For some, he’s best known as Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri from the iconic series “The Sopranos,” which starred James Gandolfini and ran for six seasons on HBO. As Bobby, Schirripa played a likable mobster who rose through the ranks of the organized crime operation to become a top aide to Junior Soprano as well as Tony Soprano’s brother-in-law.
To others, he’s Anthony Abetemarco from “Blue Bloods,” which returns for Season 13 tonight on CBS. As Anthony, Schirripa portrays a retired NYPD detective who now works as an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office alongside ADA Erin Reagan (Bridget Moynahan), the only daughter of New York City police commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck).
As both, Schirripa is seen as an endearing fan favorite. So during an exclusive interview, Looper couldn’t help but ask him to discuss what each role means to him.
Schirripa ‘had a ball’ filming at the Reagan family dinner table
The Season 12 finale of “Blue Bloods” had you seated at the iconic Reagan family dinner table. What was it like shooting that scene?
That was my first time. It was kind of a big deal to get to the table. Honestly, I never thought it would happen. How are they going to fit that in? I said, “Hey, maybe Anthony’s in the neighborhood. He’s going to bring some cannolis over.” Then when I found out that it was going to happen, I was very flattered.
I had only done one scene with Tom [Selleck] before. Of course, I know him, but it was only my second scene ever with him, and I’ve been on the show since 2015. I came in as a guest star to do one, maybe two episodes, and now I’ve done 113 or something. So I worked with Tom early on, and it was a lot of fun.
They’re used to [sitting at the dinner table], but I thought it was fun. You had all that Italian food. We didn’t eat in the scene, but in the back, they had duplicates of everything. The food came from the Bronx up at Little Italy on Arthur Avenue, where there’s all kinds of great Italian restaurants and delis. [We had] meatballs, braciole, soup and salad, provolone, and the whole platter. It was back in the kitchen, so in between takes, everyone got up and was eating that. I know I was.
I had a ball. I would love to go back. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, but I liked it. Like I said, I was very flattered to be asked to the dinner table. Not many people besides the Reagans have made it there.
He gets recognized by cops and mobsters all the time
This will be your 8th season on the show, yet a lot of people still associate you with your “Sopranos” character. What’s it like being on the other side of the law?
I like it much better. Instead of fat, sweaty guys with cigars coming up to you, now you’ve got fat, sweaty detectives [laughs]. You’ve got different people, and I enjoy it. I really do. I loved every moment of “The Sopranos.” But I went to a Yankees game and a guy showed me his badge. He said, “Could we take a picture? I love what you do on the show.” And I said, “Do you believe me as a detective?” He said, “Absolutely.” So when detectives and cops or police captains say, “I believe every second that you’re playing a police officer,” I like that. That’s the whole point.
Acting — we could get all convoluted, but what is it? It’s, do you believe me as this guy or not? Pretty simple to me. You believe me as a street-smart Italian-American detective who’s been around? I like to hear that. A lot of cops watch the show, and people in law enforcement, which shows you the authenticity and how real the show is.
Same thing on “The Sopranos.” You would come across a lot of mob guys in restaurants in Little Italy and they would say, “Love the show.” I used to have a joke: “Crime was down on Sunday nights because all the mobsters were home watching [‘The Sopranos’].”
I lived in Las Vegas for many years, and I would watch a TV show or movie about Vegas, and five minutes in, I would go, “That would never happen in a million years. I’m out.” So it says a lot about the producers and writers and technical advisors of “Blue Bloods” and how they get it right.
He didn’t want to get pigeonholed playing a mobster
The “Blue Bloods” and “Sopranos” connection runs even deeper than you starring on the series, as “Blue Bloods” was created by two people [Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess] who had a hand in the success of “The Sopranos.” Plus, a few other “Sopranos” actors have been guest stars on the show. Does that connection make you sentimental?
Believe it or not, I couldn’t get on the show when [Green and Burgess] were on the show. I don’t know what that reason was. I know them and like them. I respect them. But for whatever reason, they wouldn’t give me a role. So does it make me sentimental? No.
I ran into them, Mitch and Robin, after I was on the show for about a year. I bumped into them on the street, and they said they liked what I was doing. That was a nice thing to hear. But I couldn’t get on the show for the first six years, and it was a New York show, so I had always thought that was kind of strange. In hindsight, though, it’s a good thing that I didn’t [get on] because it would’ve been one and done. You come in as a guest star and you’re out.
This role of Anthony Abetemarco had some legs. They obviously liked what I did, and they started writing for me. They had Arthur Nascarella on, and I worked with him. He played Carlo [on “The Sopranos”]. That was fun, to work with him again. With Michael Imperioli [appearing on “Blue Bloods”], I was hoping somewhere along the line we’d work together, but that hasn’t happened yet.
I’m a realist. I know I’m not going to play an English professor. I’m not going to get lost in the roles. I’m a blue-collar guy. I’m not Christian Bale or Gary Oldman, where they play a different guy every time. But I wanted to get out of the mob thing, as I’ve yet to see anything done as well as “The Sopranos.”
I played a suburban dad on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” for five years, and that was terrific to get out of the whole mob thing and play this blue-collar sausage king. The show was terrific. It was a big hit and put ABC Family on the map. Because of that, I got out of the mob thing and into other stuff. Unless something incredible comes along, the mob thing doesn’t interest me anymore. It’s like, we did it, it was great, and I don’t think you’re going to do it as well.
I never watched “Blue Bloods” before [starring on the show]. I never saw an episode. But I went back and watched some, and it’s a really well-written, well-acted show. The whole cast is great. Bridget Moynahan is as good as any actress I’ve ever worked with. Very underrated. Tom and Donnie [Wahlberg] and Will [Estes] and Vanessa [Ray] and Marissa [Ramirez] — terrific. Len Cariou, too.
Romance would ‘ruin’ the relationship between Erin and Anthony
Since you mentioned her, what’s it like working so closely with Bridget?
Great. She’s always prepared and really smart. She directed an episode last season, and I believe she’s going to do at least one other this season. I have no desire to do th at. I say, the less I know, the better. Just tell me where to stand. I’ll say my lines as believably as I can, and I’m gone. We get in; we get out; nobody gets hurt.
Bridget, she’s into camera angles and lighting, as are Donnie and Tom. They know all that stuff. She’s always prepared. I love working with her. I know when I go in to work with her, it’s going to be a good day. I especially like the scenes when it’s just me and her. Here’s a guy who’s very protective of her. She comes from a different world, and Anthony comes from the street, working his way up. He was a cop who worked his way to DA investigator. Anthony’s very smart at what he does, but she’s [on] a whole other level. She obviously has a lot of schooling. Bridget herself is great. I couldn’t ask to work with somebody any better.
I’m sure you’ve heard the fan theory by relation-shippers, as they call them, about Erin and Anthony becoming a couple. What are your thoughts on that?
First of all, Erin is out of his league. Second, it would ruin the whole chemistry and relationship. What are they going to do? Go out on dates? Move in together? Then what’s going to happen? I’ll tell you what’ll happen. They won’t work together anymore, and then we lose the whole thing. So I don’t see it ever happening, and I don’t think it should. Storyline-wise, that’s not a great idea.
It worked with Will and Vanessa’s characters. I think that had to go there. They were partners. But this is a little different. She’s the boss. Anthony works for her, watches out for her, protects her the best he can, and I think that’s what makes it good.
Donnie Wahlberg feels ‘bad’ about making fun of Anthony
Onscreen, you and Donnie Wahlberg have bickered a lot, but I assume that’s not the case in real life. Any funny behind-the-scenes stories you can share about the times you’ve worked with Donnie?
I think Donnie feels bad that he has to say the fat jokes, to be honest. They haven’t been doing much of that lately. We haven’t argued in a while on camera. Donnie feels bad. He’s a good guy. I don’t mind making fun of him, but I don’t think he wanted to make fun of me so much. He’s a terrific guy, a lot of fun. He’s the life of the party, a very smart, very good guy. He knows his stuff.
He has some very fervent fans, too.
Hey, come on, New Kids on the Block? Look at these guys still selling out arenas. They sold out Fenway Park, and Donnie seems to be steering that ship. He’s got millions of fans, and rightfully so.
What can we expect from Season 13, both in terms of overall storylines and your storyline in particular?
It’s going to be a good season. The show seems to have more and more fans. More people stop me now for playing Anthony than [for] “The Sopranos.” It’s amazing to me how many people watch and love the show.
When I went to the Yankees game, an 89-year-old woman smacked my arm as I walked by. I looked down and she said, “I watch you every Friday night.” And you know what’s funny? [The recognition] happened almost immediately. As soon as I did the guest spot, I went to a restaurant in Brooklyn and so many people were like, “I saw you last night.” It was immediate.
As far as what I can tell you [about Season 13], it’s more of the good stuff. Some guest stars come in, and there’s a lot of action. I can’t give away too much, but there are some good ones coming up.
Working on The Sopranos was like ‘hanging out with your friends’
Can you share a favorite memory from “The Sopranos”?
The first scene that I did, I was kind of green. If I knew what I know now, I would’ve been much more nervous. I was naive, in a way. The show was big, but not as big as it became. They wouldn’t fly me out or put me up in a hotel. I was still working a full-time job in Vegas, and I flew myself out and put myself up in a hotel in New Jersey. I paid somebody to drive me to the set because they wouldn’t even pick me up.
My first scene was with Jim Gandolfini, Stevie Van Zandt, Vinnie Pastore, and Tony Sirico — basically, the four leads of the show. It was a scene in the back of the pork store where Tony threatens Bobby. As soon as the scene was over, it was like I was in the club. It’s like I knew these guys forever. That’s a good memory.
I have a lot of good memories. We were very close, like a family. I know everyone says that, but this was legit. We had a lot of fun and traveled a lot together for appearances and charities. We had a good time. We were in our 40s, most of us, and we were hitting bars and restaurants and casinos and had a lot of laughs. Now Jim is gone, and Tony Sirico is gone. As sad as I get about that, I still think back to how much fun we had.
Michael Imperioli and I talk about it a lot. We had a podcast together. We have a book out together. We’re still very tight. I was reliving my 20s even though I was in my 40s — the laughs, the craziness, and staying out all night. Going to the Emmys, which I hated, walking the red carpet, sweating through my tux, I would tell my wife, “Am I crazy? Why do I hate this?” Now I would like to go back.
I was spoiled. People are in the business for years and never go. Here I am, brand new, and I go to the Emmys four times and to the SAG Awards five times. And luck[ily] enough, we won. I’m very proud of that. HBO flies you first class and puts you up at the Peninsula Hotel and gets you limos. It’s fantastic, but for some insane reason, I would get nervous and anxiety. Now I would have a much better time.
We traveled as a group. We had a bar tab at the Peninsula. Who knows how big that was. HBO picked it up. It was fun going to work. It was like hanging out with your friends. All of us are joking and laughing. When you’re together all that many years, you go through divorces and marriages and kids being born. I would describe being on the show at the time as playing for the New York Yankees. It was amazing wherever we went. It’s never going to happen again. It’s once in a lifetime.
[With] “Blue Bloods,” I love the cast, but everybody’s a little older. They have their families, and it’s different. You go in; you work. We all get along. I’ve never, ever seen one thing on the set of “Blue Bloods” [like an] argument. I saw some on “The Sopranos.” There was fighting like brothers and sisters, but not one time have I seen any of that on “Blue Bloods.” Everyone’s completely respectful. It’s a different vibe.
He still has the ‘choo-choo hat’ he wore as Bobby
Do you have any souvenirs or keepsakes from “The Sopranos” that you cherish?
I have the choo-choo hat, and I have the fat suit, which I wore for my first two seasons. I have the 2nd-season fat suit in California at my house. I have it hanging on a hanger.
I have this movie [poster of “Nicky Deuce”]. It’s one of Jim’s last movies. I wrote the book, a kid’s book. I’m in it. Michael is in it. Vincent Curatola is in it. Tony Sirico is in it. The last time I saw Jim was at the premiere of this in LA. It was May 20, and he died on June 19.
I have a lot of pictures, but that’s all I kept. Oh, I have some clothes. I have the shirt from when I got shot. I have some scripts and clothes and that kind of stuff. I have it in a box somewhere. I got some good stuff. I got what I wanted. Someday, it’ll be worth some money, I guess. Maybe even now.