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Lions Roar : November 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2011 89 ultimate thing to fulfill you doesn’t actually make you happy, you better figure out what does.” “HOW CAN A PATH all about improving the self be about selflessness?” Gus asks Lisette this question over a drink, his tone taking a sharp turn away from flirtation. They’d just met earlier in the evening, while she was outside having a smoke and he was rant- ing his poems into his cellphone. Now Gus presses on: “If I’m concerned with my life, my karma, my rebirth... where’s the sacredness in that?” His anger jars against the bar’s mellow music, the plaintive strains of guitar. “What are you crying for?” he sneers. “You’re crying ’cause you fear suffering. It’s all about you. It’s all about nothing.” “It’s not,” says Lisette. “The soul is not nothing.” “The truth is, sweet- heart, there is no soul... It’s all up here.” Gus strokes her head. “Then what? We’re all just... bodies?” Gus smiles. “It’s the body, which is immortal. Now we’re human and it’s rotted into worms, which are eaten by birds, which are eaten by cats, which are eaten by dogs, who shit us out and we become grass, which is then eaten by cows who are milked and churned into cheese and swallowed in a cheeseburger by some teenager down at McDonald’s and, hey, we’re human once more, and on and on... We’re immortal.” Lisette weeps and Gus kisses her cheeks, cups her face in his hands. “Do you see the beauty in that?” he murmurs. She nods weakly. “Yes?” he persists, and she nods again. Then he traces her mouth with his thumb before slipping it inside. “Do you see the beauty in that?” She sucks on one of his fingers. Then a second. A third. A fourth—her whole mouth stuffed. And still hungry. Gus isn’t played by Imperioli, rather Gus is his creation—a character from the 2009 film Hungry Ghosts, which was written and directed by Imperioli and produced by his wife. The title, which borrows from Buddhist cosmology, refers to beings with tiny mouths and huge, hungry stomachs; they try to consume but swallowing is excruciating and they can’t get enough down their throats to satisfy. The film uses the term as a metaphor to describe people with a deep feeling of emptiness who try to fill themselves up by chasing their endless, illusory appetites—drugs, was that stupid. It was four years before I got a part in a play, which didn’t pay any money, and then another four years after that before I started making a living. If I had known how long it would take, I don’t know if I would have done it.” While Imperioli waited for his break, he worked in restau- rants; he was a waiter, busboy, bartender, and cook. Yeah, he believed he was going to make it. “But sometimes no,” he admits. “There are times when you feel like it just might never happen. The reality is that there are a lot of good actors and you don’t necessarily stand out that much. To succeed it takes a combina- tion of being good and just persevering. Some luck doesn’t hurt either.” That said, according to Imperioli, it’s not luck that some- one gives you a part. It’s luck that you don’t get hit by a bus or get cancer, and that luck enables you to stick it out—if you have the perseverance in you. Eventually, he says, after you’ve done twenty plays and you’ve done a good job, someone knows you and gives you a small part in a film. Michael Imperioli’s first film credit is for John G. Avildsen’s Lean on Me. After that, he landed other small parts in a variety of flicks, including Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever and Malcolm X, Scott Kalvert’s The Basketball Diaries, and Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol. Then, in 1999, he got the part of Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos, the role he continues to be most well known for and for which, in 2004, he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. For years, here and there, people on the street had recognized Imperioli and come up to talk to him, but The Sopranos took it up a notch—a big notch. “To be honest,” he says, “it was a bit of an adjustment. When your privacy is invaded to a much bigger degree, it’s a little strange trying to navigate that.” Suddenly finding himself in the limelight was one of the rea- sons that Imperioli ended up delving into Buddhism. “In my twenties, pretty much all I cared about was acting,” he explains. “I was driven to succeed, which you have to be to make it in the business.” But what happened to Imperioli is what happens to a lot of people. “Finally, on some level,” he says, “you achieve what’s considered success. Then you realize it doesn’t necessar- ily make you happy. So, if what you thought was going to be the “You achieve what’s considered success. Then you realize it doesn’t necessarily make you happy. So, if what you thought was going to be the ultimate thing to fulfill you doesn’t, you better figure out what does.” Wise Guy continued from page 33