Michael Imperioli on Why Actors Need to Trust Their Impulses

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

This interview was conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Because he spent six seasons playing Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos,” Michael Imperioli is used to a wide range of reactions from fans. Love him? Hate him? He’s heard it all. The actor recently earned an Emmy nod for his turn as the sex-addicted Dominic Di Grasso on “The White Lotus.” Currently, he can be seen on the second season of Hulu’s “This Fool.” 

What performance should every actor see and why?

[Gena Rowlands in] “A Woman Under the Influence.” That’s number one. It’s just so incredibly honest. 

Is there a film or TV show you particularly love, current or past?

I love “American Dad.” I just think it’s very clever and really, really funny. My dad was visiting for Christmas, and I turned him on to “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” which he had never seen. That’s, I think, my favorite Woody Allen movie. 

You know what else I watched recently? I was in a really depressed state of mind because I was sick. I was supposed to go to England, and I got sick and I was alone. My wife was out of town. I was laid up with this horrible respiratory infection. I got on a [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder binge. It’s not a good well to dip into when you’re feeling depressed, because he creates vibe so well. But, man, [the vibe of] “In a Year With 13 Moons.” He’s just a master of creating those things. I’m very fond of him. He was very original and unique.

Michael Imperioli on “The White Lotus”

Michael Imperioli on “The White Lotus” Credit: Fabio Lovino/HBO

Is there a mistake you’ve made in your career that you’ll never make again?

No, but I’ve grown to really trust my impulses more. When you’re young, you want success and you want to have a career. A lot of my friends are actors. Sometimes, we call each other up and we say, “What do you think of this job? They’re not paying me what I deserve,” or, “They are paying me what I deserve, but the script’s kind of shit.” I learned to really, really know why you’re doing something. If you need to make some money because you’ve got to pay your rent or you’re paying your father’s rent or you’re building a theater, which we did, and you want to go do some piece of junk, go ahead and do it. It’s when you fool yourself into thinking, Well, I’m really doing this because it’s going to be good for my career…[then] there’s no getting to the next level; there’s just what you’re doing at the moment.  

What role shaped you most as an actor?

[Christopher on] “The Sopranos,” because we did, like, 80 [episodes] and I did it over so many years. Playing a character for that long, and as an experience within the industry of acting, as well… We went from a show that nobody had heard of—we were all kind of working character actors—to being stars on the biggest show on TV. It’s quite a perspective to see the industry from, and very different than [what] we’d had in the past.

Have you ever been surprised by how an audience reacted to one of your characters?

I’m always surprised at the range of perceptions of [my] characters. There are people who absolutely despise Christopher Moltisanti, and there are people who love him—who write love letters: ”My fantasy. I want to be his wife.” Scary shit, too. 

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 10 issue of Backstage Magazine.