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Michael Imperioli: An Original Portrait

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To benefit Golden Bridge for Tibet, Michael Imperioli held a preview screening last week of his new film "The Hungry Ghosts." On behalf of 'Golden Bridge', Tibetan Lama Namkha Rinpoche spoke to an audience that included "Sopranos" family members Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, and Lorraine Bracco among others.

Michael Imperioli is unquestionably an enormously impressive and engaging actor. In fact, he's a great actor. With "The Hungry Ghosts" he adds writer/director to his resume and pulls masterful performances from Steven R. Schirripa, Sharon Angela, Nick Sandow, and Aunjanue Ellis.

I asked Imperioli to sit for my Huffington Post portrait series, and to write a few words about his new film "The Hungry Ghosts".

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
www.greenfield-sanders.com

2009-09-24-Imperioli_TGS.jpg
Portrait of Michael Imperioli (c)Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, all rights reserved.

The screenplay of "The Hungry Ghosts" was written in the Fall of 2007 and by the Spring of 2008 we were in pre-production. Principal photography was set to begin on May 19, 2008. On the eve of our first day of shooting, my youngest child David (who was 6 and a half at the time) fell down a flight of stairs, cutting open a huge gash above his eye and across the bridge of his nose. It was a horrific wound and as if that wasn't tragic enough, his left arm was badly fractured. My wife Victoria and I rushed him to the ER at Saint Vincent's where we spent the next six hours watching our brave little man receive 20 or 30 stitches, and having his arm set, cast, re-set and cast again. It was by far the worst night of our lives.

We arrived back home at 3am, and by 6am I began to prepare for my first day as a director of film. Needless to say I did not sleep at all. I left home at 6:30 after kissing David goodbye, carefully avoiding the huge bandages on his little face. I was broken-hearted. When I arrived on-set I noticed that all the nervousness, doubt and anxieties I had felt for weeks leading up to the shoot had vanished. The film, at that moment, meant zilch to me. In comparison to the ordeal my precious boy had been through, it seemed like petty busywork of no import whatsoever. Nevertheless, there was a task at hand to attend to and we started shooting.

The first scene on the schedule that day was actually a remnant of an unfinished screenplay from several years back called "The Devil in New York." I had abandoned this script shortly after 9/11 when similar feelings of futility and meaninglessness dominated my view towards work. The scene took place in an after-hours club where drugs and gambling are permitted but profanity is strictly prohibited. The club was based on an actual Lower East Side den of iniquity (circa 1999-2000) that strictly adhered to these rules. The main character Frank (a late night radio talk show host) is on a coke and booze binge combined with a miserable run at the blackjack table. Unable to control his frustration, he is ejected from the club for his cussing. The character was written for Steve Schirripa, who I know and love from "The Sopranos". I wrote about 60 pages of the story and sometime in November 2001 I tossed it in a drawer where it slept for six years.

When I finally dusted the pages off and re-read them, I discovered two things: one, the after-hours club was the only scene worth salvaging, and two, I still felt strongly about the Frank character. I began to think about him. I imagined him sitting on a train across from a young woman he didn't know. I saw the two of them as strangers, both in the midst of the proverbial "dark night of the soul," both of them fleeing...from the wreckage of their past...from their demons...their pain. I didn't know much more about the young woman except that I wanted her to be played by Aunjanue Ellis, an actress I had long known and admired.

From these small seeds of story grew what is now a film called "The Hungry Ghosts." Through its creation I had the great fortune of working with many talented artists, each of whom contributed something unique and special to the project. Whatever the film is (or isn't), above all its a collaboration and I am very proud to have been a part of it.

David is fine and happy, by the way. Almost a year to the day from his accident he earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. And his scar has faded dramatically, although a trace of it will probably always remain with him. It's ok though, no worries here, nothing to fear, no regrets. In fact, the scar has actually added character, depth and experience to his bright and beautiful face.

...And onward we go.

Michael Imperioli
New York City
September 23, 2009