I recently caught up with Robert Iler who plays A.J.Soprano, Tony's bratty
domestic foil, on The Sopranos
. Since its debut in 1999, The landmark
HBO series has zipped past hit status, bypassed cult phenomenon and has
attained the right to claim a culture all its own. There's no doubt that
A.J. Soprano is in need of a good spanking. Though in his defense, learning
that your father is the top organized crime boss in New Jersey in your
formative teenage years can't be easy. Iler agrees. His character, Anthony
Jr. (Tony Soprano's troubled son)
, has struggled in processing
this information. A.J. Soprano seems to revel in his family's notoriety
one minute, and vehemently resent it the next. Adding to his character's
plight is the constant comparison between him and his overachieving sister,
played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Sigler plays Meadow Soprano, the child in
household who is certain not to follow the family
Last season, Robert Iler demonstrated his acting chops
as his character grew disturbingly darker and more rebellious, with an
underlying hint of little boy lost. While he is careful not to divulge
any of Creator David Chase's well guarded plot secrets, he does share
that his character develops a great deal in this final season of The
Sopranos, which promises to tie up loose ends, and reveal the fate
of the Soprano family.
Robert Iler describes his character as both frustrating
and fascinating at the same time; a paradox that he loves playing. Entering
Soprano-land at the age of twelve, he wasn't privy to the fine points
of acting, or show business for that matter. He literally grew up on The
Sopranos, taking his lumps in the press, when some personal issues
were unwillingly put into the spotlight. It left the media-shy actor apprehensive
and fiercely protective of his privacy. During our interview, he also
expressed his desire to be known mainly for the characters he plays, while
allowing Robert Iler, the actor, to remain under the radar.
Robert Iler is now a seasoned young artist who is excited
about the future and very passionate about his craft. At twenty-two, he
credits James Gandolfini, Edie Falco and David Chase with instilling in
him, a strong work ethic, and a desire to "make everyone proud."
He speaks warmly of his hometown of New York City, and the joys of living
near family and old childhood friends.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): Are you guys still filming the last season
of The Sopranos?
Robert Iler: Some people are done and some people are still
filming. I'm still filming. I haven't had my last day yet.
PR.com: When you shoot a season of The Sopranos,
do you film it all in one shot like a continuous movie, and they cut it
up into episodes in editing, or is it shot by episode?
Robert Iler: They go by episode. We'll have a table read-through
where the cast gets together and we read the script. Then the next day
we start filming, and it goes anywhere from two weeks, to even as long
as a month. Then we just do it all over again and start [a new episode].
Sometimes at the end of the season they'll bring back something that they
need to re-shoot from the beginning. Usually the objective is to complete
[each episode], but sometimes if there's one or two shots they can't get
to, they'll leave it for a later time.
PR.com: Last season started on such a high dramatic
note with Tony getting shot, and there was a lot of drama with your character
as well. When the season ended, it was anticlimactic, and there were a
lot of loose ends that hadn't been tied up. What gets addressed in the
last season that people would be waiting for? I mean… whatever you
can tell me (laughs)…
Robert Iler: Yeah, that's the tough part about this show,
that you can't really talk about anything. People always ask me how it's
going to be and what's gonna happen. I always have the feeling that it's
gonna be great. You sit there and you take eight months to work on this.
Finally when it comes out, and we see the hard work that goes into it,
I always think it's amazing. There's not really much I can talk about
in what happens, but I think that it's a really great year. We just had
our premiere last week and everybody showed up. They air the first two
episodes at Radio City Music Hall. Everybody said that it started out
great, and that they couldn't wait for the next episode.
PR.com: Is this definitely the last season, without
Robert Iler: Uh... yeah (laughs). I would say
100% because… again, it's rough because you can't talk about what
goes on, you know? I think, and they said it a million times, this is
definitely the last season.
PR.com: What about the rumors that there is going
to be a Sopranos feature film at some point, to wrap everything up?
Robert Iler: That's all I've ever heard, are rumors.
I think the first time I ever heard about it, I think my grandfather came
up to me and he's like, "You're filming a Sopranos movie?!"
You know, you hear a lot of things, and I think it would be great. Now
that we're saying goodbye to everybody and people are having their last
days, you realize that not working with these people is going to be really
sad. If we got any kind of chance where they would bring us back to work
together, I know I would be there. But that's all I've heard, are rumors.
PR.com: So you know as much as the rest of us then…
Robert Iler: Exactly (laughs).
PR.com: Your character has become increasingly more
rebellious and dark as the seasons have gone on. Does he continue down
that path, or do we see some redemption in him?
Robert Iler: I really can't say.
PR.com: You're killing me!
Robert Iler: I would definitely say that I worked more this
year then I ever have before. David [Chase] gave me a lot of great work
and a lot of opportunity to go out there and show if I could do it or
not. You work with these people for so long that what I want to get out
of this is making other people proud, people like Jim [Gandolfini] and
Edie [Falco] and people like David Chase who I have worked with all these
years. Jim and Edie have taught me a lot just from working next to them
for so long, and hopefully I can just make everybody proud.
PR.com: You've also mentioned in the past that it's
kind of cool that you play Tony Soprano's son, because no one else's character
really gets to talk back to his character, but because you're his son
you can. So you guys get to play a lot of scenes where there's conflict.
Is that fun to play?
Robert Iler, James Gandolfini, Jamie-Lynn Sigler,
& Edie Falco
Robert Iler: Yeah, it's great. Ever since I was fifteen
years old, all of the scenes you see with Tony and another male figure,
people usually aren't talking back to him or answering him the way that
I would get to. It would be really great to do those scenes, and it's
always great working with Jim. He's so great at what he does, so any scenes
that we get to do together, I have a great time. Even just making faces
at him, you know, when he leaves a room and stuff like that. You don't
see a lot of people on the show talk back to Tony Soprano! So when it
would be a fifteen or sixteen year old doing it, I always found it very
PR.com: Do you have a favorite scene from all of the
past seasons of the show?
Robert Iler: The scenes that stand out a lot are always
any time we ever got together for dinner. Scenes with me, Jamie [Lynn
Sigler], Edie and Jim were always fun, but it was really great when we
would have the big Sopranos dinners and there would be ten people at the
dinner table. Those scenes take so long to film because there are so many
set ups and everything. Not just the scene itself, but the fun that we
would have just bullshitting around all day and hanging around set and
just having fun. Those are the ones that stand out.
PR.com: When you were cast on The Sopranos
at the age of twelve, and when you were filming the pilot episode, what
were your expectations?
Robert Iler: I didn't really expect anything. I was twelve
years old and I had done a lot of commercials, and this was my first series.
You get a job and you go do it, and I really had no idea. I know I was
thinking, "Oh wow! I'm on a TV show!" You think with a TV show
that you're going to be doing it for a while. But then when I went to
film the pilot there were a lot of people saying that it was just a one
episode thing, and we shoot the one episode and then if they pick it up
and like it, then you keep working. A lot of people worked for
so many years and they've done so many of these pilots. They kind of have
that feeling of, "It's never gonna get picked up." There were
a lot of people saying, "This is probably a one-time thing. I'll
see you around." None of us had that feeling, whatsoever, that we
would all be together for the next ten years.
PR.com: Do you get advice from James Gandolfini about
acting or about the business?
Robert Iler: Really just watching him… when I was sixteen
and seventeen people would always ask me, "You've worked with these
actors for five years, and what have they taught you?" They don't
really teach me anything. They don't preach to me and they don't tell
me things. Now as I've gotten older, I realize everything I've learned
has been from them, just from watching them and being around them.
PR.com: Do you want to stay on this career path? Is
acting going to be it for you? And what are your plans after The Sopranos?
Robert Iler & Jamie-Lynn Sigler
Robert Iler: When I started this, this was not what I
wanted to do. Now after the past ten years, I really could never imagine
myself doing anything else. I've developed a passion for it, and it's
something I really love now. Hopefully I'll be able to do it for the rest
of my life, not just in front of the camera, but also behind the camera.
I really like the idea of directing, and my friends and I work on writing
sometimes. The business itself, I've become very interested in.
PR.com: I know that David Chase is the writer and
creator of The Sopranos. Does he direct some episodes as well?
Robert Iler: He directed the pilot and he is now directing
the final episode.
PR.com: Are you interested in taking David Chase's
Robert Iler: I think I'm good at writing, but I'm not good
at sitting behind a computer by myself for hours, and actually doing the
writing. I'm good at sitting there with someone who really is good at
writing, and working with them on something. I need to be up and walking
around and shooting a lot of ideas out. I really admire someone who can
sit there at a computer and type out a thirty page script. I'm better
at giving my input.
PR.com: You're an idea man…
Robert Iler: (Laughs) Right…
PR.com: A think tank (laughs)!
Robert Iler: (Laughs).
PR.com: You haven't done much press over the years.
Are you media shy for the most part?
Robert Iler: In the past few years, I've had the attitude
that I would really like to not go out there and sell myself. I
don't want to get jobs as "Robert Iler." I'd like to get jobs
playing characters. It wasn't really a huge interest for me. When I was
young, I guess I kind of started off bad with press, and had some bad
experiences. When people write bad things about me in magazines, it's
kind of hard to sit there and go, "I can't wait to talk to the next
person about my life!" You know?
PR.com: What do you like most about your character,
A.J. Soprano, and what do you dislike about him?
Robert Iler: There's a lot of times that you just want
to toughen him up and you want to smack him and say, "Come on, just
go for it!" That kind of thing. I think what I like about him is
what we talked about before. It's the fact that he can be an eighteen
year old punk who talks back to somebody, who even the toughest characters
on the show, would never dream of talking back to. There's a lot of things
I would change about him, but then I think he's a great character to play
because of those things. He's a punk at school and scared at school,
but then he can come home to Tony Soprano and talk shit to him. That's
what makes the character great to play.
Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Edie Falco, James Gandolfini,
& Robert Iler
PR.com: Had you ever done research on real-life mafia
families or read anything about people's experiences, like John Gotti's
children, for instance?
Robert Iler: Not so much research, but just seeing how
their lifestyles are. When I started on the show I was only twelve years
old, so I was the only person who didn't know about it. It's not so much
that other people went and did research, it's just that when you're older
you hear about these things and you know about it. I remember I was something
like thirteen years old, and somebody on set had heard that I'd never
seen The Godfather or Goodfellas or anything like that.
I just remember people were flipping out and they were like, "You
go home this weekend and you sit down and watch these movies!!" and
"This is what we're doing!" (Laughs).
PR.com: (Laughs) Did you go home and watch
Robert Iler: Oh yeah! Now those are my favorite movies.
But like most twelve or thirteen year olds now, I hadn't seen Goodfellas.
My mom and dad did a good job at keeping that kind of stuff away from
me. There's a lot of stuff in Goodfellas that I wouldn't want my
twelve year old brothers or sisters to see. Now I love them and I watch
them all the time.
PR.com: Do you think that people in the United States
have an obsession with mob culture and the glamour of it?
Robert Iler: Yeah, but it's like how people are obsessed
with watching Hollywood. There's all these shows on VH1, just about people
who are rich. I think people watch them because they want to see how the
lifestyle is, and when people could live like that without ever doing
an honest day's work in their life, it's even more interesting. Up until
just a few years ago when I looked at acting… I was making, for a
sixteen year old, an amazing amount of money and usually I would just
walk into the kitchen and curse and get smacked in the back of the head.
Then I'd go home and hang out with my friends and be like, "Wow,
I'm getting paid for this? This is awesome!" And then in the past
few years I started to work more, and especially this year I worked a
lot. With Jim [Gandolfini], he'll work a sixteen hour day and then
he'll have to come back to work the next day. He has a couple hours off,
but when he's off, he's learning the five pages that he has to come in
and do tomorrow.
PR.com: And the famous Sopranos house… where
is that house located? And when you shoot interiors like the bedrooms,
living room, kitchen… where is that stuff shot?
Robert Iler: We shoot all of [the interiors] at Silver Cup
Studios in Queens.
PR.com: Have you actually been to that house where
they shoot the exteriors?
Robert Iler: Well that's where we shot the original pilot.
We did all the shooting for the pilot episode in that house. They had
no stage. When the show got picked up and they realized they were going
to need this house all the time, and people had been living there for
years, they needed to build a stage. The stage in Queens, it has our whole
house, and then it has a lot of other sets like Dr. Melfi's office and
Artie Bucco's restaurant. It has a lot of cool stuff. The actual house
is in Jersey, and we still go out there during the year to shoot the backyard
scenes or anything that's in the front.
Edie Falco, James Gandolfini, Robert Iler,
& Jamie-Lynn Sigler
PR.com: Were you born and raised in Manhattan?
Robert Iler: Yeah, all my life.
PR.com: Is that where you plan to stay?
Robert Iler: Yeah. I couldn't imagine living somewhere
without having a place in New York. This is where I feel like home is.
I love the people here. All of my family lives in the city. I actually
only live a block away from my mom, and my grandfather lives a block away
from me, and all of my friends who I grew up with… I love Manhattan.
PR.com: You're a lovely young man.
Robert Iler: Thank you.
PR.com: Wow, I feel so old! I can't believe that just
came out of my mouth (laughs)!
Robert Iler: (Laughs) Thank you Ma'am!
PR.com: Ma'am! Oh god!
'The Sopranos' airs its final episodes at 9pm on Sundays,
beginning April 8th on HBO. For local listings and schedule go to www.hbo.com/sopranos.