Think Paolo Colandrea is ready to set the record straight on The Sopranos‘ famously cryptic series finale, 10 years after its airing?
That said, the Naples-born owner of a Bucks County, Pa. pizzeria does have some tales to tell from his turn as “The Man in Members Only Jacket,” the diner patron whom some theorize emerged from the men’s room to whack Tony, just as the HBO series abruptly cut to black on June 10, 2007.
Colandrea’s journey to being a part of TV history began when a casting director for The Sopranos spotted his headshot hanging in Penndel Pizza and asked their waitress about the man that face belonged to. “They said they wanted to meet me,” Colandrea shares with TVLine, “and the next thing I know they called me up for an interview in New York.”
About a month later, Colandrea arrived at Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionary, in Bloomfield, N.J., to begin filming the mob drama’s vexing denouement. There, the wardrobe department “dressed me from head to toe,” including the Members Only-style jacket that is the linchpin of many a theory tying his unnamed character to the supposed murder of crime boss Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini), who at the time was enjoying a plate of onion rings with wife Carmela and son Anthony Jr. (played by Edie Falco and Robert Iler).
Colandrea says he had been “a follower” of the acclaimed HBO series (“Every Italian man would love a part in The Sopranos, and I got one!”), and yet the significance of the scene he was about to be a part of did not hit him until his next stop, in the make-up trailer. “There I find Edie Falco, and she told me, ‘This is the part of your lifetime!'” (As he looks back, Colandrea is moved to remark, “What a beautiful lady [Edie] is, just unbelievable.” James Gandolfini, who passed away almost four years ago in Rome, Italy, meanwhile is warmly remembered as being “really, really, really nice…. A big teddy bear!”)
It would take two shoot days — of 12 and then six hours, often filming during daytime with Holsten’s windows blacked out — to lock down the fateful sequence, and always with “Don’t Stop Believin'” actually playing on set. As for how he was directed by series creator David Chase to play his wordless role (entering ahead of Anthony Jr., toying with a coffee at the counter, and then ducking into the restroom), “They asked me to be myself,” Colandrea says plainly. “They told me what to do and I did it. That’s about it.”
Series creator Chase himself has said, “I just wanted the guy to look over. I didn’t want him to look particularly menacing…. We worked on that quite a bit so he wasn’t staring at him. The guy was like looking around the place in general…. And [Tony] can never be sure that any enemy is completely gone. He always has to have eyes behind his head.”
Still, the precious little that “Man in Members Only Jacket” did was enough to spark fan speculation, often pegged to that season’s “Members Only” episode, often quoting “Sopranos Home Movies” (“You probably don’t even hear it [when whacked]”) and sometimes positing that if Meadow had parallel-parked her car more quickly, she would have been seated next to her dad and thus obstructed any gunshot from the 3 o’clock direction of the men’s room.
When we caught up with Colandrea this week, he was aware that the finale’s anniversary was nearing, if only because, he shrugs, “Ten years went by!” Yet to this day, he affirms, “Everywhere I go, people still come to my restaurant for pictures and to ask the same question — ‘Did you kill him?'”
And his response, a decade later, remains firm and unchanged. “I can’t answer that question because I signed a contract, so…. It’s going to stay with me for a while,” he explains. With a laugh, he adds: “I’m still receiving checks!”
Rewatch The Sopranos‘ final scene and share your own memories of that finale. Did you, as I did, phone your cable company to complain that the feed had cut out??