Over the years, The Sopranos had a knack for bringing in actors who fit perfectly within the show’s universe. The season 2 additions of David Proval (Richie Aprile) and Janice Soprano (Aida Turturro) rank among the best castings that came after the debut season.
But more great actors (and characters) arrived in seasons 3-5, when Joe Pantoliano (Ralph Cifaretto), Steve Buscemi (Tony Blundetto), and Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo) all came aboard. And there were rarely letdowns when it came to supporting actors.
Take the casting of Max Casella, who auditioned for three different Sopranos roles before landing the part of the sneering Benny Fazio (starting in season 3). But while Casella fit in great with the rest of the cast, he felt like he didn’t belong at all at the start of his Sopranos run.
Max Casella didn’t think any of his 3 ‘Sopranos’ auditions went well
By the time Casella landed the part of Benny, he knew the Sopranos audition process all too well. “It was f*ckin’ awful,” Casella recalled on the Talking Sopranos podcast. “First I auditioned with Lillo Brancato for both the Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte characters.”
Obviously, Casella didn’t get either of those season 2 roles. And he didn’t like how it was going in the casting room. (He wasn’t getting any positive feedback from Sopranos creator David Chase.) Later, he went out for the Jackie Aprile Jr. part that eventually went to Jason Cerbone.
The third time was the charm for Casella — even if it didn’t feel that way. “I kept thinking, ‘This is the end. I’m not going to keep going back,’” he recalled. “Then I went back for Benny Fazio, and that felt like a disaster.”
At that point, Casella thought he was only getting asked back because he was friends with Sopranos writer Frank Renzulli. But it wasn’t happening that way. “It was all in my head,” Casella said on Talking Sopranos. After he shot his first episode as Benny, Casella still didn’t think it was going well.
Casella said he felt ‘like an impostor’ because he didn’t grow up around Italian-American culture
Though he played New Yorker Vinnie Delpino on Doogie Hauser, M.D. for four years, Casella did not grow up in Brooklyn. Casella was born to an Italian-American mother and Jewish father and grew up in Cambridge, Mass.
“I didn’t grow up around Italian-American culture at all,” Casella said on Talking Sopranos. “I had no concept of what it meant to be Italian until I moved to Hollywood and everybody put this [identity] on me.”
Once he arrived on the Sopranos set, Casella found himself surrounded by New York and New Jersey Italian-Americans. “When I started on The Sopranos, I was just like, ‘I’m not worthy. You guys are the real thing.’” Casella recalled. “I thought, ‘I’m an impostor, and they obviously see that.’”
Sopranos producers didn’t see that at all; they kept giving Casella more and more work as Benny. In the series finale, Benny is driving the car of the guy who whacks Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) at a Long Island gas station. Casella made it all the way to the end — and Benny lived to tell about it.
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