For the better part of two decades, Frankie Valli rode the pop charts as a hitmaker with such songs as “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll” and the theme song from “Grease.”
Now, he’s joining another brand of hitmakers — as a bad guy on HBO's “The Sopranos,” hanging out with mob types similar to some he grew up with.
“Coming from Newark, N.J., I’ve certainly been around a lot of that,” Valli said by phone from his home in Southern California. “Growing up pursuing a singing career, all the little bars and clubs were the places where these guys would congregate. In a lot of cases they owned them.
“I never got to know exactly what each guy was doing, but I did know several guys. I mean, they didn’t call me in and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing this week,’ ya know. There are probably a couple of them in my character.”
Some “Sopranos” characters are so authentic “I think back to being a kid and these guys,” he said.
“There’s a lot of familiar-looking people in ‘The Sopranos.”’
Joining the cast of the mob show, now in its fifth season, fulfills a dream for Valli that began four years ago when he first read for the show’s creator, David Chase.
“After seeing the show a few times, I really wanted to do it,” he said. “I just loved the way David Chase was writing it. He seemed to be pleased with my reading, but at the time he didn’t feel as though the part I was reading for was right for me, but said he would look for the right thing for me.
“In most cases, that’s a nice way of making you not feel bad about not getting cast. But David is a man of his word.”
Valli first appears in the series Sunday, and will be in three more episodes, barring changes. (It airs 9 p.m. ET.)
While the shooting has wrapped up for this season, Valli said nothing is certain on the set of “The Sopranos.”
“If they want to insert anything, they may give you a call. They’re constantly critiquing. David Chase is a meticulous writer.”
Little Carmine's capoValli plays a captain in the New York faction of the mob, in the family of Carmine Lupertazzi, who has just beat the mob odds by dying a natural death. Valli is allied with the stroke victim’s son, Little Carmine (Ray Abruzzo).
Valli said it seems that his character will survive to a sixth season, but added: “You just never know.”
Should Valli the actor be grimly reaped, Valli the singer has a project in the works — a jazz album.
“It’s the thing I always wanted to do,” he said. “I never thought in a million years that I would end up doing pop music. It wasn’t anything that I really wanted to do. I kind of grew up at the tail end of the big band era. I have grown to like pop.”
He also is reviving the Four Seasons with only Valli, his trademark falsetto and his music director remaining from the original group that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Most of its hits came in the ’60s and ’70s.
“I stopped for a while. It had come to the point where I thought I’d had enough. I found out that I hadn’t quite really had enough. I just decided I’m going to be on the road less. There are other things that I want to do.
“I’m at a point in my life where I’ve had a lot of hits. It’s not so much that I’m sitting here at this time in my life with stars in my eyes hoping that I have another No. 1 record. I’ve had my share of No. 1 records. I really want to do things that I really want to do. I have enough on my plate as it is.”
Along with music and acting, Valli, 66, has three sons — twin 9-year-olds and a 16-year-old — “to stay on top of.”
“I like being home and doing location work,” he said. “That was another really wonderful thing about doing ‘The Sopranos.’ You didn’t have to travel every day.”
His previous sporadic acting stints have included 1998’s “Witness to the Mob” starring Nicholas Turturro and Tom Sizemore, Robby Benson’s “Modern Love” in 1990 and the 1978 feature “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
“I certainly want to do more acting if I have any opportunities to do it,” he said. “I want to do roles that are challenging. It’s a creative part of me that really has to be a little bit more active.”