Michael Imperioli sat down with CNN’s Chris Wallace to discuss the iconic actors he met working on the sets of “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos” – and the scene that sent him to the emergency room.
Imperioli, 56, got his big break after being cast in Martin Scorsese’s classic mob film “Goodfellas” at the age of 23.
Working with Scorsese was a dream come true for the young actor, he said. “That’s like going from college to play on the Yankees in the World Series or something.”
And working with actors Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta was more “thrilling” than intimidating for Imperioli.
“For some strange reason. I really like when the stakes are high,” he explained. “I like being under a lot of pressure, in terms of work.”
He credits Scorsese with his comfort on set. “Marty made me feel so comfortable,” he said. “From the moment I met him, the moment I got there, he made me feel like I belong there. And I was an actor. And the very first job I had in film, the director did not make me feel that way.”
Scorsese “was very, very kind, and I think knew that – how important it was to me. Because I had been trying, I had been studying and trying to get work for, at that point six years, you know?” he said.
“Most of what you see is all improvised, which is even more a testament to how trusting he is of actors, especially young actors,” he said. “Working with legends here, you know, and allowing them to just be free to say what they want and respond how they want to respond is pretty, pretty amazing.”
Imperioli also recalled a moment when he was injured while filming the scene where he is shot and killed by Tommy, played by Joe Pesci.
“I’m supposed to go flying back into the bar and hit the ground with three bullet holes,” he said. “They have a stunt double. I said, no, I want to do my own stunt.”
But when he hit the bar, the glass he was holding shattered, slicing open two of his fingers. “I look up and I see Robert De Niro looking down at me,” he recalled. The injury was “pretty bad.”
A production assistant drove Imperioli to the hospital – where, seeing the fake blood and fake bullet holes on his chest, nurses thought he was severely injured.
“Three bullet holes in my chest and it’s Queens, New York. They think I’m about to die,” he said. He tried to explain he was filming a movie but “they think I’m delirious, talking about Robert De Niro.”
“So, they put me on a stretcher, wheel me into trauma, and I’m telling them what’s happening. They won’t listen to me.”
“Finally, they start going into my shirt and see all the squibbing, the wires,” which are connected to the packs of fake blood. “I said, I told you, I’m doing a movie. I cut my fingers.”
It wasn’t until two hours later that staff stitched up his wound and sent him back to set, where they filmed three more takes of the death scene.
Imperioli said he focused on working and didn’t “engage in a lot of chitchat” with the older actors on “Goodfellas.”
“The last thing I wanted to do was talk to them about acting, because I knew that’s not what they wanted to hear.”
But he did make a suggestion for the film that “really took a lot of balls,” he said. “I just kind of trusted my instincts, because of Marty, because he made me feel that way.”
He asked the props manager to allow him to reset the poker table where the mobsters are gambling. His character, Spider, acted as their “errand boy,” ferrying drinks and cleaning ashtrays. Imperioli’s idea was to move the bottles so that he could face the mobsters while he made their drinks instead of facing away, so he could better monitor who needed refills.
Making that kind of suggestion is “something an actor really would never do,” Imperioli said. “Because first of all, it’s a union job. And you don’t mess with union workers, right? Or you really might get shot.”
Additionally, “the props are very specific,” he said. “They have these continuity issues, depending on how they’re moving the camera around, and everything’s got to be the same.”
But Scorsese liked the idea – and they moved the bottles.
“When I think about it now, I’m like, I would never probably even think of doing that now because I just assume that the prop guy is going to do it right. I don’t need to do that,” Imperioli said.
“But there was something instinctual. And Marty made you feel like he wanted you to really live this.”