Michael Imperioli can keep a secret, the man famous for getting whacked on-screen survived the White Lotus finale. Could he check in for another season? He’ll never tell.
Michael Imperioli leans across the booth at Cafe Fiorello on the Upper West Side, his thick eyebrow raised, the pupils in his hazel eyes narrowed. “I’m very good at keeping secrets,” he says with a conspiratorial smile. “You could tell me the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life, something that you’re afraid people will hate you for and I’ll never ever tell. Go ahead!”
I laugh nervously and try to turn the conversation back to him. We are two weeks out from the finale of The White Lotus and Imperioli will absolutely not budge, no matter how I try to coax him, into giving me a clue about who ends up dead in the final episode. He’s been here before. He was privy to the end of the most talked-about, most polarizing finale in television history: The Sopranos. The HBO show that made Imperioli a star treated the last episode in 2007 as a state secret: They stopped having full read-throughs, stopped giving scripts to guest stars. Though his character Christopher Moltisani died a few episodes before the finale, producer David Chase told the actor how it would all end, that it would just cut to black. And the actor did not tell a soul.
“I don’t get why people want to know—why they want to have you spoil the whole thing,” he says with a shrug. So instead, Imperioli and I spoke again on the phone late last night, moments after his character Dominic Di Grasso boards the plane back to the states with his father (F. Murray Abraham) and son, Albie (Adam DiMarco), surviving the deadly checkout day.
In the finale, Imperioli’s character, a Hollywood big wig with a sex addiction, managed to broker a deal with his son—paying off the sex worker they both slept with in exchange for Albie putting in a good word with his mother, on whom Dom has been compulsively cheating.
One thing Imperioli never watches? Himself. As he says: “It’s not so productive for me to examine what I did and what I didn’t do.”Philip Friedman
Imperioli hasn’t stopped working since The Sopranos wrapped 16 years ago. He’s had parts in well-reviewed projects like Watchmen, Escape at Dannemora, and Californication—and dozens of other shows you haven’t heard of. “There were times where I felt I got into some slumps, where I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do,” he says. “Part of that was raising a family and wanting to earn a certain amount of money every year.”
White Lotus is the first show that Imperioli has been on since The Sopranos that has rivaled the passionate fandom of that show. “I have to say I’m really amazed at how popular it is,” he says, as if this is surprising, as if White Lotus hasn’t completely taken over my social media and group chats over the last month. “I mean, it is really, really popular. I’ve done a lot of television since The Sopranos and nothing has come close to this kind of level of excitement. People are really, really into it.”
For Season Two of the HBO show, the cast spent four months filming in Sicily in Italy’s off season. They became close—particularly Imperioli and his on-screen dad, F. Murray Abraham.
“Usually on the set, actors hang out in their trailer or prepare themselves; I go right to the set. I don’t mess around. I’m ready to go. I’m usually the first one there,” Abraham tells me. “But not this time; Michael was always there. We have a lot of respect for the work. I guess that’s part of it. But also I trust him and he’s a man to be trusted. I wish that it didn’t sound just like I’m gushing, but I don’t say this about many people. And it’s a pleasure to be able to say it.”
The Di Grasso storyline was inspired by show creator Mike White’s own trip with his father to Sweden, where their family is from. He knew, having seen The Sopranos, that he wanted Imperioli for the role of Dom. “This guy is, on the page, not likable,” White says of the character. “I needed to find someone who is a great actor and grounded, credible, and honest, and, at the same time, likable to men and to women, who is somebody that you’re gonna want to be in his company, even though you know these things about him. And Michael is just somebody who has a likability and a relatability that I think helped make Dominic a palatable persona.”
To calm his own nerves, he invited Abraham and DiMarco for weekly rehearsals once they got to Sicily. Haley Lu Richardson, who plays Portia, Albie’s first love interest on the show, joined, as did Italian actors Sabrina Impacciatore (Valentina), Beatrice Grannò (Mia), and Simona Tabasco (Lucia). The practices helped and the cast became close—particularly Imperioli and Abraham, who often went out to dinner with Imperioli and his wife during filming. They’ve all remained close since returning to the city, too. “He’s become one of my closest friends—and that doesn’t often happen when I’m working,” Imperioli says. About Imperioli, Abraham adds, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a lifelong friendship. Finding a friend like that is just plain good luck. And when you do make a new friend, it’s a gift.”
See The White Lotus Season 2