The actor Tony Sirico, who has achieved fame as the character Paulie “Walnuts” Gaultieri on the TV series “The Sopranos,” did not always aspire to be an actor. As a kid from Brooklyn, NY, Sirico says his original childhood dream was to be a pugilist. “Wanted to be fighter. Fought in the (Golden) Gloves, the PAL sub-novice, in the streets, fought in the Army,” says Sirico, born in 1942. “Pretty good with my hands. I love the sport a lot. I’m glad I never flattened my nose. I got it out of me. Didn’t know that I really loved acting until I found it. And my God, once you got the itch for acting, forget about it. You can’t scratch it.”
So what was the genesis for this young tough guy’s affinity for the performing arts? “Well, I saw a group of actors perform one day – a little comedy sketch,” he recalls. “And the minute I watched them, I just knew I wanted to be an actor. I knew I could do it.”
He has been doing it ever since – for three decades. But success was sometimes elusive. “I’ve been filming for 35 years. It’s not like I’ve been lucky all those years – for 25 of them there was a lot of rejection.”
Some of his career highlights were appearances in Godfather II, Goodfellas, Mickey Blue Eyes, Miller’s Crossing, Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, Dead Presidents, Innocent Blood, 29th Street, The Big Bang, Cop Land, Deconstructing Harry and It Had To Be You. He also made TV appearances in Kojak, Miami Vice, Cosby and played some bit parts in Woody Allen films.
Sirico, who resides in Brooklyn, still loves and follows the sport. He attends many of the big matches at Madison Square Garden and vehemently disagrees with the general opinion that the sport is struggling or fading in mainstream popularity. “No, no, no,” he states. “Why? Because there’s no big heavyweights? We got some great fighters here today. Manny Pacquiao. Are you kidding me? There’s some great fighters still going on here. There are some great fighters out there and I love watching.”
A couple of welterweight kings from Puerto Rico particularly impress him. “Miguel Cotto is a big favorite of mine. I love him, love the way he fights. All of his fights are exciting. He fights very good and I knew it was hanky panky in that fight with Antonio Bandero, what’s his last name (Margarito)? I appreciate from the past – Tito Trinidad. I loved him. I loved him even when he lost, I loved this guy, a great guy. And I go back to Sugar Ray Leonard. Love Sugar Ray Leonard. And I was grand marshall at the Boxing Hall of Fame up in Canastota a couple of years ago. I met them all up there. I got some great photos.”
One of Sirico’s first ringside experiences came at The Fight of the Century. “I saw Muhammad Ali fight Joe Frazier, number one (1971). It was big, terrific. Hard to beat. It was like Superman getting taken down, one of those things.”
The first famous boxer he remembers meeting? “Jose Torres was a friend of mine. We did a movie together – The Big Bang in 1989. Another nice guy, real nice guy.”
As for upcoming matches, Sirico is looking forward to September 19. “I want to see Juan Manuel Marquez and Floyd Madison, Patterson, I mean Mayweather,” he stumbles. “That’s gonna be a good one.”
When the very recognizable Tony Sirico, with his signature silver and black hair-do, is in the house, he tends to attract a lot of attention. Seemingly everyone wants an autograph or a photo with him.
But I manage to squeeze in one last question to the much in-demand actor at this crowded media function in midtown Manhattan. Is there anything you would like to see changed in boxing, to make it better? “It’s doing fine by me,” Sirico replies. “You might be asking the wrong guy. I love this sport. And I’ll watch it till the day I die. So what could I say? Bada bing.”
Scoop’s book “Heavyweight Armageddon: The Tyson-Lewis Championship Battle” was called “A smashing success,” by Emanuel Steward, “One of the two best boxing books I’ve read.” It’s available at Borders, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.