Buzzsaws, pistols, drawers, meat slicers… If it’s not nailed down in the story-driven underworld epic The Sopranos: Road to Respect for PlayStation 2, rest assured it can be used to bruise, batter, maim or kill opponents. But hey, that’s what it takes to capture HBO’s award-winning TV’s show signature menace, with the officially licensed, adult-oriented title (featuring highlights like real-time cursing and topless lap dances) easily earning its M for Mature ESRB rating.
Oddly enough, you play Joey LaRocca, illegitimate son of Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, a deceased former family enforcer turned informant. Busting heads and shattering kneecaps for Tony’s crew in the wake of a brewing Mafia war – which follows the murder of a Philadelphia mob boss’ nephew – making one’s bones isn’t easy. If Tony himself isn’t eyeing you with suspicion (or you eyeing him back… he did kill your father), Christopher will be busy giving you hell or immediate superior (and noted psychopath) Paulie Walnuts busting your chops. Thankfully, one guy we presume you won’t have to butt baseball bats is Big Pussy himself, as actor Vincent Pastore returns to lend a helping hand and fill in the role he first popularized.
Never mind having to survive a corkscrewing plotline designed with help from series creator David Chase and set somewhere between seasons five and six. Forget the fact that between visiting familiar locales like the Bada Bing and Nuovo Vesuvio, you’ll have to dispense with adversaries using brutal intimidation techniques, arson or murder. Ignore the need to hobnob with familiar faces like Silvio, AJ and Vito as well. The biggest challenge one must face here, according to Pastore, whom we recently caught up with? Just, ahem, getting your feet wet, so to speak. Read on and prepare yourself for what could be the most controversial criminal opus yet.
Are you a tough guy?
Q: As a serious – not to mention "slain" – actor, just what precisely are you doing appearing here in our videogame?
A: It’s a great chance to take a popular character that people know and love and bring it to a new market. There are a lot of kids and adults who love PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and other systems who watch "The Sopranos" and want to see more of Big Pussy. As an actor, games represent a great way to keep a character and their personality alive. Look at all the attention The Godfather game got, or this new Scarface title is getting. People love "The Sopranos," love playing games, and Road to Respect lets them feel like they’re a part of the show.
Q: How did the performance compare to your typical acting gigs?
A: Well, it’s almost like doing my Sirius satellite radio show or an animated movie like "Shark Tale." You go into a studio, rattle off some lines. Recording for The Sopranos: Road to Respect was great – I pretty much went in, had some fun with it. But I already kind of knew the direction they wanted my character to go, so it wasn’t a stretch. It’s a lot harder to act on-stage.
I just did a play, for example, and when you’re up there with an audience in front of you and you mess up, you can’t do a retake. You just have to press on, since you can’t do the line again. Acting for the stage or on film is much, much more challenging. But the ability to voice act is a gift in and of itself. I can see why people, once they’ve mastered the technique, would want to do it for a living… Because I did films like "Shark Tale," and because I do a radio show though, I’m very comfortable behind the microphone.
Q: What did the process involve?
A: We worked for a few days, took a break, would come back with new ideas… Although I won’t take credit for most of them – I didn’t change anything major from what I was asked to do. The character is who he is, and Big Pussy talks like Big Pussy. It’s not like I suddenly showed up one day and told [THQ] "let’s quote Shakespeare."
Q: The secret to you suddenly coming back to life in the game is…?
A: I don’t know that I’m at liberty to say. We don’t like to talk about that – you’ll just have to play to find out.
Have a seat…I insist.
Q: Fair enough. We’re you surprised they called you in for the guest appearance, though? It’s not like Big Pussy died anytime recently…
A: Well, listen… I was told that David Chase recommended me for it. David always promised me that somehow, someway that even after Pussy’s death that I’d still be part of the family. So it’s like David kept his promise. Was I surprised? No, because I know David always keeps his promises.
Q: Sources of inspiration for the appearance: Classic Mafia books and films, or…?
A: I come out of my room, go downstairs and have breakfast with a couple of these guys everyday. That’s a joke. When you grow up, we all cross these people – we know the language, we know how they dress and talk. It’s a lot of fun when we can make fun of that lifestyle.
Q: Growing up, you were familiar with a few of these seedy individuals – gangsters, if you will – from around the neighborhood, then?
A: Well, I grew up in New Rochelle [New York] and they said that wiseguys never existed there. But wiseguys exist in Italian-American communities all over the country. You know, that’s just a fact of life…
Q: The trick to coming off just as menacing in a game as a TV show or film?
A: I give full credit to the game makers – that’s all in the animated aspects of the title. I’m just talking; they’re the ones who set up the scenes. If I’m sitting talking to my son and he’s in a church kneeling, that’s not as exciting as the guy going off and hitting someone in the back of a head with a bat. That’s where my effectiveness comes from – the fact these guys paint a great picture in the game, just like you’d see in a crime movie.
Q: How scared or happy do you think people will be to see Pussy back and prancing around here?
A: I think they’ll be very happy. He’s probably one of the most popular characters on the series. People miss him. I think that whenever he shows up or is involved with anything related to "The Sopranos," they get excited.
Q: Why did fans seem to connect so well with him of all people on the series?
A: Probably because of the fact that, like many of these guys, he looks like your next-door neighbor, whether people want to admit it or not. It’s not just the wiseguy element – it’s the whole family element in play. People connect a lot better to that than they do spacemen against aliens or cowboys versus Indians. It hits a lot closer to home.
Q: Honestly: How much will longtime fans dig Road to Respect’s storyline?
A: I think they’ll really love it. I do. It’s a little different, but like with the show, or anything else that lasts a long time, you can’t keep feeding people the same story for three or four years. You’ve got to change things around, develop the characters and come up with new, interesting angles. And I think that’s what’s been done here. It’s a good way to prepare for the last season of the show, when everything’s about to come full-circle.
Q: Looking back, were you disappointed Pussy got whacked when he did?
A: No – I wasn’t disappointed at all. I was very happy that I was given the opportunity to show my acting chops. I got a lot of recognition from the show, and my career is in good shape because of it. In fact, I’m in the car now on the road to Providence, Rhode Island to do a personal appearance as one of the dead Sopranos. That should tell you something about the show: Even the dead guys are popular!
Q: Are you surprised that the series continues to be as well-received as it has been, spawning DVD box sets and digital spin-offs like Road to Respect?
A: Not at all. I think it could go on for another 10 years if they wanted it to. It’s been an amazing success for television. I remember when I met Kiefer Sutherland for the first time, and he came up to me and said that the reason he decided to do "24" was that he loved "The Sopranos" so much and saw how TV was changing.
Q: Ever play any videogames yourself?
A: Do I play games? Yeah, I play games, but not those kinds. You know, I just recently got up to speed with the computer. It’s like a completely different generation for me.
Q: Let’s say you had the opportunity to design one then. What would it be about?
A: I’m really into travel now. I like getting in the car and going places. It’d probably be a game where you’d drive all around, go out to remote locations all over the country and crazy things would happen. I’d really like to do it as TV show too. If you know anybody who’s interested, call me.
Q: Will do. Any last words of advice for those who see the show or play The Sopranos: Road to Respect and think they’d like to pursue a career in the Cosa Nostra?
A: A career in the Cosa Nostra? Well, number one – the Cosa Nostra does not exist. It’s just some name that Hollywood made up. I never heard of it. I don’t think you can go to college and get a master’s degree in breaking kneecaps, or be able to apply to the Cosa Nostra and get some work. I think that’s all Hollywood – in "The Godfather," it’s never even mentioned. In fact, I don’t think the word Mafia has ever been used on "The Sopranos" either. [Laughs] We’re just a bunch of guys who work together – it’s like any other workplace environment.
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