Steven Van Zandt Took ‘The Sopranos Role’ Because He Was ‘Broke’

Steve Van Zandt’s role in The Sopranos was a thing of destiny.

In HBO’s Stevie Van Zandt: Disciple, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, June 8, Van Zandt recalls how he landed his role on the iconic show.

“He piqued my attention. He was really funny — glued you to the TV and very charismatic. I said, ‘That guy’s gotta be in the show,'” The Sopranos creator David Chase says in an interview.

After he got the offer from Chase, Van Zandt, 73 — who’s also known as Little Steven — got dinner with an old friend and told him he got an offer for an HBO show after he spoke at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1997.

“I said, ‘Steven, you can’t f—ing do that. You can’t be in television,” Lance Freed, a music publisher and son of Alan Freed, recalls in the documentary. “You’re Stevie Van Zandt. You’re a f—ing rock ‘n’ roll idol. You can’t do this. You’re gonna ruin everything.'”

“And he goes, ‘Well, I’m also broke,'” he adds with a laugh.

When Van Zandt was having doubts after he filmed the pilot, his friend Peter Wolf was there to talk him through it.

“Steven goes, ‘I did this pilot for this TV show about a mob family in Jersey and I don’t know if it’s the right thing,'” Wolf recalls of his conversation, adding that Van Zandt said “rock and rollers shouldn’t be on TV.”

Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt.

Euan Cherry/Getty Images

After providing examples of musicians who did have TV shows, Wolf made a good point.

“I said, ‘Steven, TV has no memory,'” he says. “If the thing is great, great. If the thing is bad, they’ll forget about it.'”

When he was auditioning for the role, Chase says that Van Zandt “didn’t want to take a job from an actor” — so they created a character for him.

“It was based on a character that he had invented named Silvio Dante,” he says.

“I wrote a whole biography on him. He grew up with Tony Soprano — that was his best friend. And I kind of used my relationship with Bruce [Springsteen],” Van Zandt — who’s still touring with the E Street Band — adds.

The Sopranos proved to be a massive success and Richard Plepler, the former CEO of HBO, says it was largely due to “the breadth and range and authenticity of this cast.”

“Steve Van Zandt was the personification of that surprise because he wasn’t a professional actor and you could see that he was made to do this. he was built to do this,” he says.

From playing with Springsteen — who is his longtime friend and was his best man at his wedding — on the E Street Band to leading political movements through music, Stevie Van Zandt: Disciple “tells the story of an artist through the eyes of those that saw him most closely — the peers and legends that came up before, alongside and after him,” according to the film’s description.

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