While Sopranos fans were surprised when Uncle Junior lifted his voice in song on this season's final episode, it was hardly a challenge for the character's portrayer, Dominic Chianese. The 70-year-old actor may have found late-blooming fame playing the crusty patriarch on HBO's mob drama, but his real dream is to put a hit on the charts.
"I started my career as a singer," he tells TV Guide Online. "Growing up, all during my raging hormone phase, I saw all these women swooning over this skinny kid named Frank Sinatra, and I thought, 'Maybe they'll do that to me someday.'"
In fact, Chianese — who toured with a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe and worked at Folk City in New York City's Greenwich Village before he started acting — is capitalizing on his TV notoriety with the release of Hits, an eclectic CD collection featuring classics such as "Santa Lucia" and "Amazing Grace." "I'm ready to become the Sinatra of the older set," he laughs. "Finally, I may get to realize my secret ambition."
As The Sopranos' Uncle Junior, Chianese has been involved in his fair share of dirty deeds. Still, he defends the softer shade Junior displayed as a crooner. "He's Italian, so he would naturally like to sing because he has a sentimental side," he says, "Plus, he had a few drinks, so he was a little emotional. But I admit that for him to sing was quite a stretch."
The bigger stretch for Chianese is getting comfortable with all the cursing, a Sopranos staple. "Those glasses do it," he says. "All I have to do is put on Uncle Junior's glasses and that hat and I start cursing. I never swore much as a child. Actually, my mother told me recently, 'You're good on the show, but you curse too much.'
"Lately, I've been finding that if I get mad or lose my temper — like hitting my thumb with a hammer — I will come out with a string of really bad curses," he adds. "Sometimes, I curse in Italian because it's more fun. It sort of sounds like an aria."
As for next season (which won't kick off until next April), Chianese knows his life depends on keeping the show's deep, dark secrets. However, he offers fans this tease: "Remember [Uncle Junior] said, 'I beat cancer, now I've got to beat the can.' He does have to beat the rap, so it seems logical that the authorities will be after me again."