Above all, David Chase wanted The Sopranos to be different from TV shows that had come before it. That meant avoiding absurd plot twists that served only to extend a character’s (and thus an actor’s) life on the show. Yet despite all that, viewers did see the resurrection of Dan Grimaldi, who died as Philly Parisi in the season 2 premiere.
By the close of season 2, viewers learned that Philly had a twin brother named Patsy. During his feverish encounter with food poisoning, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) sees Philly in a dream and believes he’s Patsy at first. Then Philly turns to show the gunshot wound on his face.
So why did Chase change his policy on Grimaldi? It began when Chase saw the footage of Grimaldi as Philly Parisi. After cursing himself over killing off Grimaldi’s character, Chase decided he’s play “the twin card,” reasoning that every TV show gets one.
Grimaldi was happier than anyone about the decision to bring him back. But at that point, he needed another approach for Philly’s twin Patsy. Grimaldi decided he’d play him with the complete opposite temperament.
Dan Grimaldi played Philly Parisi as a loudmouth on ‘The Sopranos’
If you recall Grimaldi’s turn as Philly Parisi, it comes at the start of season 2. Philly goes to the airport to pick up Gigi Cestone (John Fiore), who’s pretending to be returning from a trip. At the end of the ride, Gigi pulls out a gun and shoots Philly dead in the car.
Tony Soprano ordered the hit because Philly had been spreading stories about Tony and his mom Livia. And though the stories were true, you don’t gossip about the personal life of an insecure (and very violent) New Jersey mob boss.
On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Grimaldi spoke of approaching Philly in the simplest way possible. “Well, Philly was a loudmouth,” Grimaldi explained. “Not that my father was a loudmouth, but when I watch Philly I see my father. My father was a tough, strong longshoreman.”
Grimaldi said his father grew up in South Brooklyn, which the mob ruled for much of the 20th century. “When I see Philly, I thank my father,” he continued. “I must have channeled [him].” Then he went about tackling the Patsy Parisi character.
Grimaldi played Patsy Parisi as ‘the quiet guy’ who’s also ‘the scary guy’
“First of all, I wanted Patsy to be different — different from everyone [on the show],” Grimaldi said on Talking Sopranos. “And I always believed that the quiet guy is the scary guy. And so I wanted him to be quiet, but yet to have that violent streak inside.”
So while Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico), Ralph Cifaretto (Joey Pantoliano), and other characters shouted their way through the series, Grimaldi’s Patsy lurked in the background. Grimaldi acknowledged that his background as an academic and professor probably influenced the writing of Patsy as well.
“You know, they also wrote for us in a way,” Grimaldi said. “They knew I had a PhD, so there was some of that, too. But basically, I wanted him to be quiet, strong, but yet a killer. The writers — Chase and Terry Winter and everybody — brought that out.”
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