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Mob mentality

Season six of ``The Sopranos" belonged to Joseph R. Gannascoli.

As closeted gay mobster Vito Spatafore, Gannascoli was equally convincing in portraying cold-eyed menace and yearning vulnerability. Once he was outed, Vito fled to New Hampshire and began a relationship with a short-order cook he called ``Johnny Cakes." But the pull of mob life was strong, and Vito returned to New Jersey. Bad move. Crime boss Phil Leotardo had Vito beaten to death with pool cues.

It was Gannascoli who suggested the gay story line to ``Sopranos" writers, based on a book he read about a real-life mobster. He then made the most of it. ``When the bell rings, you've got to answer it," he says. ``I had the greatest year on the greatest show." His performance last season was all the more impressive because Vito's limp was no act: Gannascoli was in constant pain because of a bum hip that eventually required double-hip replacement surgery.

Now, Gannascoli is moving quickly to capitalize on the buzz surrounding his performance. A onetime chef, he recently published a novel about a Mafia chef titled "A Meal to Die For," and he is selling a line of pasta sauce and spices under the label "To Die For." The next product in that line, he says, will be . . . a pool cue.

Q. You came up with the idea to give Vito a secret gay identity, and it gave you a breakout role, but it also led to your character's demise. A double-edged sword, no?
A. I didn't know which way it was going to go. But if I had to do it over again, I'd do it this way, because it brings closure and it made Vito a lot more sympathetic.

Q. Are you more recognized in public now?
A. Wherever I go, to the Deep South, to NASCAR, I'm instantly recognizable now. People really felt for the character. I'm proud of that, because I'm really self-taught as an actor, like I was as a chef.

Q. Some ``Sopranos" fans grumbled that the Vito story line and the whole excursion to New Hampshire took the focus off more compelling action in New Jersey.
A. Well, what can you say? Here is a guy who was tormented, who didn't know what to do. And he took off and ended up in New Hampshire. It probably happens in real life. These people who just want mob stuff and killing: There's more to it than that.

Q. As far as you know, are you the only member of the cast who has played two roles on the show? (Gannascoli appeared in a brief but memorable scene in season one as a bakery patron who asks ``What about my bread?" after Christopher Moltisanti shoots a baker in the foot).
A.Yes. Then they created Vito for me. (Laughs.) They needed a fat (expletive) back then.

Q. Any thoughts on how ``The Sopranos" is going to end?
A. I couldn't find out, but I want to speculate on my own. I think that Johnny Sack may be a rat. I think the cancer will get Paulie Walnuts. I think Christopher will be back on the junk. Actually, he already is.

Q. What about Tony?
A. I think that he's going to go away.

DON AUCOIN

Doherty avoids jail
Babyshambles frontman Pete Doherty skirted a jail sentence on drug charges yesterday when a judge ordered him to continue rehabilitation and complimented one of his songs. The 27-year-old singer appeared for sentencing on five charges of possessing heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana . Doherty pleaded guilty on Aug. 18 to all charges, which stem from arrests in April and August in which drugs were found in his vehicle and home and he was found with a crack pipe and a small amount of crack cocaine. District judge Jane McIvor yesterday deferred sentencing until Dec. 4 and told Doherty he would not go to jail if he adheres to his rehabilitation program, continues to be employed, and commits no other offenses. She told Doherty his song ``The Blinding" is a ``good tune."

Shakira eyes Bollywood film
Pop singer Shakira is interested in dancing for a Bollywood film that her Indian choreographer-filmmaker friend will begin shooting this year, a newspaper reported yesterday. The Times of India said Shakira was so impressed while working with top Bollywood choreographer Farah Khan during rehearsals for last week's MTV awards that she expressed a desire to dance in the planned film. Khan told the newspaper Shakira would visit India for a concert in March next year and the movie dance sequence could be shot at that time.

`Sweeney Todd' closes
As Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris, the stars of the Stephen Sondheim musical ``Sweeney Todd," stood on stage Sunday night with the rest of the cast after the final performance of the musical's recent revival, the flowers came soaring out of the orchestra and mezzanine. Among those applauding wildly at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre was none other than Sondheim. The show first opened on Broadway in 1979, and this revival began its New York run last November.

That's the ticket
'Ben and I are going to run together in '08.' The Rev. Al Sharpton, at a recent fund - raiser for his charity, the National Action Network, at which Ben Affleck said he voted for Sharpton for president and called him a ``leader for our time."

FROM WIRE REPORTS

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