EXCLUSIVE: One of our favorite people is Joey “Pants” Pantoliano. He played Ralph Cifaretto for two seasons on “The Sopranos,” from 2001-2004, 23 episodes in all. Joey does not want to be interviewed about James Gandolfini right now. He hung up on Greta van Susteren live last night on Fox News after her producers ambushed him and started asking what he thought were inappropriate questions.
Today, Joey told me after, believe me, a lot of prodding: “Our first scene together, we were blocking for rehearsal. Jimmy grabbed my hand, we were nose to nose. He said, ‘It’s a pleasure and an honor to be working with you.'” He took a breath. “He had those sad eyes. If you looked deep inside them, you could see your soul.” He added: “I’m so sad for his family. His sisters, his son. I got to meet his father [who died in 2005]. He was such a small man, physically, compared to Jimmy…”
Pantoliano says they used to joke about their health and getting older. “We were shooting a diner scene, in a real diner. Jimmy was eating steak and eggs. I think he had like four breakfasts. I said, “Hey, we gotta be careful now. We’re getting older.” Jimmy said, “I love steak and eggs. Anyway, 25% of my arteries are blocked.” I said, What? He said, “That means 75% aren’t.”
Joey is keeping to himself for the next few days. “Jimmy was very private. He didn’t like publicity, you know that.” He added: “I loved him.” The only other Soprano he’s talked to so far is Edie Falco. “She’s the same way. We’re in shock.”