When you sit down to have a conversation with Steven Schirripa, you know with absolute certainty that you’re getting the genuine article. In a business where the line between reality and make believe can often become blurred, the separation between who the man is and what the man does is crystal clear. It is this real McCoy quality to Schirripa that translates to his work and makes him the most likable person in any given scene, including memorable performances as Bobby ‘Bascala’ Baccalieri in “The Sopranos” and as Detective Anthony Abetemarco on “Blue Bloods,” which returns this Friday on CBS.
We recently sat down with Schirripa to discuss first pitch milestones, why he’s happy not chasing down every opportunity these days, and the reason millions of people are watching “Blue Bloods” week after week.
TrunkSpace: Before we get into the meat and potatoes of our chat, as baseball fans, we’ve got to ask… where does getting the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a Yankees game rank in terms of life moments for you?
Schirripa: That was a great day. George Steinbrenner invited us. We had met him, and he invited us and gave us his box. We could take our families, and then I think there were five of us that threw out the first pitch. Jamie-Lynn Sigler sang the national anthem. Yeah, that is right up there. That’s a good one. We were in the dugout – the players wanted to meet us, we wanted to meet the players. Torre was there. I also threw out one at the Cubs game and the Tigers game, and I’m proud to say I haven’t bounced it yet. A lot of pressure.
TrunkSpace: One of the things we always loved about you, Steven was, well… you. Every appearance we have ever seen you do, whether it was with Conan O’Brien or on “The Tonight Show,” your segments were always real and conversational. Nothing seemed scripted.
Schirripa: Listen, I can’t fake it, who I am. I’m not a Hollywood guy, so I can’t fake it. People, even when I used to do all the talk show appearances, and I’ve done just about everything, they would say, “Let me give you a joke.” I said, “I can’t tell a joke. I gotta tell stuff that is real, for me, part of my life.” I’m not a comic. Listen, I’m a regular guy that has had some really good jobs. That’s how I describe myself. I’m just a regular guy, man. I’ve gotten lucky, I’ve worked hard, and it’s all worked out, but I see things a different way. I was on the other side of the business where I bought acts and I produced stuff, so I was on that side. I look at things kind of from that side as opposed to the acting side where sometimes you talk to an actor, or a comic, and they have no idea what’s going on, or it’s, “I gotta talk to my manager.” I know what’s going on. I know how the business works. I’m a realist about the business. I don’t rely on anyone to make decisions for me. I’ll take advice, but in the end, it’s my decision.
TrunkSpace: Everybody talks about how the business is changing, but it’s more the front end that’s changing – the distribution if it all. The business is still operating as it always has.
Schirripa: Well, yeah. I mean, of course, you have all these different places and outlets, and the funny thing is, there seems to be so many more shows, but I don’t know… at one point the reality shows kind of took over, do you remember that? That’s maybe 10 years ago or so, and so, that was replacing everything and then that kind of went by the wayside a little, and then you got Netflix and Amazon, and there’s some really good stuff on there.
Listen, I’m 60 years old, I’ve been making a living for 18 years as an actor. I had a whole ‘nother life before that. I like what I’m doing. I like where I’m at right now. I’m not as hungry as I once was and running around and selling and trying to pitch. I’m just enjoying this job on “Blue Bloods,” which is a great job. It’s here in the city, and I’m just kind of taking a step back because all through the years, “The Sopranos” years, it was like pressure. You got on “The Sopranos,” it’s THE show. The show’s getting massive, bigger, bigger, bigger… you want more material. You have all these actors, and everyone wants to do more on the show. And then you want to sell stuff because you know it’s just going to end, so you do this, you do books, and you sell this. It was like a whirlwind. If I didn’t do something two days in a row it was like, “What the hell?” I needed to do interviews, or “The Tonight Show,” or writing the books. And now, I’m just kind of happy where I am.
TrunkSpace: When something like “The Sopranos” hits though, there’s got to be a part of you that must know it’s necessary to capitalize because that opportunity might not be there tomorrow?
Schirripa: Oh, absolutely. Look, I knew it was going to go away. Some guys didn’t, some guys thought they were kind of stars and that was gonna be it and we’ll ride this train forever. That is not true and I knew that wasn’t going to be true. I knew that from being on the other side of the business, that everything is going to end. That’s the one thing we can be sure of. So, me, I’m doing appearances all over the country and some of the guys are going, “Where are you going? Where are you going this weekend?” And I’m going, “Hey, I got three young kids, man. I gotta put them through college.”
So, without selling my soul, and I could honestly say I did not because I have been offered every reality, every piece of garbage along the way, and I would not dip my toe there. I did game shows to help my income at one point. “The $100,000 Pyramid” and “Hollywood Squares” and stuff early on, but I can honestly say, I knew it would go away. I’ve written six books, turned one of them into a movie. I was on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” which was a really good job and a really good show that I enjoyed. So, you gotta cash in while you can, and I don’t think I left anything on the table.
TrunkSpace: When you’re working on a show like “Blue Bloods” or “The Sopranos” where you’re on them long term, does it start to feel like those periods are defined by those shows? Is it like, for you, “These are the ‘Blue Blood’ years. Those were ‘The Sopranos’ years.”?
Schirripa: Yeah, absolutely. The thing with “The Sopranos” years, and listen, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved it, and without “The Sopranos” I have nothing, but you were, seriously, always worried about getting killed off. That was a serious concern. You were always worried, “Oh, you’re gonna do one more season.” Or, “We need two years off.” It was like you got two years off from work. I think one time the longest was 15 or 16 months. That’s a long time to sit on the sidelines. We did okay. We weren’t getting stupidly rich – I wasn’t anyway. So, there was always pressure there.
Listen, I didn’t buy an apartment in New York until the show ended because I was always worried that I was going to get killed off or it wasn’t going to work out, or whatever. I had a house in Las Vegas and the first thing I did when I made money, I paid it off. I figured if all else fails, I get my wife and my three young kids and we’ll go back to Vegas and live in a house that’s paid for. At least I’ll get that covered. So that was my mindset there. Obviously, it all worked out with “The Sopranos.” It was a once in a lifetime thing, believe me – a moment in time that will never happen again.
TrunkSpace: And it’s a moment in time that has helped to define what television is today.
Schirripa: Absolutely, but I’m just talking the whole experience. The guys, the fellow actors and producers, the crew – it was a moment in time where it really was a family. We traveled together, we went through stuff together. I go to the set, “How you doing? Good to see you. How you doing?” We do the thing. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Just like most people with their every day jobs. “The Sopranos” was different. We vacationed together, we hung out together. It was like kind of playing on the Yankees, 2003, 2004 and 2005. We’re going out, we walk into a restaurant, you get a standing ovation, six of us. We enjoyed each others’ company, we traveled together, we did a lot of appearances, so we were together a lot on and off camera.
TrunkSpace: Which you must be able to appreciate even more now because as you have surely experienced, not every job is like that.
Schirripa: No, absolutely not. And I can honestly say everyone is very nice. I’ve very rarely worked with someone that wasn’t pleasant. Everyone’s very nice, and you work, and you go home, and you have a few laughs on the set, and that’s the job. And that’s 95 percent. But “The Sopranos,” there was always… listen, this wasn’t “Friends” where they had six of them and they’re not going anywhere. You were really concerned that every year somebody was going. You don’t want to be that guy. One, you’re gonna be out of work and number two, you’re gonna miss a good time.
TrunkSpace: Obviously “The Sopranos” was a huge hit, but with something like “Blue Bloods,” that’s a show that continues to be the most watched show in its night. As every cable show and streaming series becomes a part of the water cooler conversation, are network procedurals getting overlooked?
Schirripa: The show is a really, really well written show, and a really well acted show. For some reason, you know how it happens, I don’t know who makes these decisions, but it gets overlooked. It gets thrown in the pile. It’s not nominated for anything – not writing, not acting. I mean, are you kidding me? Bridget Moynahan, Donnie Wahlberg, Tom Selleck – they’re as good as it gets. I’ve worked with a lot of great actresses, Bridget Moynahan is as good as any of them.
They do get overlooked, but not by the audience where 14 million people are watching the show. 13 or 14 million, with DVR, and they’re watching the show week in and week out. “The Sopranos” never got those numbers because not that many people at the time had HBO. Then you see some shows that get all the hype, “Girls” being one of them. You didn’t get a half a million people watching that show. No one got more publicity than “Girls,” no one… cover of every newspaper, magazine at the beginning. “Mad Men?” Cover of everything. Hey, great shows, all the hype, but not that many people watching them. This show gets watched.
It’s also not unlike the Emmys. One year a show is nominated for five Emmys – all the actresses, actors – they’re all nominated. And a year later, the show has cooled off and no one is nominated. What? They forgot how to act? They’re not good anymore? And that’s exactly what happens. They’re on here, they’re off here. You go cold. All “Blue Bloods” does is it just keeps on going, keeps on getting viewers. The show is a really, really good show.
TrunkSpace: Well, that’s what’s so great about a show like “Blue Bloods” is that it keeps its head down and gets the job done. It doesn’t try to be something that it’s not.
Schirripa: Absolutely, as it should. People love the show. It used to be always, “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby…” when I walked around New York, but now, it’s, “Anthony, Anthony, Anthony…” Everybody’s watching this show, man. If they don’t catch it on Friday nights, they catch it On Demand, or certainly in syndication. It’s all over the place. Plus, what I love about it, not unlike “The Sopranos” where New Jersey was like another cast member, the streets of New York are another cast member here. And that I like very much, shooting in Brooklyn and in Queens, and here in Manhattan. That I like. There’s nothing worse than a show supposedly in New York, but they’re really in Toronto. There’s nothing worse.
“Blue Bloods” returns from a month-long hiatus Friday on CBS.