Joseph R. Gannascoli

Joseph R. Gannascoli

Gannascoli grew up in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, attending Lafayette High School before moving on to St. John's University where he majored in communications and prepared for a law degree. After only two years, Gannascoli dropped out of school - becoming a lawyer was just not for him. Besides, he had a burgeoning Quaalude business to maintain. He was working in the men's department of a Lord & Taylor department store when he befriended the store's executive chef, who invited Gannascoli to work at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Gannascoli began teaching himself how to cook, as he moved from kitchen to kitchen during the early 1980s in Boston, Los Angeles and New Orleans, gathering more experience in each new place. While he was in Manhattan, he was encouraged by an actor friend to audition for the play, "The Juiceman," which is what gave him the acting bug. Gannascoli soon hired private acting coach Bob Patterson and moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, landing a bit part in "Money for Nothing" (1993), starring John Cusack and Benicio Del Toro.After bit parts as a security guard in "Ed Wood" (1994) and a carnival attendant in "Never Talk to Strangers" (1995), Gannascoli returned to Brooklyn where he opened the restaurants 101 and Soup. Unfortunately, at that same time, he was also buried in gambling debts. He sought to alleviate the burden by becoming a food fence - a go-between for stolen food - but eventually was forced to sell off his restaurants. By then, however, Gannascoli was more interested in acting anyway. He was cast as a hospital guard in the indie biopic "Basquiat" (1996), then had his first starring role in "Blowfish" (1997), a low budget comedy about two Brooklyn brothers (Gannascoli and Sonny Marinelli) who get stranded in small town Florida while picking up their deceased grandma's broken-down jalopy. Gannascoli returned to bit parts in larger fare, playing a burly guy in the caper-comedy, "On the Run" (1999); a doorman in the mob comedy, "Mickey Blue Eyes" (1999), starring Hugh Grant and James Caan; and a counter guy in "Two Family House" (2000). Over the years, Gannascoli had stayed in touch with "Money for Nothing" co-star Benicio Del Toro. Through this connection, Gannascoli met casting directors Georgianne Walken and Sheila Jaffe, and managed to get an audition for the part of Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri on "The Sopranos." He did not get the part, but did get a walk on as a bakery customer named Gino during the first season. Gannascoli returned for season two as a different character, playing Vito Spatafore, the mellow and loyal foot soldier in the late Ralph Cifaretto's crew. Despite Vito's low-key personality, he had been relied upon to carry out the grimmest of orders. Though Gannascoli's role started small, he slowly developed the character over the course over five seasons, culminating at the end of the fifth with a major revelation - his character was seen giving a male security guard oral sex.For the sixth and possibly last season, it was revealed that Vito was indeed gay, giving Gannascoli media buzz that helped boost his career. This had been his intention all along when he had presented the show's writers with the idea after reading Murder Machine by Jerry Capeci - a book describing a real-life openly gay mobster. Vito was doomed from the minute the Mob found out he was gay. He tried to get back with his family and convince Tony to let him work some business in Atlantic City, but that just prolonged the inevitable. His whacking, in a Fort Lee motel room, was overseen by his own relative-by-marriage, Phil.Meanwhile, Gannascoli lost over 150 pounds, after topping out at 400 at one point, on "Celebrity Fit Club" (VH1, 2004-10), a reality series in which celebrities open up about their battles with weight gain and do something about it. Gastrointestinal surgery and diet pills also aided his weight loss.On top of all his other projects, Gannascoli released his first novel, A Meal to Die For, a combination recipe book and crime fiction about a food fence that drew heavily from his own experiences. Gannascoli also returned to the restaurant business, opening Soup As Art in Brooklyn where he drummed up business by having "Sopranos" cast members stop by for a bite.