Vincent Pastore Is Responsible For One Of The Sopranos' Only Improvised Scenes

"The Sopranos" is known for being one of the best drama series of all time, and it is. But in addition to its darker moments, it's also a show with a surprising thread of humor throughout its six seasons. David Chase's series is as much about the human condition and the dissatisfaction with modern life as it is about mob violence, and in Chase's eyes, modern life can be funny as hell sometimes.

That dark comedy shows up as early as the very first episode of the series, in a scene in which young initiate Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and reliable mobster Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) try to dispose of a body, and remind us for the first of many times that a life of organized crime isn't quite like the movies. In the scene, the pair attempt to throw the plastic-wrapped corpse into a dumpster to send a message to the Czechs, only the bin in question is massive, and there's no way they can heave the corpse over the side. Instead, they decide to dispose of it elsewhere.

It's a funny scene, one that establishes Christopher's ineptitude as well as his tendency to look at the mob through the starry-eyed glasses of Hollywood movies. "Luis Brasi sleeps with the fishes," he quips when Pussy tells him their message won't work, and his elder points out that reality isn't always as simple as a Coppola film — and, besides, he's quoting "The Godfather" wrong. 

Their attempt to toss the body is also ridiculous: it dings against the bottom of a dumpster that's twice their size, then slumps over awkwardly while they chat, as if to add its two cents to the conversation.

A prop problem leads to inspiration

According to Imperioli, this was one of the only scenes in the entire run of "The Sopranos" that included improvisation. In the book "Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos," Imperioli and co-author Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri on the show, discuss the on-set rewrites the two costars did to make the scene work. "David Chase, famously, didn't ever want anyone to change a line," Schirripa says, "But in the pilot, you were in a scene with Vinny where he did an ad-lib that stayed in, right? One of the few?"

Imperioli explains that the improvisation was actually done for practical reasons: that body was just too dang heavy. "We were going to throw the body in a dumpster that was owned by that family to send a message," the actor says of his scene with Pastore. "But the dumpster was pretty high. The prop person — I think to mess with us — made the body, or whatever was in the body bag, really heavy." While oftentimes, it's easy for viewers to tell when props like packages, cups, and yes, body bags are actually empty on screen, this production apparently had the opposite problem.

"We're rehearsing, and we're trying to throw this thing into the dumpster, and then we start doing takes, and we can't get it near the top of the dumpster, because it's so freakin' heavy," Imperioli shares in the book. Real-life mafiosos these weren't, and the scene just wasn't going to work without a change. "Finally, Vinny just improvised and said, 'You know what? Put it in the trunk. We'll take it out to Staten Island.'" Imperioli says. "We opened the trunk, tossed the body in, and drove off, and rewrote the scene on the spot."

A seamless spontanous rewrite

Throughout its run, "The Sopranos" would feature several mishaps involving hits gone wrong: the show makes death, just like life, absurd and darkly funny. But this first fumbling body disposal sets a great tone, showing that the mafiosos in the series are already so used to murder that they treat body disposal like an annoying chore. It also shows that, on occasion, they can be hilariously bone-headed. 

In the final version of the scene, it's not so much a one-liner that the pair seem to have come up with based on Imperioli's description, but a whole dialogue exchange. Pussy explains that the dumpster is a bad idea since the Kolar family and the cops will likely end up catching onto them if they find the body. Instead, he suggests they just make it look like the man in the bag disappeared. "We'll take him to Staten Island and cut 'em up," he decides as they bring the body to the trunk. 

It's not exactly a pivotal moment, but it is a fun one, and Imperioli and Pastore's spontaneous rewrites seamlessly fit into the now-classic pilot script.