Born: March 11, 1955;

Died: April 11, 2021

JOSEPH Siravo, who has died of cancer aged 66, was an actor whose onscreen stock-in-trade was playing Italian American gangsters.

He made his mark in the groundbreaking TV series, The Sopranos (1999-2007), after making his film debut in Carlito’s Way (1993). Away from the screen, he was an accomplished Shakespearean stage actor, and taught Shakespeare workshops for 35 years. Both milieus he occupied dealt with epic tales of family, revenge and usually death, as flawed sociopaths fated themselves to their own doom.

In The Sopranos he was seen in flashback as Tony Soprano’s father, Giovanni ‘Johnny Boy’ Soprano. Though a small role, spread out over a handful of episodes, it was a crucial one that revealed how the roots of some of Tony’s dysfunctionality lay in the influence of Johnny’s violent bravura.

In Carlito’s Way, Brian De Palma cast him as Vinnie Taglialucci, a man in search of revenge following the murder of his father and brother. In one scene, he chases Al Pacino’s character, who is implicated in the killings, through Grand Central Terminal in New York, before sneaking into a hospital room disguised as a policeman to shoot Sean Penn’s corrupt lawyer character.

Siravo played real-life mobster Angelo ‘Gyp’ DeCarlo in the stage musical, Jersey Boys, which charts the rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Taking a shine to Frankie and the boys, DeCarlo sorts out a debt with a loan shark for them. Siravo appeared in more than 2,000 performances of the show.

He played another real-life gangster when he appeared as John Gotti in The Wannabe (2015), having previously played Gotti’s brother, Gene, in a TV film, Witness to the Mob (1998).

His other credits included several roles in Law & Order (1992-2000) and its various offshoots. Big-screen appearances included Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001), and Maid in Manhattan (2002). More recently, in The People v O.J. Simpson (2016), he played Fred Goldman, father of the murdered Ron Goldman.

Beyond this, Siravo ran Shakespeare & Beyond, a programme of weekly workshops for actors that aimed to demystify the bard. On the company website, he described turning people on to Shakespeare who had never previously connected with his work, either through lack of exposure or a previous unsatisfying experience as “One of the greatest joys of my life.”

He went on to say how much he loved it when people overcame their fear of Shakespeare. “I love watching their confidence grow and shine in their faces. Without being too sentimental, I consider it my dharma in life to midwife that connection.”

Joseph Siravo was born in Washington, D.C., one of five children to Theresa, who worked in real estate, and Mario, a bricklayer. He first got the acting bug in a school production of Oliver! He read history at Stanford University in California, and turned down a place at Yale to study acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts instead. His teachers included the late Olympia Dukakis.

He returned to his alma mater to join the faculty at NYU Grad Acting, teaching voice, speech and text, with an emphasis on Shakespeare. He went on to lead workshops on numerous acting training programmes. These included a collaboration with Fay Simpson for Lucid Shakespeare – intense explorations of voice, speech and text in relation to the writer’s works.

On stage, he played Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, Claudius in Hamlet, and Sweeney in Sweeney Todd. He acted with the likes of the American Repertory Theatre, and worked extensively Off-Broadway, where he appeared in Caryl Churchill’s play, Mad Forest (1991), and My Night With Reg, by Kevin Elyot.

There was a 1999 revival of Albert Innaurato’s play, Gemini, Dark Rapture, by TV writer Eric Overmyer, and a production of The Barber of Seville. Other appearances included Tennessee & Me, by Will Scheffer, and New York Actor, by John Guare.

On Broadway, he was Italian consultant on a production of Alan Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business (1992), before appearing in Herb Gardner’s Conversations with My Father (1992-1993). He appeared in a revival of Rodgers and Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse (2002), which was adapted from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, and in an Italian-set musical, The Light in the Piazza (2005-2006).

He was a producer of a 2006 film, Things That Hang From Trees, for Aviles Street productions, the New York-based production company he co-founded. In 2016, he appeared Off-Broadway in J.T. Rogers’ play, Oslo, which transferred to Broadway with many of the original cast, including Siravo himself, and won two Tony awards.

Recent appearances included Motherless Brooklyn (2019), and The Report (2019), the Scott Z. Burns film produced by Steven Soderbergh, in which he played John A. Rizzo, the former Acting General Counsel of the CIA.

The same year, he played Cardinal Mancini, a senior Vatican official in charge of the Pope’s security during his visit to New York, in an episode of medical drama, New Amsterdam (2019). He was last seen in five episodes of the prison drama, For Life (2020).

He is survived by his daughter, Allegra, to his former wife, Giovannella Frankel. He is also survived by his son-in-law, Aaron Okarmus; his grandson Atticus Okarmus; his sister Maria Siravo; and his brothers, Mario, Ernest and Michael.