Jamie-Lynn Sigler was a high school kid with a knack for musicals who figured anything called “The Sopranos” would be just her speed. She learned better when she got to the audition.
Robert Iler can’t recall being there.
“I was so young, I don’t even remember doing most of the pilot,” he says. “I do remember having a great time, but I was wishing I was in camp. It was going to be the first summer I could go to camp, and all my friends were there.
“And then everybody on the set was like, ‘Oh, the pilot probably won’t even be picked up.’ For this, I’d missed camp!”
Friends out of necessity
It was summer 1997. A few months later, “The Sopranos” did get a series pickup from HBO. Premiering in January 1999, it became an instant sensation (maybe you heard).
Then during its spectacular run, the actors who had won the roles of Meadow and A.J. — progeny of mob boss Tony Soprano — would grow to adulthood, good friends all the way.
At first, their friendship was out of sheer necessity.
“We had to be a team,” Sigler explains. “We were the only young cast members.”
Now in their early 20s, Sigler and Iler need little prodding to wax nostalgic about their “Sopranos” stint as the series nears the end (episodes premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT).
Breaking in was easy for Sigler.
Real-life eating disorder foreshadowed
“When it started,” she says, “I was playing a teenage girl who wasn’t getting along with her mom and was frustrated by her dad and annoyed by her brother. It wasn’t something very far-fetched for me to play.”
Meanwhile in the pilot, Sigler’s looming real-life eating disorder was unknowingly foreshadowed when Carmela (played be Edie Falco) chided her weight-conscious daughter for skipping breakfast: “You gotta have more than just cranberry juice!”
Iler, then a moonfaced butterball, instantly established A.J. as a spoiled brat. Marking his 13th birthday on the pilot, he memorably pitched a fit, F-word and all, that his party would be missing his grandmother’s ziti.
“You’ve gotten quite a bit more handsome since then,” Sigler says, teasing.
“I was always handsome,” Iler cracks — “under all the fat.”
Actors don't always like their characters
These days, Iler is trim and fit, presenting himself for a recent breakfast interview clad in T-shirt and jeans with a diamond stud plugged into his earlobe.
Having arrived earlier (Iler text-messaged her that he was detained, catching the first part of “Live With Regis and Kelly”), Sigler sports leggings, sweater and bright-colored tennies. A lovely young woman with luminous brown eyes, she seems a softer version of the often defiant, outspoken Meadow.
“After playing this character for so long and having grown up with her in so many ways, I love her,” Sigler makes clear. “But there are many times when I don’t like her.”
That goes double for Iler, whose character remains devoutly selfish and lazy.
“There’s a lot of times I just wanted to step outside of the role and shake him: ‘What’s wrong with you?!”’
Gandolfini ‘an amazing presence’
Portraying Meadow, Sigler says for years she approached it more like a game than serious work.
“I wouldn’t even know the scene I was doing until I got there: I would learn my lines when I got there.”
“He was an amazing presence, even lying there in a coma,” Sigler says. “He affected me so much.”
“He’s a cool guy,” says Iler. “I never feel more privileged than when I get to do scenes with him. He brings something out of me I couldn’t do by myself.”
Through the seasons, the “Sopranos” siblings faced obstacles and made mistakes. Likewise, the actors who played them dealt with real-life growing pains.
Iler's brush with the law
Sigler fought, and overcame, her eating disorder (and wrote a book about it).
In 2001, Iler was arrested and, amid much publicity, charged with robbery and possession of marijuana. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of petty larceny and got three years probation.
“You get in trouble, you have to evaluate: Is it worth getting into trouble again?,” says Iler, explaining his hard-learned lesson. “It’s a lot easier to make that decision when you have a career at stake. I didn’t want to mess up what I had. This show has been a great and amazing experience.”
“I’ll never be on another show like this,” Sigler chimes in. “And now, it’s like graduating from high school. We’re getting ready to enter into the unknown.”
Sigler already married, divorced
“But though people worry about typecasting,” says Iler, “thanks to our roles on this show, I don’t think it’s gonna be a problem. I think for our next job, both of us will be looked at as adults from the start.
“When we go to the set now,” he says, “it’s still, ‘The kids are coming.’ That’s what we are on this show. Even though I’m 22. And Jamie’s 25; she’s been married; she’s been divorced.”
“I’ve been through the wringer!” Sigler laughs.
Their respective personal challenges, plus a glorious shared history as the “Sopranos” kids, have cemented their bond.
They say they talk every day. They text back and forth all the time.
A brother-sister love
“I truly love him,” says Sigler, “and we’ve always looked out for each other.”
“It’s so boring,” says Iler, “that we like each other so much.”
So . . . have they, umm, ever been romantic?
Iler shakes his head emphatically. Sigler giggles at the thought. Implicit is a “not with my sibling” gag reflex.
“That’s why we can be best friends,” Sigler reasons.
Meadow and A.J. should be so close.