Joseph R. Gannascoli is a successful actor who is best known for his role in the hit HBO series The Sopranos, in which he played a major role, as his character progressed in unforeseen ways. The scenes that he was a part of are among the most unmistakable moments throughout the show, which are considered by many to be turning points in the award-winning cinematic masterpiece. Gannascoli is beloved by the millions of loyal viewers who watch — and rewatch — the series.
What many do not know, though, is that Gannascoli is one of the very few actors who played more than one role in the story
“I believe I was among one or two characters who played more than one role in the series,” he says. “I first appeared in season one in the iconic bakery scene. My two characters were completely different: One a normal, everyday civilian and the other a mobster with a dark secret. The first scene that I appeared in, in many ways, was an homage to Goodfellas, where two characters were shot in the foot.” He would then become much more prominent when he would take on the role as Vito. From this point, through the sixth season of the program, Gannascoli had a leading role.
The character Vito was first introduced as the nephew of mobster Richie Aprile. He was also the cousin of Jackie Aprile Jr., whom he would later kill. He would begin as a mid-level contractor. Throughout the story, he would grow to become Tony Soprano’s top earner. Among the captains, he may not have been the most trusted, but he was the person who brought in the big bucks for the big boss, which fared him well.
In one of the most iconic scenes of his role, Vito would be outed as gay. The change in role was actually Gannascoli’s suggestion. The season five shocker would change how the world thought of Vito, who immediately saw life changes flash before his character’s and the world’s eyes.
“In season five, I was caught with a male security guard,” Gannascoli says of the scene. “That year, 2005, was a turning point in television. At that time, there were very few characters who were portrayed as gay — and fewer gay mobsters. I’m a self-taught actor, and I thought the role would be challenging for me, as I would begin, again, to play someone who I was completely different than.
“After that scene aired, I was the talk of popular television and radio broadcasts,” he continues. “I was invited by Howard Stern to join him in Vegas. I remember the moment when we watched the final show — I was with about 20 people and they basically fell off their chairs.”
Later, Vito’s story would come to a tragic ending. He was torn between three lives — his mob life, his family life, and his affairs. He would leave to live with a partner in New Hampshire, when his character felt the inclination to get back involved with Tony and “the life.” Viewed as a risk to the family, Gannascoli’s character would meet his demise in season six. Despite his character’s untimely ending, Gannascoli is clearly proud of his character and the episodic role he played.
“At that time, a lot of actors probably wouldn’t have done it,” Gannascoli says, alluding to the changing social atmosphere of America at that time. “I was always comfortable with it from being in the restaurant business. I always wanted an acting challenge. It was a huge moment in television that changed my life, and it changed television in a lot of ways.”
What is lesser known about Gannascoli is that he has had a lifelong passion for cooking. While he says that his family was not a traditional, “gather around the table” family, he developed a liking for the culinary arts. After leaving college, he began his career in the kitchen. He would travel the country holding many cooking positions before he got his first job as chef in New York. His education and knowledge were furthered along the way, but it was put on pause in order to pursue his career in acting.
“I left New York to pursue a career in acting,” he says. “I went to Los Angeles. In the kitchen, I learned by doing, reading and watching. Much like that is how I learned to act. I made some connections and was lucky, but I hustled.”
After his career with The Sopranos ended, Gannascoli would take up the culinary arts once more — rather by accident, he says.
“I was asked by a few couples to come over and cook for them — make them a few dishes for a friend’s birthday,” he says. “They posted it to Facebook and next thing you know, people started to ask me if I could do the same for them.
“Today, I’ve done over 100 parties — I’m actually doing one as we speak,” he continues. “We make about 18 appetizers, pastas and main courses — and it’s an experience. I do trivia and tell my story. I do a Q&A, I take pictures with everyone and sign bottles of wine for people to take home. While it’s tricky because you never know what kitchen you are walking into, it’s really unique and I am the only one that does it, as far as I’m aware.”
His travels from kitchen to kitchen have brought him to the East End, where he says he has had the pleasure of preparing dishes for many. He has participated in the San Gennaro Feast in Hampton Bays for years, through his cooperation with local restaurants.
“While I am originally from Brooklyn and now live in East Rockaway, I have always loved the Hamptons,” he says. “When I am out there, people will always stop me and say how much they love the show and the iconic scenes I was in. I offer to take pictures with people who are hesitant to ask. I prefer to be an approachable guy because at the end of the day, that’s what I am, a regular guy, who happened to be in the right time and the right place.”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.