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The Surprising Sopranos Character Based On The Actor's Real Life

"The Sopranos" was a groundbreaking series boasting an incredible collection of characters that fans still love to revisit even 15 years after its ambiguous (and hotly contested) series finale in 2007. However, what was even more impressive about this award-winning show was that among the favorites and feared like Tony (James Gandolfini), Silvio (Steven Van Zandt), and the mom who "didn't like that talk," Livia (Nancy Marchand), many inhabitants of Tony's world were based on real people.

For example, "The Sopranos" creator David Chase has admitted that the likes of Tony's ongoing therapist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), spawned from a particularly interesting origin. Indeed, even the head of the family brought to life by the late, great James Gandolfini himself endured experiences similar to real-life gangster Anthony "Tony Boy" Boiard (via The New York Post). However, one actor on the series needed very little research in taking material from fact and twisting it into this beloved fictional world, mainly because the inspiration came from the man himself, overt hygiene and all.

Tony Sirico was the inspiration for Paulie Walnuts

None stood out among the colorful characters working under Tony's command more than the silver-tipped Capo, Paulie Gualtieri, as played by Tony Sirico. Making finger-pointing a skill and having the utmost respect for artwork (even if it is an unflattering portrayal of his boss), Paulie was devoted to the family business as much as his own mother. Incredibly though, some critical details in Paulie's background and personality came directly from the man who played him. Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2012, Sirico revealed that his home life lined up with his character on the hit HBO show remarkably well. "I lived with Ma for 16 years before she passed," Sirico said. "David knew that going in. That became one of my storylines."

Interestingly, Sirico's life before the show was also similar to Paulie's, including a number of troublesome encounters with the law. According to an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1990, Sirico has been arrested a total of 28 times in his life. Indeed, Sirico's very first charge stemmed from stealing change at the young age of 7. In his later years, he spent lengthy periods in prison on two occasions, with armed robbery being his most consistent charge. According to Sirico, a life of crime came with the territory of where he grew up. As he explained, "where I grew up, every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole. I had both." 

And now he has one of the most iconic roles in the gangster genre, (no offense, T).