Monday, June 11, 2007

Pizza Man Soprano Mystery Man

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

After eight years and 86 episodes, the ultimate fate of fictional New Jersey crime boss Tony Soprano might be determined by a pizza shop owner from Penndel.

Paolo Colandrea, owner of Paul's Penndel Pizza, last month filmed a potentially pivotal scene for the final episode of “The Sopranos,” the groundbreaking HBO mob drama that says goodbye at 9 Sunday night.

Colandrea, 47, describes his role as simply “mystery man,” a guy who walks into a diner and locks eyes ominously with Tony, who's sitting at a table with wife, Carmela, and son, A.J. Colandrea sits down at the counter, stares at Tony again, gets up to go the bathroom, and ...

He can't say what happens next. But even if he could, it might not mean a thing.

“Sopranos” creator David Chase reportedly filmed three different endings to ensure secrecy. Colandrea, who spent 18 hours on the set one day and 10 hours two weeks later, doesn't even know if his scene will appear.

“I don't know. Nobody knows,” the charming Italian said while sitting in the restaurant he's owned since emigrating from Naples in 1978. “They keep it so closed, not even the cast knows all that's going to happen. I can assume, but I don't know.”

Colandrea, who doesn't have any lines, filmed his scene at Holsten's Diner in Bloomfield, N.J. Off camera, he said he mingled with series stars James Gandolfini (Tony) and Edie Falco (Carmela) and met Robert Iler (A.J.) and Chase. During his first day of filming, he shared a sushi dinner with Gandolfini, Falco and the crew.

“He's such a nice guy, just an unbelievable person,” Colandrea says of Gandolfini. “And Edie Falco, she's the sweetest woman you ever want to meet.”

Colandrea, who earned more than $3,000 (before taxes) for his role, also saw Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow) on the set but didn't talk to her. “She's so gorgeous,” he said. “She has bodyguards with her, but I don't blame her.”

So how does a pizza shop owner with no previous acting experience land a role on the final episode of the most acclaimed program in cable television history? Right place, right face, really.

Earlier this spring, Eileen DeNobile, owner of the Lawrenceville, N.J.-based Noble Talent Management, was looking for an Italian man, about 6 feet tall, between the ages of 30 and 50, for a part on “The Sopranos.” She stopped into Penndel Pizza for dinner one evening, saw the framed photo of Colandrea pouring a glass of wine and thought she might have found her man.

“That's authentic Italian all the way,” said DeNobile, who already knew Colandrea casually. “He certainly looks the part. Plus, we were looking for a person easy to work with, and he's got a great personality, very bubbly.”

DeNobile sent the photo and a recommendation to HBO, and Colandrea was invited to audition in New York City, along with 29 others. The audition consisted of performing the actual role as it appeared in the script. A few days later, Chase called Colandrea and asked him to come to North Jersey for a costume fitting. The part was his.

“It's unbelievable,” said Colandrea, a fan of the show since its debut in 1999. “For an Italian, it's the experience of a lifetime to be on "The Sopranos.' ”

Colandrea, a single father of two daughters, said he plans to watch Sunday's episode with about 100 friends and family members at a cousin's house in Ewing. (“I have to cook for all of them,” he said, smiling.)

Meanwhile, he said, “half of Italy” is waiting to hear what happens Sunday night. And if his scene ends up on the cutting-room floor?

“Everyone knows there's nothing I can do, that it's out of my power,” Colandrea said. “But I'm thinking, "Why make me go up again after two weeks if they're not going to use me?' I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Thanks to Andy Vineberg

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