Unfortunately, I got stuck in traffic en route – because the show’s producers had vastly underestimated the size of the crowd that would show up. When thousands swarmed the town center of Harrison, and clogged the exit lanes of Interstate 280 in both directions, the town’s cops quickly shut the whole thing down.
I had to cobble together a story – but was later delighted to hear that some good did come of that day. A local New Jersey woman named Denise Borino had been selected to play Ginny Sacrimoni, the wife of Johnny, the New York crime family’s boss. For a follow-up story, I spoke to Borino in February of 2001, as she was filming her first batch of three appearances on the show. Both that day, and when I would subsequently see her at premiere parties for each Sopranos season, Borino – then working as a legal assistant in suburban Morristown-- was down-to-earth, and grateful to have the chance to live out her dream.
Sadly, Denise Borino-Quinn passed away last week of liver cancer, at the young age of 46, just seven months after the death of her husband, Luke Quinn, Jr. Here, my Q&A interview from 2001, with a quintessentially lovely, true Jersey girl.
Q: What is your background? Are you Italian-American like your character, Ginny Sack?
A: I’ve lived in Jersey all my life. I’m originally from Belleville, and then moved to Roseland. I’m 100 % Italian.
Q: How big a fan were you of The Sopranos before your audition?
A: Very big – I never missed a Sunday night. My mom and I would go downstairs, hang out, and watch it together. My whole family is totally ecstatic.
Q: There has been a lot of controversy about the show from some Italian-American groups. How well do you feel show and its characters reflect your own background?
A: Really not at all. That’s not what my family does. Although some of the traditions, like the Sunday dinners, that’s typical.
Q: What do you think attracts people to the show?
A: It’s filmed here in New Jersey. My friends and I look at it and say “I know where that place is. I’ve been there!” I think that’s really cool. I think on the first episode of season one, they mentioned my high school, West Essex. And I was like “Oh my God!” I love it, because it’s like, “I shop there, or I’ve been there.”
Q: Have you always had acting aspirations? What made you go to the casting call?
A: My best friend Maria Galasso made me go. She called and said, “Come on, let’s do this!” and I was hemming and hawing. She said, “Nobody else can say, ‘We tried.’” And then my boss urged me, too. She said, “Oh, go ahead. You should do this. You’re perfect for it. You should go for it.” They were the deciding factor. So I went and had some pictures redone, and off we went.
Q: But aren’t you a little young to be married to Johnny Sack? How old are you in real life?
A: I’m 37. And I say that without lying. It’s funny because Edie Falco and I are like five days apart. I have no plan to lie about my age. I have no reason to. It’s just a number.
Q: Was the open casting call what you had expected?
A: I knew there were going to be tons of people there, with open casting. We got there at 7:30 in the morning, and there were already so many. People had camped out the night before! I couldn’t imagine it. I had figured, “All right, I’ve gotta dress appropriately – flat shoes, gotta be comfortable.” I ended up meeting a lot of nice people, talking to them in line. It was a really fun day. After a while I was known as “stoop girl,” because after so long standing in line, I was parking my behind on somebody’s stoop.
Q: Were you among the lucky few who were seen in person, before the police shut down the whole casting call?
A: Actually, no. I never made it in through the doors. But then, they gave the address to mail pictures to. I mailed both my and Maria’s pictures in. I didn’t have a head shot, so I sent in two pictures – one of me holding my niece Alyssa from her Christening, and one of me and my two brothers from my brother Vincent’s wedding. I just went to CVS and had copies made. Then a month went by, and I got phone call to go into Manhattan and read for a part.
Q: What do you think the casting people saw in you?
A: I guess because I’m an outgoing little, short person, and I’m a huge fan of the show.
Q: What was your reaction when you first got the call to audition for the show?
A: When I had gotten the phone call asking me to come in for my first audition, the girl introduced herself, and I’m like “Who is this?!” She identified herself, and I started screaming, “I can’t believe this is happening!” I called my girlfriend Maria, and we were just yelling on the phone. I never thought it would go even that far.
Q: What happened after that first audition, to the time you learned you had the part?
A: It was really funny, because I had gone to the first audition, and when I came home that afternoon, there was a message that they wanted me to meet with the director and producer for a second audition. Fine, I went and did that. It was the day of my grandmother’s wake, as a matter of fact. I went to the studio, and took a friend with me who happens to be an Essex County sheriff’s detective. I went and read. The woman who went before me was literally waiting for me at the elevator, and said, “You have the part – you were really good.” Then, the day we buried my grandmother, I got the phone call. I screamed so loud that my father came running out of the bathroom thinking I was being murdered.
Q: In the work you’ve done so far on the show, have the other actors treated you like an actor, or a fan, or both?
A: I don’t even think they realized I was a fan. They just treated me like I was an equal to them. The whole cast was wonderful and warm. They immediately all came and introduced themselves to me. It really is like a family.
Q: What has been your impression of your castmates so far?
A: My very first scene was with James Gandolfini. It was totally awesome. He is just a very charismatic, intelligent, wonderful person. Edie Falco is also really a warm, down-to-earth person. I’ve seen her out of costume, and she’s not at all like Carmela. Michael Imperioli and I must have talked for like twenty minutes between scenes. Tony Sirico had me laughing – he’s definitely a character. He immediately came over to me, excused himself, and kissed me hello. Aida Turturro was really funny, introducing herself to me immediately and asking if I liked the new red shoes she bought. And the one person I really got awestruck with was Stevie Van Zandt – he’s like my favorite. I like Bruce [Springsteen], but I really like Stevie.
Q: Has appearing on The Sopranos been like you’d imagined it would be?
A: More. That first day was one of the most extraordinary days of my life. I came home and was like, “Wow, I can’t believe I was with these people, on the number one show!”
Q: Have you told anyone about your part? Your family? Are you allowed?
A: My family knows about my character, but as far as what I’ve done, I won’t discuss it, although my sister-in-law begs and pleads. [The producers] were very specific that I really can’t discuss things, period. My mother immediately wanted to go to my little hometown paper, but I can’t do anything until my first episode airs.
Q: You said Edie Falco looks different when dressed in character. How did the show dress you? Tell me about getting into character and costume.
A: I really can’t answer that. But I can say that the makeup is different, and is a lot more than I normally would wear. And I dress differently from how I’d go to work. But the nails are my own, which are long, because I do nails part time. And I have big hair. BIG hair.
Q: How do the people at work feel about your newfound fame?
A: Both partners of the small firm that I work for are totally ecstatic. They think it’s like the greatest thing in the world. It’s funny because one of the associates had a closing yesterday and he asked me, “Do you have your pictures?” I had taken photos showing Silvercup Studios, and things like that. They were all really awestruck. “This is really cool!”
Q: Forget them -- how do you feel about it?
A: I’m very nonchalant about it – I think it really hasn’t hit me yet. But [for the premiere], I’m having a party at my house. I’m inviting all my friends, my family – people who mean the most to me.
Q: What food will you serve?
A: Subs, hot wings. Knowing my mother, there will probably be a pot of gravy on. My niece Alexa gets highly insulted if there are no neck bones in the gravy. You throw it in with your meatballs, and your sausage, and your braciole. But I don’t know if I’m going to be able to actually sit there and watch myself in front of everybody. My friends already told me they’re gonna tie me to a chair and make me watch.
Q: About those friends, and family -- do they treat you differently now that you’re a star? Do you think they will later?
A: When he first found out I got the part, my brother Christopher said, “Just because you’re a star now, that doesn’t mean you can get out of making coffee on Sunday.”