Death by Script
Thursday, March 9, 2006
John Fiore is still pretty miffed about getting killed. The day he learned of his imminent death started with an answering-machine message from David Chase, the executive producer and creator of "The Sopranos." "Can you give me a call?" was all he said, but Chase had never called before. Something was up.
Something good, Fiore assumed. At the time, he had a small, recurring role as a mobster named Gigi Cestone, and he'd been getting more lines and better scenes. Plus, his character would soon be bumped up from soldier to captain in the Soprano family, so why not a promotion in the cast? Fiore was convinced that Chase would offer a contract for a few episodes, if not a whole season.
But when the two spoke on the phone, Chase sounded somber. "This is a call," he said, "that I hate to make."
In an instant, Fiore knew he was a dead man. Well, his character was a dead man, and that meant his "Sopranos" gig was over, which for an actor is like getting whacked for real. Fiore did what anyone confronting a killer would do -- he begged for his life.
"I said no, no, no, you do not have to do this," he recalls. "You do not have to do this. You are the writer, you are the producer. This is [bunk]. Kill somebody else!"
Chase was apologetic but unmoved. Nothing personal. It's just what the story demands.
Easing into the acceptance stage of death, Fiore asked how he would expire, and suddenly the news went from merely awful to absurdly awful. "At first," he says, "I thought it was a really bad joke."
It wasn't. Chase wanted Fiore's character to die of a heart attack on the toilet. On the toilet. No machine-gun ambush, like Sonny Corleone, murdered at a tollbooth in "The Godfather." No, for Gigi Cestone, it'd be a coronary on the throne. Does it get more humiliating?
"It was highly disagreeable to me," says Fiore, who sounds surprisingly bitter, five years after leaving the show. "But David said, 'No, this is memorable, this is different.' " So Fiore sucked it up, died on cue, and on his last day, the cast and crew handed him a signed toilet seat, which he didn't find very amusing. A year or so later, he ran into Chase, who asked if the "Sopranos" stint had helped his career.
"I said, actually, it didn't help me at all. And my kids have to listen to people in school say, 'Ha ha, your dad died on the toilet.' "
After a nearly two-year hiatus, "The Sopranos" returns at last to HBO on Sunday night, with the opening of Season 6 and a new batch of darkly comic tales about the most treacherous and neurotic mob family in northern New Jersey. Let the back-stabbing commence.