When it originally aired in 2006, the first half of The Sopranos’ sixth and final season was polarizing for several reasons: the overall length, an even heavier reliance on dream sequences than usual, and a storyline where the entire DiMeo crime family finds out that caporegime Vito Spatafore (played by Joseph R. Gannascoli) is gay. He flees to a quaint town in New Hampshire, falls in love with a man he affectionately nicknames “Johnny Cakes,” and eventually tries to return to his old lifestyle, only to be killed for his sexuality.
In a new oral history about the storyline in MEL Magazine, Gannascoli unpacks the story’s origin alongside assorted Sopranos writers and queer cultural critics. Together, they help examine the multidimensionality Vito brought to a show that often commented on repression and toxic masculinity. It also discusses what the show could have done better and what the legacy of the Vito story looks like in 2020.
One particularly illuminating section comes from adult film star and queer culture writer Ty Mitchell:
“This story falls victim to the criticism that a lot of people have toward gay representation in the early 2000s and the 1990s—that queer characters are always tragic,” he says. “Still, I enjoyed watching it and I got emotional watching it, and had I been watching in 2006 when I was coming out, it would have been really gratifying to see this character at all, even though it ends in tragedy.”
For Giannascoli’s part, he explains how and why he originally brought the idea for his character’s sexuality to the show’s writers, talks about the real-life mob figure who inspired Vito, and tells some fond behind-the-scenes stories of co-star John Costelloe, who died by suicide in 2008.
“I can’t say enough good stuff about him,” Giannascoli remembers. “Although, I do remember telling him, when we were rolling around in the grass in one scene, ‘John, do me a favor, the mustache, you gotta brush it to the side. It’s a little much for me.’”
The whole thing is worth a read over at MEL.
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