You’ve said starting bands helped you come out of a period of dissatisfaction after The Sopranos ended. Why do you think it had that effect? laurasnapes
Zopa started in 2006, the year before The Sopranos ended. I hadn’t played with other musicians in a while. Over the years I missed that experience of creating music with other people. There’s a literal component to acting and writing. You have to be faithful to the story, the words and who that person is. Music is much more abstract. There’s a bit of magic to that, at least for me. You don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going. And that’s very fun and satisfying.
The first time you saw My Bloody Valentine you had to leave afterwards because you were so blown away. Have you had a live music experience like that since, or recently? dennylayne
I went to see Dinosaur Jr and this band My Bloody Valentine was opening for them. They were on the Loveless tour. It was in Athens, Georgia, at a small club called the 40 Watt. To experience that without expectation was very profound and overwhelming to the point where it’s hard to take anything else in after that. The sonic weight of it, you’re just so filled with it that that’s enough of an experience for one night. When I saw the Smiths it was like that – The Queen is Dead tour, 1986, in the outdoor venue on Pier 86 [in New York]. The Queen is Dead was a very important record to me and my friends, and to see them live at that moment in time was magic. I felt like that when I saw Lou Reed for the first time, Patti Smith, Suicide. There used to be this very small but really important rock club in Hoboken, New Jersey: Maxwell’s. Black Francis played solo while he was still in the Pixies, just him on electric guitar doing all Pixies songs. I got there really early and I was right in front of him. I’ll never forget that.
Loved your shows on NTS radio a few years ago. You played solo Morrissey tracks on each of them – what do you love about him, and his post-Smiths songwriting? And have your feelings towards him changed since he’s made some dubious comments in recent years? PeteThorn
He’s uncompromising and very true to his art, to himself. As a lyricist, he’s on the level of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed to me: his intelligence, his wit and point of view. I think that’s why so many people connect to him, people who feel like outsiders. When they hear his lyrics and see him perform, they feel less alone in the world. I didn’t discover the Smiths until after I was finished with high school. I was very clueless musically. But when I was 17, I was in Manhattan and I had friends who quickly exposed me to the good stuff like the Smiths. I went from being in high school to going to acting classes with people in their 20s, 30s, 40s. In some ways I was happy to do that. But in other ways, I felt very much like a kid, straddling two worlds. I had moved in with my grandparents outside the city. I had a couple of friends and I enjoyed being in the city but I really didn’t feel like I belonged there. In many ways, I felt very alone. It’s a time of trying to figure out your identity. As a young person who wanted to be an artist, I felt I was looking for a certain freedom to express, and those other artists made me understand that that was possible.
I thought what he wrote about Sinéad O’Connor was spot on and brilliant – how easily she was abandoned by the music industry. He was as well. Bonfire of Teenagers was dropped by the label and still hasn’t come out. He’s on the edge of controversy a lot and they shy away from that. I’m not sure how racist the things he said were. To me they weren’t flagrantly racist. I’ve never met Morrissey but I do know a lot of people in the current band and people who have played with him in the past who are very smart, and the least racist people you could imagine. They adamantly express that racism is not a part of who he is, by any stretch of the imagination. I still give him the benefit of the doubt. I know a lot of people don’t, but somehow I still do. As an artist, considering what he’s done, he should always have the advantages of having a label promoting him. I think [his situation] is similar [to O’Connor’s] in a lot of ways.
Top 5 albums of all-time? Screamadelica1
It’s so hard. The Wedding Present’s Seamonsters is tremendous. In Utero. There’s a two-disc Lou Reed live record, Take No Prisoners, from the Bottom Line [in New York, 1978] that is very revealing of who he was, especially at that point in time – he talks a lot through it. But also the performances are quite exceptional. Loveless is a towering giant of a record. I love Green Mind by Dinosaur Jr. The Smiths, all their albums. Vauxhall and I was my favourite of solo Morrissey. [Patti Smith’s] Horses is tremendous. The first Television album, Marquee Moon. The first New York Dolls album. So Alone by Johnny Thunders. I’m over the limit here but it’s too hard! [David Bowie’s] Hunky Dory really got me when I first heard that one, it was before I heard Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs – my other two favourites. I got to meet Bowie backstage during the Reality tour, which was pretty thrilling. He was wonderful – friendly, present and kind. It was brief, but for me it was extremely important and memorable.
In your novel, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, the narrator has a transformative relationship with his neighbour Lou Reed. What was the process like of trying to fictionalise a real person? Did you have a personal relationship with Lou? stefalex
In 2013 I started writing a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy because my middle child was 16 and going through some teenage stuff. I thought writing it would help me get into that frame of mind better. I came to the story of a kid who moved from outer-borough Queens to Manhattan in the 70s. A few months into writing, Lou died. I had gotten to know him in the last decade or so of his life. When he died, it hit me as a fan and as a friend. As a New Yorker it was really the end of something for me. I got the idea of putting Lou into it. The biographical stuff about Lou living with Rachel Humphreys on the east side of Manhattan was true. The interaction between the boy and Lou was not. I didn’t know him at that period of time – it was very different when he was actively addicted to drugs, kind of an insane period of his life, which I learned through reading and watching a lot of interviews and that album, Take No Prisoners.
What’s happening with the movie adaptation of your (excellent) novel? Any more plans to write/release fiction? nicorjinders
I’ve been going back and forth on whether I wanted to do a movie of that book. I think I’m scared of messing it up because I’m happy with the book and it’s something I’m very proud of. But lately I’ve been thinking I should just do it. I started another novel last year. It’s insanely difficult, but I did enjoy writing a book. Fiction is one of my great loves – I just finished Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors, which I really loved.
I’d been trying to get a few TV projects off the ground that I thought were quite good and they never came to fruition, which was hard. A script is not a complete work of art. It’s a blueprint. That frustration pushed me to write a book. I wanted to be able to do something I have complete control over. I had that instinct [for storytelling] from when I was really small. Like at five or six, I was writing little plays. So it was always there. I don’t know where it comes from – maybe past-life stuff or maybe it’s just in the DNA or maybe I was quick to imitate things I saw. As long as I have memory it was there.
What are some of your favourite endings in all of fiction? mesm
I don’t know if it’s my favourite of all [endings], but it’s really good: I Fear My Pain Interests You by a New York writer named Stephanie LaCava. It’s a very dark book in a lot of ways, very close to the bone, but she manages to create such an optimistic ending, it really blew my mind.
I think the most callously brutal thing I’ve ever seen on TV is your murder by Tony. What is the most brutal scene you’ve ever acted and why? antdad
That wasn’t really brutal at all, I’ll be honest with you. When we shot it, it wasn’t my last day either because we shot out of sequence. The most brutal, difficult stuff for me is when Christopher had to be physically abusive with Adriana, for obvious reasons. On a technical level, you’re trying to be really careful so you don’t hurt the person. But having to get to that point of violence towards a woman, you have to go to some nasty places to get there. Sometimes it’s very immediate. Sometimes it’s something present in your life that you can tap into. Sometimes you have to go someplace from the past. And sometimes you have to go to someplace imaginary. It’s much easier shooting a mobster or shooting heroin. That stuff to me is not difficult. But that stuff with her was. Sometimes you’ll use stunt doubles, sometimes not. And even then, it’s one thing to choreograph and rehearse it, then when you act it full-tilt with all the emotion, it’s easy to not have as much control as in the rehearsal. So you really have to be quite careful.
Do you have a different outlook on Tony and Christopher’s relationship after watching The Many Saints of Newark? MsRizla
Christopher’s father was a mobster and he was whatever all that entails. These are gangsters. They do really bad things. But Dickie Moltisanti did have some good qualities. I thought, if Christopher actually had this guy in his life raising him, he might have turned out a lot different. I think a lot of Christopher’s problems came from the absence of Dickie, because Christopher’s father was murdered when he was really young.
Christopher was always frustrated that he could never be No 1. What’s your relationship to success like, having been in one of the most acclaimed shows of all time? HollieRichardson
I really wanted to be successful as an actor. It may sound horrible to say but I didn’t want to just be a working actor, I really wanted to work with the people that I thought were the best in the industry. So I feel very fortunate that a lot of that has come to fruition. Not every job is a great job but I always had faith that that would happen in some weird way. As an actor starting out, you really have to have a very deluded faith in your ability and talent because it’s very hard to have a career.
Who is your favourite actor to play opposite, and why? dennylayne
[James] Gandolfini [Tony Soprano] was probably the actor I’ve acted the most with. He always put in 110%. He managed to find the intensity and the reality in every moment. That pushed you further. I really enjoyed acting with F Murray Abraham [in The White Lotus] – I thought the stuff we did together was really special. I always liked acting with Edie Falco [Carmela Soprano]. I never did a movie with Al Pacino but I did rehearse with him one afternoon in his apartment. He was getting ready to do the film version of The Merchant of Venice and he invited three actors to rehearse. Al Pacino was one of the reasons I became an actor. Reading through those scenes with him was unforgettable. He had done the play already so he was very familiar with the characters. I was not familiar with them and I don’t have a lot of experience with Shakespeare so it was a bit like playing basketball with Michael Jordan. Being able to watch him from that point of view was incredibly special.
What brought you to being a practising Buddhist? MsRizla Why did you decide you wanted to teach meditation classes? MelissaLotzman
I started going to Buddhist teachings in 2007, the year The Sopranos ended. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I really spent my 20s just trying to have a career as an actor. Everything else was secondary. Some of those things started to come to fruition, on a career level, artistic level, financial level, and I had a family by then, and good friends. Yet still I felt something lacking. I needed some other kind of teaching, wisdom. I explored a bunch of different spiritual practices and found a Buddhist teacher in New York and felt that was right for me. In 2008 my wife and I took vows and became Buddhists formally. When I got on to Instagram right before the pandemic, I started posting about artists that I admired, movies and books, and also stuff about Buddhism. A lot of people asked me how to meditate, and I would write people back simple instructions. It started happening quite a bit. I thought, maybe I should make a video instead. I tried to do that on Instagram Live and it was a disaster. But somebody offered tech support and said we can do this as a Zoom webinar. That’s how it started, as a secular meditation class. A lot of people have stayed with us, new people have come, some of the people have actually become Buddhists. Which is not what we’re trying to do, but some people became very curious. We work with our minds in meditation class. You’re trying to have awareness of how you’re interacting, how you’re responding to other people instead of a kneejerk reaction. People write back and say: I’ve had this ongoing situation with my lover or my father and because of practising I was able to kind of not react the way I normally would. We often get trapped in habitual responses and repetitive behaviour, and this kind of work can help that. It’s really rewarding to hear from other people that they were able to have that experience.
Have you actually seen Kundun? CountFive
I did see Kundun! I think it’s a really great, incredible movie, and a really important, beautiful one – to get a glimpse of not only the life of the Dalai Lama but also the Tibetan Buddhism perspective in general. I think Scorsese managed to do it extremely accurately and faithfully, as he usually does when he’s exploring worlds. And that certainly gives you a wonderful glimpse into that world.
You write, act, make music, meditate and you’ve also got three kids. How do you find the time? AlexNeedham
All my kids are out of the house so that opens up a lot of time. I am able to focus on what I’m doing in the moment. If you’re doing something like The White Lotus, you’re on location. But now I’m not shooting anything. Zopa has a show Sunday and we practise a few times a week. If I’m writing I’ll spend the day in the library and then the next day be in the music studio. It’s really about budgeting time but also being able to have focus. I’ve been playing music for a long time, I’ve been writing fiction that never went anywhere for many years – it may seem like I just started doing these things out of the blue when I was an actor but all these things come from the same place. I don’t compartmentalise. This may sound kind of strange but I’m envious of people who just do one thing. I wasn’t able to. I just had too much interest and passion for several things. And it’s not about proving I can do this and that. I’m just hooked on the expression through those forms.
What band would you love to have been a member of? Geo100
Oh, the Velvet Underground at the beginning. That’s an easy one.
Zopa’s EP Tondo is out now on Mt Crushmore Records. The band play Our Wicked Lady, Brooklyn, on 13 August.
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