Brotherhood may ultimately be Tommy and Michael Caffey's story, but someone else stole the show last Sunday on the Showtime mob drama: Mayor Frank Panzarella, who came out as gay in the third season premiere.
"I was like, 'Really? That's gonna be challenging, but it's gonna be fun,' Al Sapienza, who plays Panzarella, tells TVGuide.com.
See what else the actor, currently starring on a stage production of Dirty Dancing, has to say about the revelation, how it will factor into this season's storylines, and why Brotherhood is (gasp!) better than The Sopranos in some ways.
TVGuide.com: The premiere was last week — some big revelations. How did the gay storyline develop?
Al Sapienza: The present mayor of Providence is David Cicilline. He's an Italian and you wouldn't know it by looking at him or hearing him speak, he's a very hetereosexual-looking guy, but he's gay. He's out about it. He doesn't care. So my character was a pretty macho guy with an edge. At the end of last season, we were doing looping and mixing, the creator, Blake Masters, and the writer, we were there, and they said, "You know what? If we go to a third season, the mayor is gonna be gay."
TVGuide.com: What was your reaction? Were you surprised? It's taken three years to reveal it.
Sapienza: I love roles that are different than what I am. I love that. I love to play murderers; I love to play anything that's different because it's really exciting. You delve into things that you wouldn't normally delve into in real life.
TVGuide.com: Was it just Mayor Cicilline that inspired them to come up with that? Or was there more?
Sapienza: You know what, there really wasn't. They were just like, "We want it to come out that he's gay and Tommy [Jason Clarke] will find out about it and he'll use that information to his advantage." How about I tell you that? [Laughs] Tommy Caffey will use that information wherever and whenever he has to use it to get me to do things for his favor.
TVGuide.com: So blackmailing basically.
Sapienza: Pretty much, but subtle blackmailing, within the confines of the law. A little bit in the gray area.
TVGuide.com: You don't see a lot of gay characters in mob shows. How did you decide to approach it?
Sapienza: The way I act in everything is to emulate truth and people I know. I've been in show business a long, long time. I know tons of gay people. I'm really good friends with lots of gay people and I work with them all the time, so I just basically...didn't do much. [Laughs] I just changed my mindset that I like sex with men. I didn't really change my speech or my vocal patterns, maybe a little subtle. When I play gay guys, and I've done it before, I just basically kind of keep it pretty straight and just add a teeny element here and there. That's what I do with everything.
TVGuide.com: Will we see more of you this season? This obviously opens up doors to storylines and a backstory. Has that been discussed?
Sapienza: Not yet. You will see more of me. We only did eight episodes this season, I'm very sorry to say, and hopefully it'll get picked up for another and we'll take it from there. But this season concentrated very heavily on their family aspects and so we'll see what happens. I think it's an excellent show. It's so well-written, so gritty. I don't want to say anything bad, but I wish they'd advertise it more.
TVGuide.com: That's true. You see more stuff for Dexter and Californication.
Sapienza: Yeah. Like when The Sopranos had a season premiere, there were posters on every bus. For some reason, they don't put any posters out. The fact that we're still surviving is just a tribute to Blake Masters. By word of mouth, it's surviving.
TVGuide.com: While we're on the subject of gays, I don't know if you've heard yet, but Prop 8 passed. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Sapienza: Oh my god! I voted against it! It's illegal in Calif— oh man, I did my absentee ballot. That is a shame. I'm going to play devil's advocate here and talk about both sides. Gay people should have all the rights that a married couple has. The other side of the coin is maybe people feel the word "marriage" should be dedicated to the 1,000-year-old traditional definition of marriage and call gay marriage something else. Maybe that's why it passed. But those people need those rights and they deserve those rights.
TVGuide.com: Now, a lot people liken Brotherhood to The Sopranos. You were on both [as Mikey Palmice on The Sopranos], so how would you compare them?
Sapienza: I think they're very similar. I think the writing is fantastic on both shows. What I like about Brotherhood — and god, I don't wanna say anything bad about The Sopranos — but Brotherhood is more real. I think The Sopranos got a little crazy to the point where they'd kill somebody every week and the cops were never around
TVGuide.com: They killed you!
Sapienza: Yeah! They killed me and the cops were never around. It got to the point where it was like a mob soap opera after a while and I just thought there should've been more instances where the police were investigating these murders much more actively. I wanna be very clear: I thought the show was fantastic. It was one of the best, if not the best, shows on television. Brotherhood, I love that they have the political side, so you see the machinations of local politics, which, half the time, is full of s---. Instead of being public servants, they're serving themselves and their friends.
TVGuide.com: You guys shoot on location in Providence. What's it like up there?
Sapienza: It's incredible. To [the locals], they love it. We're there there. When I shoot in the office, I'm in Mayor Cicilline's desk. He doesn't even empty the drawers. I have the respect not to touch his stuff, but he doesn't even empty his drawers!
TVGuide.com: They trust you guys?
Sapienza: I guess so! He leaves everything there — pictures on the wall. The prop guys just swap the ones they need, put pictures of me up. We're in his office at City Hall. They love us. New York and L.A. — they've got eight trillion shows shooting there. They don't care. But they get a kick out of it here. And Mayor Cicilline is in every season. He plays a little role in one episode and then he's a different character the next year. They treat us very well.
TVGuide.com: The show explores the bonds of brotherhood. Do you have any siblings?
Sapienza: I'm the youngest of five. I've got a lot of siblings! [Laughs] Being the youngest child, you immediately get political skills. If you're the first child and you want an ice cream bar, you ask your mother. She says no, so you figure out a way to con your father. You only have two people. If you're the youngest, first you start with your mother, then your father, then your older sister and by the time you get to the third or fourth one, someone's gonna give you the money. You're gonna get what you need. You learn how to talk to each person to get what you need. You get very loud, especially Italians, you don't shut up! When you're a little kid, you're just screaming to even be heard. It was a lot of fun.