Michele Santopietro (whose last name means "Saint Peter" in Italian) played the character of Jo-Jo Palmice, the wife of Mikey Palmice (Al Sapienza) in the first season of The Sopranos (episodes; "I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano" and "Nobody Knows Anything" ). She also returned in the season four episode "Pie-o-My", where she was bringing the grieving Bobby Bacala (Steve Schirripa) , a delicious casserole for his family after his wife was tragically killed in a car accident on Pompton Avenue.
Michele and her character Jo-Jo Palmice's husband, from The Sopranos, Mikey Palmice (Al Sapienza)
Besides being a recipient of the prestigious "Peabody Museum Award for Young Minds" she is trained as a Opera performer as well as Rock. She's nationally ranked as a Cross Country champion, winning second place in her age division in the New Haven Road Race (marathon) in 1989, among the various awards she's received for running. Michele and I have been trying to get together since September 2001, to complete this interview, and we finally got together and got it done.
When is your birthday?
I was born
Tell us a little about where you grew up and your background. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Pittsburgh, PA, but grew up all over. I never really know what to say when people ask where I'm from so I just say New York, now. I've been here for 13 years and it feels like home.
Tell us a little about your educational background.
Well, I have a degree in Drama from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, with a minor in Clinical Psychology. I'm kind of an egghead, but people don't usually figure that out until I get angry and the vocabulary really comes out. I don't use many five dollar words in general conversation because I think it tends to alienate people.
Tell us something that people don't know about you?
I have several tattoos, but I keep them covered because people tend to make assumptions about your intelligence based upon the fact that you are a woman and you have them, which is actually a reflection of their own stupidity. I value intelligence greatly and can probably go toe to toe with just about anyone and not be intimidated. But I have to say, I really like that people don't quite know what I'm all about. I knew this moron once, who told me that I would make a terrible mother because I have tattoos. This was from a man whose IQ was probably lower than my shoe size. I mean, as if what you look like has any bearing on the quality of person you are. We live in a horribly judgmental society, particularly in the visual sense, and you never really know if something will be celebrated because it's subversive to the societal "norm", or denigrated. I think the best thing to do is beat people at their own game, if you know what I mean.
I'm half Italian and half German.
You are trained vocal performer in Opera as well as Rock, do you find the two styles a difficult transition?
I loved Opera, but the rules were too stringent for me. I'm the type person who likes to master the rules and then throw everything out the window and raise hell. That's when my voice transitioned. There are so many amazing performers who are classically trained, but hearing them work classically would be boring. I don't really consider myself a singer anymore, though. I'm more just an actor who sings.
How did you originally get involved in being an actor?
I have always loved this world, since I was a kid. Movies are my religion. Where else can you go to be swept away completely from your life for two hours? When it came time to go to college I had a really big decision to make--I was given a number of full scholarships to several top-rated Universities for Science because I had won all of these academic awards and stuff, but my heart wasn't in it. So I decided to throw my life away and become a goddamn actor...
What was your most memorable acting job?
Michele and Matt Servitto, who played her husband "Chipmunk", in the 2000 movie "Two Family House" Matt Servitto presently plays the character of "Agent Dwight Harris", on The Sopranos
Well, you mean other than the porn? (I'm kidding) Years ago I did a Lorca play called "The House of Bernarda Alba". I played the eldest daughter "Angustius", who is dying. It was the most intense experience I've ever had as an actor, I think. I took hours each night to really feel like myself again. The character was very gaunt and sickly and I bound my chest every night and spent so much time on the makeup to really look like a skeleton. I did a lot of physical work on the character. It was weird, I think it actually started to affect my health. I had to really learn how to shake off that kind of character work or it can mess you up.
What types of roles do you find the most challenging?
The roles that are closest to myself.
You have done extensive voice overs, how long does it take to put a book on tape? Is there a lot of background preparation needed for this type of work, or do you just walk in and do it?
Yeah, I do tons of voice-overs--it's a whole different bag. It's extremely competitive, but I love it. I think being trained musically gave me a bit of an ear for it. The books are pretty grueling though, believe it or not. It takes a little more than double the time of the final tape to record--so if it's a five hour book it takes about 12 hours.
A few months back I f
inished one in about a quarter of the time they are supposed to take because I had this hot guy waiting for me at his hotel and he was leaving the next morning to do a film. The producer of the book said he had never seen someone read at that level of accuracy before and said it was "glorious"--if he only knew my motivation!
It's a funny world, though. I once got really trashed in a review by this idiot woman for a book I recorded--and it was one of those "just for enjoyment" type books, ya know, like sex in the back seat of a car--you're not really taking it too seriously. But this chick really went for the jugular like it was personal or something, and I remember thinking--I'm just reading a book, it's not like it's a movie, I mean there's only so much you can do as the reader. I later found out that she has a real bug up her ass about The Sopranos, so I was in the barrel. What are ya gonna do?
What other unusual jobs, have you held in the past?
I worked as a cigarette girl in a strip club for a while. I remember thinking "Wow, this is so great, I get to eavesdrop on all these crazy conversations that I would have never been privy to as a girl (I mean, unless you were a stripper or a customer)." I thought I would write about that world. It was fascinating for about two weeks, then I realized that nobody cares about these whining bitches, anyway. I mean what guy could even date one of them--there's only so much time you can keep something stuffed in it's mouth to shut it up.
Do you have any pets?
I have to Chihuahuas--Julio and The Beane.
Do you use the internet?
I use it rarely, but I have to say I love your website. I think out of all of the Sopranos sites, you have the most fun with it, and everybody from the cast knows who you are.
What is your favorite show?
I think right now it would have to be Nip/Tuck, but that may be because of how freakin' hot Julian McMahon is. I also love Rescue Me. I think Dennis Leary is a genius.
Name some of your favorite foods?
I love sweets, anything with mayonnaise, and mushrooms.
What projects are you presently working on?
Well, let's see. I have a film coming out called "A Perfect Fit" that I co-starred in with Adrian Grenier (the lead of HBO's "Entourage") and Polly Draper where I play a ballet teacher who falls in love with a married man and has a nervous breakdown, I just wrapped another film called "Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe" where I played a tough police sergeant alongside an amazing actor who I love named Robert Clohessey (from "Oz" and currently on Broadway in "Twelve Angry Men"), just guest starred on another episode of "Law&Order" with the incredible Dennis Farina, as the wife of a dying firefighter, and I have another "Law&Order SVU" coming up where I play the girlfriend of a suspected child killer played by Matthew Modine.
Micheal Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Michelle (Jo-Jo Palmice), Steve Schirripa (Bobby Bacala), and Steve Van Zandt (Silvio Dante) from the filming of the Soprano episode "Pie Oh My"
I recently started screenwriting, though, and I'm really, really excited about that. I have two full length features that are getting all sorts of interest right now--one of which I will be playing the female lead and, I don't wanna jinx it or anything, but there's actually an Oscar-winning actor who wants to play the male lead. I've also been hired on the strength of one of my scripts by an LA production company to write the real-life biopic of this female wildlife activist/aquatic photographer. I can't believe it. I was really afraid to show my work to anyone for a while because I thought they would just think I was a dumb actor. I can't believe the reaction I'm getting.
If you were deserted on a desert island, and could only take on book with you and one music compact disk, what would your choices be? ((Michelle) you have to add one movie too) (she wants a movie, now we have to get electricity to that damn island)
Let's see...the book would have to be "The Thinker's Way" by a Ph.D. named John Chaffee. This is the most amazing book I have ever read. It's sort of a handbook for a more enriching, creative life. If teenagers had read this book in high school I bet the world would be a much better place. It may be a little heady for some people's tastes, but if you stick with it and really give it a chance, I think everyone has something to gain from it. It's perfection.
The disk would probably be Social Distortion's "White Light, White Heat, White Trash". Good, old fashioned, hard driving rock n' roll. I run about five miles a day, and I can't survive without this CD. And the singer's pretty hot, too.
The movie would have to be "The Indian Runner", directed by Sean Penn. It comes equipped with absolutely glorious performances by Patricia Arquette, Charles Bronson, David Morse, and Viggo Mortenson as a heavily tattooed, mildly sociopathic Vietnam Vet back from the war who is fighting himself to settle down, and providing me with hours of unfettered masturbation material. Brilliant, simple script. Penn's direction is impeccable. I'm dying to work with that guy some day.
What Charities are you involved with?
I try to volunteer and donate as much as I can with organizations like the Paralyzed Veterans Association and St. Luke's Children's Hospital. I actually just did a fundraiser for Westpoint with your buddy, Al Sapienza ("Mikey Palmice") and Michael Rispoli (Jackie Aprile, Sr.).
Another great shot from the movie "Two Family House", cast mates; Ivy Jones, Michele Santopietro, Kathrine Narducci, and Sharon Angela. Kathrine Narducci plays the character of Charmaine Bucco and Sharon Angela, plays the character of Rosalie Aprile, on The Sopranos.
Michael and I were also in a movie together called "Two Family House" that won a bunch of Awards. He's amazing in it. There are also more actors from Sopranos in it like Matt Servitto (Agent Harris) and Vinny Pastore (Big Pussy), etc. I'm really looking forward to the day that my advocacy of a particular charity or cause holds some weight.
What is in your future, besides winning the lottery?
Good things, I hope. I really believe in karma. Maybe doing the right thing doesn't bring you a lot of immediate gain, but in the long run, the good guys win.
What is the most important thing, you want to be remembered by?
I want to be remembered as an honorable and courageous person. People think that truly heroic actions are so far removed from themselves. Yes, you may not have the opportunity to save the kids from the burning building, but every day there is a chance to do something heroic. It's heroic to go out of your way to help someone, even on the smallest level. It's heroic to do the right thing. It's heroic to fight for what you believe in. In an era with so much confusing subterfuge, it's heroic to be genuine.
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