Born in Brooklyn, New York, actor and producer Steve Schirripa never imagined himself going into the acting profession. It wasn’t until he was in his thirties that a comedian at his comedy club convinced him to do a sketch for Fox TV. After that, he began to take small roles in a variety of different projects, including the films Casino, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Welcome to Hollywood, The Runner and Play It to the Bone as well as the television shows Chicago Hope, The King of Queens, Angel and Battery Park. However, everything changed in 2000 when he was cast as Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri in The Sopranos. This series, which ran for six seasons, catapulted Schirripa to fame and his career has flourished ever since.
After The Sopranos ended, he scored roles on the shows Brothers, Call Me Fitz, The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Benders. He also did voice-acting in the movies Open Season 2 and Open Season 3, and landed parts in the films Hereafter, Jersey Boys and Houses. Now, he’s starring as Anthony Abetemarco in the CBS drama Blue Bloods, alongside Tom Selleck, Donnie Walhberg and Bridget Moynahan. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Schirripa about his character on Blue Bloods, his time on The Sopranos and his new line of pasta sauces. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Was acting something that you knew you wanted to do from the time you were a child or was it something that you discovered later in life?
It was definitely something that I discovered later in life. I didn’t have any aspiration at all to be an actor growing up. I was a shy person who didn’t like to talk in front of people and stuff like that. It just kind of happened, you know? It’s just kind of weird. I ran a comedy club for years and sometimes a comic would be late and they’d say, “Go onstage and just say goodnight to the crowd” and I was horrified. (laughs). I would never do such a thing. Then, a comic asked me to be in this little sketch for Fox TV, and I had never even read a script before and never even thought about doing anything like that. So I went out to L.A. and I did it and it was great. At that time, I was already 33 or 34. But I never was in a school play or did any of that stuff.
You’ve worked on such a variety of projects over the years. Do you feel that each project helps you grow as an actor?
Oh, absolutely. Because you learn something every time, and you learn stuff that they don’t teach you at acting school. When I started acting, I didn’t even have headshots. It was just kind of a hobby; I was getting roles like in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and little bit parts that people would put me in, and I didn’t really consider myself an actor. I was just a guy with a hobby. I would fly back to L.A. and a comic would say, “I got you in this” or someone would say, “I got you a little role in that”.” I mean, I had a full-time job and I had money so I wasn’t struggling. So it was a hobby for me. I’d take roles if the timing was right, and of course, all of that stuff—all of the crappy stuff that I did, all kinds of stuff—I learned from all of that. If I didn’t do all of that stuff, all the really low-end stuff, if I didn’t do that when I got an opportunity to do “The Sopranos” or do a real movie, I wouldn’t have known what to do. Every little thing has helped me grow. And even to this day, I’m still learning. I still work with a coach and I still do stuff. Absolutely. And I also go, “You know what, this next job, I’m going to do something a little different.” So you learn from your mistakes and try different things so that you’ll have more confidence. You just kind of learn just like anything else. If you do something for such a long time, you take more chances and you learn.
How would you say that being on “The Sopranos” has impacted your career?
(laughs) Well, I mean, I had no career before that. I had a regular job. My first season of “The Sopranos,” I held down a full-time job in Las Vegas. So there was no career and I owe “The Sopranos” everything, you know? I got to work with great actors and I learned tremendously by watching and listening. So there was nothing—no career and there weren’t really any aspirations for a career. I just was doing it. And then the more that I did it, the more that I wanted to do. I kind of got on-the-job training on “The Sopranos.” It was like I got the job and then I got the coach. I was very lucky. You know, there’s no one way to do it. If you talk to a young guy and he wants to start getting into acting, there’s no one way. If you talk to ten actors, they’ll give you ten different stories—how they started and how they broke through.
Could you share your favorite memory from being on “The Sopranos” set?
Oh, jeez, there were so many! Being on “The Sopranos” set was like nothing that I did before or after. Now, here we are, nine years after the show, and I’ve worked on a whole bunch of shows with a whole bunch of great people, and “The Sopranos” were—you went to work and every episode was like a movie. They were each a full hour and they were shot just like a film. Also, you were working with your friends, really. We were a very close-knit group; we were together—I was on the show from 1999-2007, so that’s eight years that you’re with someone and you’re with them through thick and thin. Weddings, divorces, sicknesses, ups and downs—you’re together with people for years. That’s a long time. We were very close-knit. When you went to work, you didn’t feel like “Oh man, I’ve got to work tomorrow”; it was more like “Hey, I’m gonna see the cast and the crew and the directors and the writers.” It was like hanging out with your pals. It was that good, you know?
Are you still in close contact with the rest of the cast?
Yeah, I mean, everybody’s doing their own thing but I still talk to Michael Imperioli; he’s one of my closest friends and Tony Sirico and Vince Curatola, so yeah, I still pretty much keep in touch with a lot of the guys. Everybody’s doing their own thing and they are all out and about. There was one time during “The Sopranos” that there were so many of us that we were out in force in New York City. And once it ended, everybody started doing their own thing, but I still keep in touch with quite a few of the guys.
That’s awesome. I want to switch gears and chat a bit about your character on “Blue Bloods.” When you were first introduced to Anthony, what was your first impression of him?
Well, I think he’s a very smart guy. I think Anthony is a little unorthodox and I don’t think he cares so much about how he looks; he kind of beats to his own drum. He’s very loyal and I think that he’s very good at what he does. He’s a very good investigator. And certainly, working with Erin Reagan who is the DA and is very smart and comes from a strong family, Anthony comes from a different place. He comes from a very blue-collar family. He comes from Brooklyn. They get the job done together but they have two different points-of-view.
When you got into the role, was his backstory set in stone or was it something that developed over time?
No, no, but as you go along the way, you find out things about him. I just found out something about his dad which I can’t reveal but you’ll see soon enough. And I found out that he’s from Brooklyn and he’s been married a couple of times. In each episode, something pops up and we learn a little bit more about the guy. With me and the writers, it usually goes hand-in-hand. I’m on eight episodes and five have aired, so there are three more in which Anthony plays a role. But this is really a great show. The writers are terrific. I didn’t watch the show much before I was on it and then I did a whole binge-watch so that I could get caught up, and it’s just great. The crew is great and I have to tell you that it’s very well-done, which is why they are in their sixth season and still have the highest ratings on Friday nights.
What do you enjoy the most about playing him and what do you find the most challenging?
You know, when it’s well-written—it always comes down to the writing, which makes it much easier as an actor. When you’re reading scripts and it makes sense to you, it helps you understand everything that’s going on and that doesn’t always happen. This happens to be a very well-written show. I like that Anthony kind of beats to his own drum and has his own style. He has his own way of doing things. He’s very different from just a straight-laced cop. So that’s what I like about him. Challenging…I don’t know. I’ve never played a cop before. I’ve gotten a lot of tips and we have a technical advisor that tells me about the badge and the gun and the handcuffs and all that, so there’s the cop stuff that I’m still learning.
What was your favorite scene to film?
You know, I liked them all. I enjoy working with Bridget Moynahan a lot and doing scenes with her. Right off the bat, we seemed to have good chemistry together. We had a scene in the first episode that I did under the Queensboro Bridge and I liked that. It kind of set the tone for everything. They were kind of having a little squabble but you can see that he has a lot of confidence in her and her opinion.
I loved the movie “Jersey Boys.” What was it like working with Clint Eastwood on that movie?
That’s actually the second time that I’ve worked with him. I worked with him on the movie “Hereafter” and I played a chef and I enjoyed it tremendously. I was up for a bigger role in “Jersey Boys” but I didn’t get it and he gave me this and it was only about four or five lines but I was happy to do it. They flew me out to L.A. and what are you going to do? I’m not going to turn Clint Eastwood down (laughs). He’s a terrific director and he enjoys what he does. He knows exactly what he wants. So I enjoyed tremendously working with him. I did a very small role in “Jersey Boys” but I got to work with Christopher Walken which was great and I was just happy to be a part of it. It was a good film. But I’d worked with him before. He’s a legendary guy and a really good person and director. He loves what he does.
You also have a new line of pasta sauces. What inspired you to venture into the food world?
Well, my mother passed away a few years ago and she was a good cook so a partner of mine said, “Hey, let’s do something in honor of your mother.” So we got her recipe and we made it healthier and we made it organic and non-GMO. There are three kinds of sauces: a Marinara, Tomato-Basil and Arrabbiata, and the sauces are in close to 3,000 stores. We’ve been in business not even two years yet and it’s going great. It’s unclestevesny.com; you can go to the website and find the store closest to you and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a bit different for me. The sauces are great; we have the best ingredients in there and it’s going well.
Alright, this is my last question for you. Are there any shows, books or movies that bring out the nerd in you?
The nerd in me…I’m not a nerd, I don’t think. (laughs) I don’t really know technical stuff. But what is a nerd, really? What is a nerd? I’m getting philosophical. I mean, is it your stereotypical nerd or is it something else? I don’t know. I’ve been good friends with a lot of nerds over the years, I guess. What brings out the nerd in me…is sports. I’m a sports nerd. I’m a big New York Knicks fan so if I’m a nerd with anything, I guess that’s it. I’m certainly not a technical guy. You know, I still have flip phone. (laughs). So there you go!
New episodes of Blue Bloods air on Friday nights at 10:00 pm on CBS