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'The Sopranos' Aida Turturro talks about fighting hunger and her hit show

A. Turturro
Aida Turturro  

(CNN) -- The Canned Food Alliance (CFA) and Share Our Strength have teamed up with celebrities in an effort to combat hunger. The result is the "Canned Food Alliance Five Star Celebrity Cookbook" featuring the recipes of 15 celebrity contributors. The public can obtain a cookbook through March by offering a donation to the fight against hunger.

Aida Turturro is currently appearing in the critically acclaimed HBO series, "The Sopranos," as Janice Soprano, older sister to Tony.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Aida Turturro, and welcome.

Aida Turturro: Hi, guys! Hope you're doing well!


Chat Moderator: How did you become involved with Share our Strength and the Canned Food Alliance?

Aida Turturro: Actually, a friend of mine had asked me. He said, "Could you give me a recipe for donation? And if you do, the Canned Food Alliance will make a donation. Can you whip up something?"

People ask celebrities things like this, and I do what I can. I was hoping I could help. So I was running around, and something I could think of quickly was my grandma's antipasto recipe. It started out with just making a little donation.

Chat Moderator: Is this a cause you have been interested in for a long time?

Aida Turturro: About nine months ago, maybe a year, I was home cleaning up, up late and there was an advertisement on television. I saw those hungry kids and couldn't believe it. I remember writing down the number and sending some money. Itís something that's hard to believe exists in America.

It's scary and upsetting that these little children can't go in and eat what they want to eat from the refrigerator. It's nice when people approach you to help. I'd like to get more involved, but I've just recently become associated with them.

Chat Moderator: Where can we find information on the cookbook?

Aida Turturro: By logging onto If you make a donation of $5 dollars or more, you can get this celebrity cookbook, and all the money goes to Share our Strength. You'll be helping some of the 31 million Americans who go hungry every day.

It's a celebrity cookbook that has some fun recipes, and besides my recipe that's in it, Rosie O'Donnell has something, Patty La Belle, Joe Thiessman, Isaac Hayes and Olympia Dukakis. You'll be getting a great cookbook and really helping others. It's a small donation. You can give more, of course, but that would be up to you.

Question from chat room: Aida, how similar are you to the character you play on "The Sopranos"?

Aida Turturro: I'm not similar at all! Not at all! Except for the fact that Janice has turned me on to going to yoga, I'm not like Janice! I'm not a meanie. I'm not conniving.

Question from chat room: Aida, where did you study acting?

Aida Turturro: I went to a college in New York called New Paltz. I studied theater there for four years. I also studied privately in NYC with a teacher named Robert X. Modica. I studied with him for years. I studied the Meisner technique.

Question from chat room: Do you feel formal training is important to have success as an actress or actor?

Aida Turturro: I wouldn't say that everyone needs it. I think that training is important. I think you need to learn as much as you can learn. I would say that it's important and probably crucial, but I wouldn't say that everyone HAS to have it.

Some people are just natural and don't need it. But I believe in training. It's important, but I still wouldn't say you HAVE to have it. Some haven't trained, but they're still good. There are always exceptions. But even if you're great, I think you should train.

Question from chat room: Aida, were you and cousin John close when you were growing up, and did you share aspirations to act?

Aida Turturro: I grew up with my family in Manhattan, and I used to beg my dad to go visit our cousins, not just John and Nick, but others, too. We'd get together on holidays. But we lived in the city, and they lived in Queens. It was so fun.

I didn't grow up side by side with John; he's older than me. But I helped with some of his plays while I was in college. As far as aspiring, I was younger, and they had started acting, and I started later. It wasn't like, "Hey, let's all act together." We're all supportive now. John is like a big brother.

Question from chat room: Rumors have it that this is the last season. Please say it isn't so.

Aida Turturro: I probably know as much as you guys know! They say right now that they're just going to do season four, which is not this season but next season. What's airing now is season three. We're going to film season four. If it's the last -- I think they think that, but no one is sure -- we won't be able to tell until next year. I think that has to do with the producer and James, and they'll see where it goes.

Question from chat room: Aida, how far ahead of time do you know what will happen to your character?

Aida Turturro: Sometimes we don't know. We get a script two weeks ahead or maybe just a week! When I had the scene last year, the whole thing with Richie and the murder, they called me about three weeks ahead and let me know. They didn't want me to have a coronary.

Question from chat room: What are your feelings when you hear the remarks that "The Sopranos" casts a bad light on Italians? Do you find that this show is too stereotypical of Italians?

Aida Turturro: I don't find that. I don't think it's about Mafia or Italians, but about family. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I respect that opinion. I might not agree, but I respect it. We can go through all the old movies and say, "Oh, look what they did to black people, or others."

But that's not what "The Sopranos" is about. It's about relationships. But if someone has that opinion, they're welcome to it.

Question from chat room: How big of an impact was it to loose 'Livia'?

Aida Turturro: I think it's a huge impact. I think the show isn't truly the same, because Nancy had such a... such a... I can't explain it. She WAS the show, at least the heart of the show to many of us.

The show might still be there, but the heart, or the core, or where it stems from came from Nancy's character. Many might think it's from James or Tony, but I think it came from Nancy -- Livia.

Question from chat room: Are there going to be any big surprises you can let us in on?

Aida Turturro: Uh, not really! Can I let you in? Sure, if I wanna lose my job! We have a code of silence, and we respect that. I don't even tell my family.

Question from chat room: Are you Italian?

Aida Turturro: Of Italian descent, yes. I was born and raised in New York, but my family on both sides is of Italian descent.

Question from chat room: What is your rapport with James off screen because your interactions together on screen are magnificent!

Aida Turturro: Oh, thank you. We have a great rapport. I'm very lucky to call him a friend. We met playing husband and wife on Broadway about nine years ago, doing "Streetcar Named Desire." We have a lot of fun together on and off screen. We're great friends.

Question from chat room: It seems that since Nancy Marchand died, your character has changed a bit, become Tony's primary antagonist. Do you like the direction your character is going?



Aida Turturro: I like the direction. It will continue or not, and you never know with this show. There are always surprises. I love playing someone tougher and ditzier, because in my whole career, I've always been the nice friend. I wanted the challenge.

Question from chat room: Why do you think "The Sopranos" is SO huge?

Aida Turturro: Probably because of the combination of wonderful, wonderful writing, a wonderful, wonderful cast, an amazing crew and its originality.

Question from chat room: What are your future, post-Soprano, plans?

Aida Turturro: I'll probably just continue acting, probably do some films. I won't be doing any television, because you don't do a lot when you're committed to a show. I may do some films during the break. I'd also like to do some theater. I'm going to take some time off and go on a vacation!

Question from chat room: Aida, what else have you appeared in?

Aida Turturro: I did "Angie," "True Love," "Illuminata," which is a favorite because my cousin John wrote it and produced it. I had a small thing in "Sleepers" and "Junior." I'm probably the worst one to ask! "Bringing out the Dead," "Deep Blue Sea," I've done like 40 movies, and can't remember them all! That's some of the basic ones.

Question from chat room: I hear the real Mafia watches the show and likes it. What does the cast think of this?

Aida Turturro: Everyone is welcome to watch TV, no matter what they do for a living! I don't know any real Mafia, but I'm glad they like it. I'm glad when anyone likes it. Obviously, if even the Mafia likes it, then we're doing a good job.

Question from chat room: Aida, will later episodes of the show deal with your younger "fiancée"?

Aida Turturro: Probably not.

Question from chat room: Is your tattoo real?

Aida Turturro: No, it's not real. But when I met Keith Richards, I think he was disappointed. I said, "But I wear it a lot!"

Question from chat room: Do you think they will introduce your son into the story line this season or next?

Aida Turturro: That would be an interesting thought. It would be nice if they did. That's a good idea. There are always ideas that people want or we want, but we never know what David Chase will do. He's our producer-creator. He's the boss. :-)

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

Aida Turturro: I want to thank all of you for talking today. This was my first on a chat line. Thanks for the great questions. I want to urge you again to please make that donation and buy the cookbook. It would be much appreciated, and you'd be helping out some hungry children. Just go to

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today!

Aida Turturro: Goodbye, and have a happy spring!

Aida Turturro joined the chat via telephone from New York and CNN provided a typist for her. The above is an edited transcript of the chat on Tuesday, March 20, 2001 at 1:00 p.m. EST.

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