MONTREAL – The network that Scaredy Squirrel and SpongeBob SquarePants call home is probably the last place you’d expect to find the tough mugs from ”The Sopranos.”
But Steve Schirripa, who played good-natured gangster Bobby Baccalieri in the 1999-2007 Mob hit, has reunited some of TV’s most famous crime family for a few laughs in “Nicky Deuce,” a new YTV movie based on Schirripa’s book of the same name.
James Gandolfini — Tony Soprano himself — as well as Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico and Vincent Curatola will this time be playing the Mob for mirth because “Nicky Deuce” is decidedly famiglia-friendly entertainment. They won’t be reprising their iconic TV roles.
But that’s not to say “Nicky Deuce, which will be broadcast May 27, won’t be a treat for any fan of “The Sopranos” — or their kids.
“You never saw Michael Imperioli do anything like that, that’s for sure,” says Schirripa in a telephone interview. “You never saw Jim (Gandolfini) do anything like that. And Vince played a very comedic, mean Mob boss — but not that mean.”
“Nicky Deuce” is a classic fish-out-of-water tale as Nicky, played by Noah Munck, is dropped by his uptight parents right in the midst of his more colourful Italian relatives in Brooklyn for a summer.
Schirripa, who is also a New York Times bestselling author, says the heart of the story is simple — “Don’t assume that everything is what it seems and don’t judge a book by its cover.”
For example, Nicky’s not sure what to make of his hulking Uncle Frankie (Schirripa) but his street-smart nature suggests he might be involved in something shady. Or maybe not.
“When Nicky lands in Brooklyn, it’s like he landed on a different planet,” Schirripa says. “He’s stunned by what he’s seeing. It’s chaotic. He’s lived a very sheltered life, his parents are a little loopy. He opens his eyes.”
Besides the alumni from ”The Sopranos,” Schirripa says the film scored a coup getting Rita Moreno, who has won an Emmy, an Oscar, a Tony and a Grammy in her long career. She plays Nicky’s feisty grandmother.
Schirripa also had high praise for teen star Noah Munck, who is familiar to TV viewers as Gibby in “iCarly.”
“He certainly held his own,” Schirripa said. “He held his own toe-to-toe with everybody.”
The 90-minute movie was shot last summer in Montreal. Schirripa says none of his old Sopranos crew hesitated when he called, even if it meant juggling other projects. Gandolfini was shooting another movie at the time but zipped in on a weekend to film his scenes.
“The guys knew that I had been trying to get this made for a long time,” says Schirripa, who noted not everyone was in town at the same time.
The actor, who said he enjoyed working in Canada, praised Montreal’s food scene and said everybody ended up going to the city’s Little Italy district for some good eats and drinks.
“Everybody’s kind of spread out now,” said Schirripa. “It was great seeing them.”
Schirripa drew a lot on his Brooklyn roots when he was writing the book, which came out in 2005.
The neighbourhood in the story harks back to Schirripa’s own vibrant Brooklyn stomping grounds and many of the characters were inspired by people he knew, including a few tough guys.
He says, however, most times he didn’t know growing up if someone was a hood — he was just the guy next door.
“Then one day you open the paper and you read that the guy was just arrested.”
He said he met a few wise guys when ”The Sopranos” was on, including one who approached him while he was getting his laundry and told him that while he loved the show, they hadn’t done a particular murder right.
“I went, ‘OK, I gotta get going’,” he recalled.
Moreno’s character is loosely based on his own grandmother, who he describes as “a great cook in a neighbourhood of great cooks.”
Food is almost another character in the film as all kinds of dishes fly across the screen during the film. Nicky’s grandmother always seems to be whipping something up — and Schirripa says that’s typical.
“Some Italian mothers or grandmothers, I think they feel a good meal will solve everything. Maybe it will!”
“Nicky Deuce” is not the only project Schirripa has coming out this month. His new book, “Big Daddy’s Rules: Raising Daughters Is Tougher Than I Look,” and his Toronto-filmed series “Karma’s A Bitch” on the Investigation Discovery network have also debuted recently.
Besides his other projects, he’s also thinking about a possible sequel to “Nicky Deuce.” He says he’s happy with the current film.
“It wasn’t painful watching it,” he says with a laugh. “I remember going to see the Spice Girls with my daughters when they were young. That was painful. I think parents are going to like this.”