Steven Van Zandt recalls landing 'The Sopranos' lead before James Gandolfini: 'Wiser heads prevailed'

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Steven Van Zandt’s acting debut almost looked very different.

The rocker, now 70, is known for playing Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos,” which was his first time on screen, save for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in 1985’s “American Flyers.”

The star appeared in 79 of the show’s 86 episodes, but fans nearly saw him playing an entirely different role: Tony Soprano, the lead.

Van Zandt recently spoke with Fox News about his memoir, “Unrequited Infatuations,” in which he reflects on his life and career as a musician, actor and activist. During his chat, he reminisced on the casting process of “The Sopranos.”

“As it turns out, [creating Silvio Dante] was collaborative because [‘The Sopranos’ creator David Chase] cast me as Tony and HBO said, ‘Are you out of your f—ing mind? This is the most expensive show we’ll ever do, we can’t have a guy that never acted before,” the musician recalled. 

The star added: “So, wiser heads prevailed, thankfully, and one of the greatest actors ever, [James] Gandolfini, got the gig.”

Van Zandt would go on to win a pair of Screen Actors Guild Awards for his work on the show as part of its ensemble cast. He’s also worked on a handful of other high-profile projects in the years since, including “Lilyhammer,” “The Christmas Chronicles” and “The Irishman.”

The book covers more than just his time on “The Sopranos.”

“It starts off as a music book, a music guy’s story,” Van Zandt explained. “The second half of the book is an entirely different story.”

Steven Van Zandt revealed that he was nearly cast in the lead role of ‘The Sopranos’ before HBO insisted a more experienced actor take the part.
(Associated Press)

Included are stories of his time with Bruce Springsteen as a member of the E Street Band before the act made it big.

“We had the residency in that we’d park at the Stone Pony, which was really the high point of pre-making it,” he recalled about a nightclub in Asbury Park, New Jersey, that the band help make famous.

His politically charged solo career is also covered.

Stevie Van Zandt played Silvio Dante in ‘The Sopranos.’
(Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

“I had been reading a lot about politics at that point and became obsessed with politics, really,” Van Zandt remembered. “I said, ‘Well I’ll be the political guy.'”

Overall, the book was cathartic to write.

“It was fun to kind of remember those things and go through them, and see why you did certain things – the mistakes,” the musician said.

Fox News’ Ashley Dvorkin contributed to this report.

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