The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli Recalls Getting Into Car Crash During His First Day On Set And How James Gandolfini Reacted

Michael Imperioli and James Gandolfini on The Sopranos
(Image credit: HBO)

Michael Imperioli has been making a splash through his role on The White Lotus Season 2 as of late, and there’s a chance he may get some awards consideration come next year. Of course, the veteran actor is no stranger to prestige TV on HBO as, years ago, he rose to fame as a member of the Sopranos cast. It was clear even from the pilot episode that the star had strong acting chops, and his Emmy-winning performance as Christopher Moltisanti only improved from there. However, things got off to a bit of a bumpy start for the actor because, on his first day, he apparently got into an on-set car accident with co-star James Gandolfini. And the late Tony Soprano actor had an interesting response to the harzardous situation.

Michael Imperioli’s Christopher was quickly established as having a very close relationship with his “uncle” Tony and, during the early portion of the series, the hot-headed young man served as Soprano’s chauffeur. That proved to be a challenge for Imperioli, as the actor didn’t actually have a driver’s license at the time. The star recently recalled that on his very first day on set, he had to perform a tricky-sounding maneuver during a scene with James Gandolfini. Unfortunately, things eventually took a dangerous turn: 

The first day of work, I had to drive him. I didn't have a driver's license, you know, but I didn't tell anybody that because I wanted the job. Because Christopher's job was to drive Tony.But Michael didn't know how to drive. But I'm like, well, how hard could it be? I had to drive backwards down the sidewalk with trees on both sides and extras running out of the way. Delivering dialogue to Tony Soprano. Looking forward. I mean, that's hard to do. Even if you know how to drive which I do now. I did it like four times the fifth time. Boom, right into the tree. The airbags go off, Jim's head snaps back.

I can’t imagine being an actor and getting into an automobile accident amid my very first day of work. Add on the fact that said situation also involved the production’s lead star, and you have yourself in quite the pickle. Michael Imperioli, who reflected on the crash while appearing on Who's Talking to Chris Wallace? (via People) went on to say that his actions caused some on-set chaos. But what really stands out for him over two decades later is the reaction that James Gandolfini had amid the ordeal:

It's my first day I met the guy. There's smoke, people are running. And I'm like, 'They're gonna fire me, man, this is really bad. I look over and he's laughing hysterically.

The three-time Emmy winner certainly did have an interesting sense of humor but, if anything, his laughter likely indicated to his co-star that he was fine after the accident. And to his then-31-year-old colleague’s credit, he did eventually nail the scene. It was actually part of a chase sequence that’s regarded as one of the most iconic moments in the Sopranos pilot. Take a look at the brutal, and somewhat humorous, scene below:

Like their characters, Michael Imperioli and James Gandolfini became quite close during six seasons worth of work on the beloved HBO drama. Imperioli has spoken highly of Gandolfini in the years following his sudden passing at the age of 51 in 2013 as have their co-stars. Adriana La Cerva actress Drea de Matteo once recalled how Gandolfini cut his colleagues big checks after learning that they hadn’t received their due following contract negotiations. The celebrated actor is absolutely missed by his fans and collaborators, and it’s always lovely when people like Imperioli and de Matteo share stories involving him.

I’m glad that Michael Imperioli and James Gandolfini emerged from that car crash in good shape – and not merely because they went on to produce some incredible work. One can only imagine how scary it was for Imperioli at the time but, today, it’s honestly a pretty delightful behind-the-scenes anecdote regarding one of the most impeccable shows to ever grace a TV screen.

All six seasons of The Sopranos are available to stream using an HBO Max subscription. Those looking for more current small-screen fare can hop over to CinemaBlend’s 2023 TV schedule.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Erik Swann is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He began working with the publication in 2020 when he was hired as Weekend Editor. Today, he continues to write, edit and handle social media responsibilities over the weekend. On weekdays, he also writes TV and movie-related news and helps out with editing and social media as needed. He graduated from the University of Maryland, where he received a degree in Broadcast Journalism. After shifting into multi-platform journalism, he started working as a freelance writer and editor before joining CB. Covers superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. He eats more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.