He’s a lifelong Brooklynite and longtime actor most famous for his role as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri on The Sopranos, but Tony Sirico heads to the Jersey Shore for his latest role in Syfy’s original movie Jersey Shore Shark Attack, premiering this Saturday, June 9, at 9pm ET/PT. When I ask the New Yorker if any of his buddies razzed him for playing a Jersey guy, the actor laughs.
“Nah. The only time I get razzed — and then, it’s a good razz — is from the fans I got. If I may say so, I say ‘hello’ to about a hundred people a day. I got the horns beeping, waving. You’d think we were still on TV [with The Sopranos]. Not that we’re not [in reruns], but it’s been five years. And I’m not Tony — I’m Paulie Walnuts, and they won’t have it no other way. I love it.”
But in Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Sirico is Capt. Salie, whom Sirico describes as “a tough old-timer. He’s been on the boardwalk for 30 years or better running his pub. His grandfather brought the family to the shore in the early 1900s so he could help build the boardwalk that Capt. Salie’s pub is on right now. Capt. Salie is a great storyteller, and he’s always spinning tales about the old days to the young people who hang out there. Though most of the tales are exaggerated, still the tales are true. The kids call him Sallie, and they love him and respect him, and when they make a jerk of themselves in his pub, they get a kick in the butt and not allowed back for three days. He is sort of the history teacher on the Jersey Shore. That’s Capt. Salie.”
When illegal underwater drilling unleashes a swarm of angry — and mutant, albino (hey, it’s Syfy!) — sharks upon unsuspecting Jersey Shore beachgoers during the busy Independence Day weekend, it’s up to the local residents, including the youngsters who frequent Capt. Salie’s pub, to save the day. While Capt. Salie (and Sirico) doesn’t have an action-packed part in this, he does offer guidance to the younger heroes.
“[Capt. Salie] has stories from the past about shark attacks in that area,” says Sirico, “and he explains to them little by little what has happened in the past, from time to time, where there’s lots of noise aggravating the undercurrents of the water off the Jersey Shore, and which from time to time has brought in schools of sharks. He has all these stories. His role is not an action-packed role; he’s a storyteller. So he don’t fight the sharks, but he talks a lot about them.”
As you watch the youngsters that Capt. Salie speaks with, you may recognize their similarities to the cast of a certain hit TV reality series (if you haven’t already discerned it from the movie’s title). We meet TC “The Complication” (Jeremy Luke); Nooki (Melissa Molinaro); Donnie (Joey Russo); Paulie Balzac (Daniel Booko); J-Moni (Alex Mauriello); and BJ (Audi Resendez), among others.
In an earlier chat I did with a Syfy executive, he stated that this film does indeed parody the likes of Jersey Shore, combining comedy with the horror. (Sirico is no stranger to acting comedy, as he reminds me that he has done five Woody Allen films.) Jersey Shore Shark Attack also looks to turn what some perceive as the Italian-American stereotypes of series such as Jersey Shore on their heads, making the Italian-Americans the heroes in this case.
When I ask Sirico, an Italian-American actor himself, his thoughts on all this, he states, “I’m an actor. I’m an Italian-American actor. My job is make-believe. I really don’t care about these people that get on these soap boxes and start talking about the Italian-American thing and this and that. All I can say is that the Italians — we make and act in some of the greatest movies ever made. Godfather. Godfather Part II. Goodfellas. And we won 21 [Emmy] statues with Sopranos. I don’t really get involved in that. Personally, I hate the reality shows, all kinds of them, including the Jersey Shore thing.”
Speaking of Goodfellas, Jersey Shore Shark Attack reunites Sirico with his costar from that 1990 Martin Scorsese classic — Paul Sorvino, who plays the mayor. Jack Scalia (Dallas) and William Atherton (Ghostbusters, Die Hard) are also on hand as the veterans among the cast, who play off the newcomers. (‘N Sync’s Joey Fatone also makes a cameo, if you want to consider him a veteran.)
Sirico didn’t work too much with his old pal Sorvino on this film, but says he did enjoy acting with the young cast a lot.
“These kids that I worked with — great actors. Really, really living their dream, doing their thing. It was just wonderful to work them. And I was only there a couple of days — bada bing, bada boom! I was right out. … I had a lot of fun yelling at them, telling them stories. These kids can act; these kids are really into their moment. I loved it.”
Jersey Shore Shark Attack premieres June 9 at 9pm ET/PT on Syfy.
Credit: Lara Solanki/Syfy