is a job that I really love. The show taught me that great writing is the key to great entertainment. Good actors can elevate great writing while bad actors can’t hurt great writing.
DJH: What was it like working on the Sopranos? How was your experience?
Artie: Absolutely GREAT! To be involved in what is considered the greatest dramatic television series (with such great people), I consider myself a lucky guy.
Dan: It was the best experience of my career working on The Sopranos. The cast, the crew, the director, the administration… everybody associated with The Sopranos was grateful to be there. It was a joyful experience. I was called “Mr. Sunshine” because every time that I came to work, I had a smile on my face! I was so happy to be a part of the greatest show in television. Also, I was hired as Philly Parisi for three days and I went on to work as Patsy Parisi for 47 episodes. Not only am I grateful to be on the show but I am so grateful to have that kind of a part to contribute to The Sopranos.
DJH: What was your most memorable experience throughout the show?
Artie: Just being treated like a special member of a special family The Sopranos. All class.
Dan: My most memorable experience was of course when I found out that I was going to be coming back as a twin. David Chase saw my work as Philly (saw the rushes), looked at the screen and said, “Who is that guy? I like him!”. He turned to Terry Winter (Winter wrote 25 episodes of The Sopranos) and mentioned that could only use the “twin card” card once as he wanted to personally develop my character in future episodes. To be brought back as a character that Chase really loved and be able to continue working right towards the end, was my most memorable experience.
DJH: How was it to work with the great James Gandolfini?
Artie: Great guy. Treated you like you were special, regardless of acting status. Always asked about my family.
Dan: He was a joy. He was a generous actor and a terrific talent. Working opposite of him I saw just how much he gave! It was easy to relate to him and give back. We had a good relationship and I think that it showed during the filming of The Sopranos. Even though Patsy wanted to kill him the whole time!
DJH: What made the Sopranos so popular?
Artie: Writing, story lines and the unique characters.
DJH: What do you say to those that accuse the show of fostering dangerous Italian stereotypes?
Artie: Perhaps there was some of that, but much was tongue in cheek.
DJH: As two Italian Americans, does the show help the community?
Artie: It was a TV Show! I don’t think helping the community or hurting it was given a lot of thought. Most Italians thought it was ok and non-Italians as well. And of course, there are always those who are never satisfied and have to always look at the negative. To some it was simply a creative story about a dysfunctional family.
DJH: What is your favorite episode and why?
Artie: I guess, like so many others, “The Pine Barrens” episode. Comical but believable with the characters.
Dan: My favorite episode was “The Pine Barrens.” I think it was the funniest episode out of all 86! I also believe that The Sopranos was very comedic and that was the height of the comic value in the series.
DJH: How did you become involved in the show?
Artie: I met David Chase many years ago and he was interested in me, as I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island. We met and he picked my brain about some real stories that I had. I told him about my uncle’s restaurant being blown up as a favor to him by his friend so he could collect the insurance. This became the "Artie Bucco" beginning.
Dan: I auditioned for the part of Philly Parisi and I got the job. I was lucky enough to have a twin created for me and was on 47 episodes.
DJH: Who are your favorite characters on the show?
Artie: Of course, the James Gandolfini and Eddie Falco combination. But also, Silvio because
Steven Van Zant was never an actor and did a great job pulling off his unique character.
Dan: Besides James Gandolfini’s performance I think that that Edie Falco was the best mob wife in the history of all mob movies.
DJH: I found the series to be cinematic! What does that say about David Chase?
Artie: It says he is special. He also has that Alfred Hitchcock-Rod Serling cleverness. Much is also based on experiences of his own family.
Dan: David Chase borders on genius. The series was truly cinematic and the characters were well-formed. And again, the writing was exceptional as he kept the standard high. He was on top of every episode and worked 24/7 for nine years. David Chase deserves most of the credit for all of the accolades that it has received.
DJH: Thoughts on The Many Saints of Newark?
Artie: The Many Saints of Newark should be interesting. I’m sure everyone will be curious to see it. But it’s a film not a series.
Dan: The trailer to The Many Saints of Newark is exceptional. I am looking forward to seeing the film. It is going to be interesting to see the beginning of The Sopranos and the political climate as a backdrop.
DJH: What are your favorite films?
Artie: There are so many great films. The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, French Connection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, On the Waterfront, Once Upon a Time in the West, Raging Bull. Just to name a few.
Dan: My favorite films are It’s a Wonderful Life and The Godfather (which I feel is a classic of course).
DJH: What inspires you?
Artie: Seeing someone who has less physical or mental capacity than me accomplish goals
they didn’t know they had.
Dan: What inspires me is persistence, kindness, generosity and good work.
DJH: Who are your favorite actors?
Artie: Brando, Daniel J Lewis, David Duval, Anthony Hopkins, Denzel Washington, Spenser Tracy, Al Pacino, Michael Kane, Phillip Seymore Hoffman and of course others. How about Rod Steiger?
Dan: My favorite actors are Meryl Streep, Robert Duval, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman.
DJH: Dinner with anybody tonight, dead or alive, who is it? Why?
Artie: My mother.
Dan: My father and my mother. If I had to pick one it would be my father. I would want to make sure that he knew that I loved him very much. In fact, I feel that the part of Philly was inspired by him! I was channeling him into the character which led to the best experience of my career. My father’s name was Louis Grimaldi.
DJH: How did you get through the pandemic?
Artie: Reading, watching TV, eating home cooked meals (by girlfriend) and trying to keep a sense of humor doing skits.
Dan: I refer to the pandemic as “Groundhog Day,” as you do the same things over and over again. I have to say that I got through the pandemic because of my lovely wife Lisette. She is a truly great person, an inspiration and a very positive human being. We spent 24/7 together, we went shopping and we watched shows together. She was a great inspiration and partner to keep me sane throughout the whole thing.
DJH: What does it mean to be Italian-American?
Artie: Being an Italian American to me means I am fortunate to be part of two great cultures-- the American culture (a melting pot), and especially the Italian culture. They have made so many important contributions to the world.
DJH: When did you know that you were an actor?
Artie: As a kid I watched cowboys and Indians and old black and white movies with such actors as Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft, and Robert Mitchum. I would sometimes mimic them. I always said that also being a teacher and a coach helped me with acting because as both you were always performing in a sense.
Dan: I knew that I was an actor the minute that I went into the first acting class that I ever took. I sat back and said, “I am home.” I knew that this was my destiny. I felt like a true actor after I did over one hundred performances of a play called Mamma’s Little Angels (off-Broadway). I wish that all actors could experience this because it teaches you to relax and do your work with confidence.
DJH: Advice to those interested in getting into the industry?
Artie: Unless you take it seriously, don’t try, because it takes a lot of work and dedication. And be prepared for rejection. But if you persevere you WILL succeed. And never burn any bridges.
Dan: Advice to those that want to get into the industry? Don’t! I prefer that you would go into community theater, enjoy the experience, become a star in your neighborhood for six weeks and enjoy all of the accolades that come from that. The business itself is just so difficult. But, if you have the passion and it is something that you really want, then my advice would be… persistence, persistence, persistence. And train. Take classes and study with good acting teachers so that you can develop a craft. Acting is a craft and to be a craftsman you have to be trained and educated.
D.J. Higgins holds a Doctorate in Modern Languages from Middlebury College, an MA in Italian from both Middlebury College and Indiana University, an MA in Spanish from Middlebury College, and an MA from Sacred Heart University in Film Studies. He is an active filmmaker (director, writer, producer) and his movies (alongside his partner Julie Robinson) Pasquale’s Magic Veal, Meet Mario, Santino and the Smack Series (www.smacktv.net) can be found on Amazon and Youtube (search title plus “D.J. Higgins”).
His research examines the role of “American” cinema from a global perspective and filmmaking in Italian and Spanish speaking worlds. He teaches Italian and Spanish as well and has an overall love for anthropology and the role of media in dissecting culture and philosophy. He loves being in the classroom and looks forward to discussing cinema and society with his students!
He is currently an Assistant Professor at Penn State and has taught at Sacred Heart University, Indiana University, Mercy College and Empire State College.