New Jersey sweetheart Steven Van Zandt had plenty of practice giving hard truths to his friend Bruce Springsteen long before he ever had to do the same for Tony Soprano. Ahead of the E Street Band member’s memoir, Van Zandt tells The Times his friendship with the iconic rocker influenced his role of character Silvio Dante in The Sopranos.
“I could certainly draw on my relationship with Bruce” Van Zandt says. “Part of the obligation of being a best friend is that sometimes you have to bring the bad news, to express an opinion that they’re not going to like.”
Like the mob boss Tony Soprano, Springsteen—who remains one of the biggest names in rock music—carries a lot of influence and power. As Springsteen’s righthand man in real life and as Tony’s righthand man throughout the 6 seasons of The Sopranos, Van Zandt kept these successful men grounded.
“With success like Bruce had in the ‘80s, you cannot help but lose perspective. You start thinking you’re a genius, the greatest thing in the world, and who’s gonna argue with you?” Van Zandt asks. “The mindset is: did you just sell 20 million albums? I was the only guy who wasn’t scared of Bruce, so I could tell him what I thought.”
One pivotal moment in their “tell it like it is” friendship happened when Van Zandt shared his honest opinion about Springsteen’s 1987 track “Ain’t Got You” from his album Tunnel Of Love. “We had been separate for a while at that point and he was trying to adjust from being this ridiculously successful guy, after coming from nothing,” Van Zandt explains. “He was trying to be honest about his situation in that song, but sometimes you can be too honest.”
In the track, Springsteen sings about his many riches, like “fortunes of heaven in diamonds and gold.” Van Zandt told him what no one else would—no one likes a bragger. “I had to say to him: ‘Nobody cares about your life. Nobody wants to hear about how rich you are,’” Van Zandt recalls.
In 2020, Van Zandt first touched on how he built his character from the ground up, turning to his lifelong friendship with Springsteen for inspiration. “I decided that I had to create this guy. First of all, I wrote a biography of who the guy was and I made up my own story. He grew up with Tony Soprano, he was his best friend, he’s the only guy who doesn’t want to be the boss, he’s the only guy he trusts,” Van Zandt told Rolling Stone. “I kind of used my relationship with Bruce, basically.”
Last week, Van Zandt revealed that The Many Saints Of Newark creator David Chase sought his feedback on early cuts of the film. A younger version of Silvio Dante appears in the origin story film, played by John Magaro. “I saw several of the early cuts. He’s been tinkering now with it for a couple of years. So it may be a whole different movie by the time I see it again.”
The Many Saints Of Newark is set to premiere on HBO Max and in theaters on October 1.