Schirripa on real-life button men in his new series


It has been nearly four years since Steve Schirripa’s bullet-riddled bodyplunged through an elaborate model train set on “The Sopranos,” his character the victim of a hit put out by a rival crime boss. This week he begins delving into actual contract killings in a new true-crime series on the Investigation Discovery cable channel.
“Nothing Personal,” beginning on Wednesday, investigates hitmen and the people who hire them. Each of the six scheduled episodes explores the surrounding circumstances and eventual execution of a different murder-for-hire, often in grim detail. “His head exploded like a watermelon,” a former mob gunman recalls in the premiere. File the series under “not for the squeamish.”
Schirripa produces and hosts “Nothing Personal,” which he and his co-creators hope to extend into a full series. He is a true-crime buff, but he said he agreed to do the series only if it were to go beyond the world of organized crime. “From the day ‘The Sopranos’ ended in 2007 all you’d get is mob-related stuff, which would be fine if it were any good,” he said. “Unfortunately a lot of it is garbage.”
Schirripa’s post-“Sopranos” career has included movie roles and a stint as a suburban dad in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”. He also wrote a children’s book about a boy who mistakes his neighbors for wiseguys that is being turned into a Nickelodeon movie. Below he talks about “Nothing Personal” and about how his past piqued his interest in the psychology of the contract killer.
Q. So you still get inundated with gangster projects?
A. “The Sopranos” did it about as well as it can be done, but people want to keep you in that box. That’s part of why I did “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” So now instead of fat, sweaty guys approaching me on the street, it’s 15-year-old girls.
Q. But the first episode of “Nothing Personal” revolves around a mob hit, right?
A. Only the first one is mob-related. The others are about wives who hire hitmen to kill their husbands; sons who hire hitmen to kill their parents. There’s one about these 13- and 16-year-old kids who are hitmen for a Mexican drug cartel. So we run the gamut of hitmen.
There’s one story where the woman hired a hitman to kill the husband, and then hired another hitman to kill the first hitman.
Q. Like a hitman pyramid scheme?
A. Yeah. That’s a rough broad there.
Q. Why contract killings as a subject?
A. I’m fascinated by it – it’s just pure evil. It’s just amazing to me that someone could kill someone they’ve been married to for 20 years, and kill them in the worst possible way. The hitmen themselves, I think once you do the hit, I think they become numb.
Q. Several episodes include the actual killers describing their work. Why are they participating?
A. That’s a good question. I think some want to set the story straight, though I’m not sure what there is to set straight if you admit to killing these people.
Others just have big egos – they’re deciding someone’s fate, so in a sense they’re playing God, and I think they want to tell you about it.
Q. Do you worry that you’re glorifying these people?
A. We’re absolutely not glorifying it. We’re just showing you the evil in people. All of the stories have one common factor: it’s always about money.
Q. Did you know people who either perpetrated or became victims of a contract killing?
A. I’ve had my share of both unfortunately. Guys that I grew up with turned up dead, and then other guys, they’re on my baseball team in the eighth grade, and suddenly the guy’s doing 20 years for XYZ.
Q. Did that sort of experience inform your interest in this show?
A. Oh, absolutely. We grew up in the same neighborhood in the same lower-middle class, how come I went one way and you went the other? We started out the same. How does someone good turn bad?