Sept. 29 (UPI) — For six seasons on “The Sopranos,” Kathrine Narducci played Charmaine Bucco, a fictional New Jersey restaurant owner who resisted following her childhood friends into the world of organized crime.
Narducci now returns to that milieu, playing real-life, New York mob wives in two of this fall’s buzziest projects.
In Epix’s 1960s drama series, “Godfather of Harlem,” which premieres Sunday, the actress plays Olympia Gigante, the wife of wise guy Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, played by Vincent D’Onofrio.
And Martin Scorsese’s 1970s Oscar-bait movie, “The Irishman,” slated to hit screens in November, gave Narducci the chance to play Carrie Bufalino, the spouse of Joe Pesci’s gangster, Russell Bufalino.
“They are extremely colorful. They are both funny,” the 53-year-old native New Yorker told UPI on Thursday, noting that her characters are “ride or die chicks” when it comes to loving and supporting their men, however flawed they might have been.
“Russell Bufalino was a quiet don. Joe Pesci and I had a conversation that Carrie was probably very quiet, too, but also shrewd and very strong underneath that quietness, where I think Olympia was more outward and boisterous,” Narducci said.
Since Gigante and Bufalino weren’t public figures, Narducci wasn’t obligated to imitate them. Instead, she concentrated on developing them as characters in a dramatic setting.
“I’m glad there wasn’t a lot on both of them,” she said. “There was nothing really on the Web except a few scattered pictures. I got to create them in my own mind, which I like better.”
“Godfather of Harlem” follows Forest Whitaker’s African-American crime boss Bumpy Johnson as he returns to his old neighborhood after a decade in prison to find the streets controlled by Italian mobsters, including Gigante.
Gigante was notorious for faking insanity for decades while he ran his crime syndicate. He eventually was convicted on racketeering charges, and then died in prison in 2005 at age 77.
“I was always fascinated with The Chin because he used to walk around New York City in a robe. In Little Italy, he used to talk to himself,” Narducci said. “You were always interested in him because he was so mysterious.”
The show also brought her back to the neighborhood where she grew up in real life.
“The whole thing was surreal — just going back on the block where I was born and raised,” said the actress, who now lives in the Bronx. “It was just really so amazing. It was sad, too, because the neighborhood’s changed so much.”
“The Irishman” is the supposedly true story of what really happened when the influential Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino, dabbled in politics and organized crime.
Narducci was only aware of the broad strokes of the tale before she got the job.
“I only knew the mystery of who killed Jimmy Hoffa and where is he? Is he in Shea Stadium? Is he buried under the Brooklyn Bridge? I only knew that and that he was the head of the union and he was Irish and that he started to give the Mafia a little run for their money and they had to get rid of him.”
The actress wouldn’t say if the film proves who is responsible for Hoffa’s long-debated disappearance, but she promised “it’s definitely worth the three hours to get to the end.”
With “The Sopranos” marking its 20th anniversary milestone this year and the prequel film, “The Many Saints of Newark,” scheduled for release in 2020, Narducci is thinking about the Emmy-winning drama’s legacy, which, she said, put HBO on the map.
“It changed the way people look at television now. It upped the bar. It was a game changer,” she said.
“As far as the show itself? That show brought people together. They had Sunday night dinners and it brought people together. It [started] conversation around the water cooler, and when the show ended, it left people high and dry. It was part of the culture. It really became part of the social life of people.”
She thinks fans continue to miss the show’s star, James Gandolfini, who died of a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 51.
“We never got enough of him. We want to still see him in movies and him on new TV shows and we’re not going to get that,” she said.
“Godfather of Harlem” premieres Sunday on Epix.