Steven Van Zandt's Sopranos Role Could Have Been Cut Short By Bruce Springsteen

"The Sopranos" cast are all New Jersey icons now, but only one of them was before the series premiered. That was Steven Van Zandt, aka "Little Steven," of the E Street Band. Van Zandt is one of the band's guitarists, alongside Patti Scialfa, Nils Lofgren, and of course the Boss himself Bruce Springsteen. During their hiatus in the '90s, Van Zandt found a new gig on TV even though he had never acted before.

In 1997, Van Zandt gave a speech introducing The Rascals before they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "The Sopranos" creator David Chase saw this routine and contacted Van Zandt about appearing on his show. Van Zandt had previously conceived of the character Silvio Dante, a former hitman turned club owner. So, they added the character to Tony Soprano's crew. Thanks to budget concerns, the luxurious '50s-style establishment that Van Zandt envisioned got turned into the Bada Bing, a seedy strip club.

Van Zandt ended up being part of the main cast for all six seasons of "The Sopranos." But in an appearance on the "Talking Sopranos" podcast — co-hosted by his former co-stars Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, who later turned the podcast into the book "Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos" — in 2021, Van Zandt revealed he almost had to choose between his old flame of music and his new love for acting very early on.

A fork in the road

Let's get our timelines in order. The E Street Band was formed in 1972 and stayed together until 1989. They briefly reunited in 1995 but only returned full-time in 1999. (If you want the full story of the band, I can't recommend Springsteen's autobiography — titled, what else, "Born to Run" — highly enough.)

"The Sopranos" season 1 also premiered in 1999 and it was a hit. HBO wasted no time in ordering a second season, which would debut a year after the first almost to the date. However, while "The Sopranos" was picking up steam, the E Street band was planning a comeback. Their reunion tour kicked off in April 1999, a mere five days after "The Sopranos" season 1 finale.

Van Zandt explained the bind this left him in: "I really, really had to consider, should I go back into the band or not, because I really thought, 'Okay, this acting thing is going to be my future. I'm completely into it. I want to evolve into writing for TV, directing TV.' I just fell in love with the whole process. And it was a very, very, very hard decision for me to go back to the E Street Band. But I felt I needed closure there."

In the end, Van Zandt didn't have to make a decision — David Chase was able to schedule his shooting days around the E Street Band's touring schedule. Van Zandt is still not sure if he made the right decision or not, as he would've liked to be more involved in "The Sopranos," preferably getting to write or direct. For what it's worth, he got that chance on Netflix's "Lilyhammer" — and he's still touring with the E Street Band.