Tag Archives: Episodes

This is Where New York Ambushed Tony Soprano’s Right Hand Man

“Gerry warned you Eli!”

Dim streetlights reflect off wet pavement. In the background, a red neon sign flickers out. “Kay’s Spring Garden.” As Hesh Rabkin and his son-in-law Eli prepare to head home, a black Lexus suddenly pulls in front of them. In an instant, they’re surrounded by thugs banging on the car. Finally, a burning rag inserted into the fuel tank gets them out of the car, desperate to save their own lives.

This classic scene in season 6 of The Sopranos ended with Eli in the hospital with severe injuries and after Gerry Torciano’s men attacked him for poaching Torciano’s loansharking customers. Even Hesh, Tony’s long-time confidant and business partner, got roughed up.

This scene was filmed on Congress Street just off Central Avenue in Jersey City’s Heights neighborhood. I actually lived just 4 blocks away for two years. So what is this location like in real life?

Kay’s Spring Garden is a real Chinese restaurant. I actually went past a couple of weeks ago, and it still looked exactly the same as it did in this Sopranos episode from 2006. It sits on Central Avenue, the main commercial street of Jersey City Heights. The stores on either side are different now: the flower shop has become a realtor, and Goehrig’s Bakery, long vacant, has become a high end cupcake shop.

The Heights has historically been a neighborhood of immigrants. First the Germans, then Jews and Italians, and now Hispanic people, often from the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. When I moved there in 2015, it was just beginning to gentrify. Today, it’s a mix of immigrants and young professionals.

Central Avenue is a charming street that I still love to walk down, even though I no longer live in the neighborhood. The bustle, the cute, family-run stores selling delicious food, the ambience, it can’t be beat!

The way the neighborhood looks at night in The Sopranos is very accurate to reality. It’s dark, quiet, and deserted. You don’t see many people around. Until a black Lexus pulls in front of you…

For more on The Sopranos and entertainment, check out these posts:

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Filming a TV Show in NYC in a Pandemic

EMT’s jump into a vintage ambulance and speed off past NYPD Chevy Caprices. The backdrop: a spooky, mostly disused hospital on the fringes of New York City. Two menacing men in flat-top fades and thick gold chains saunter toward the entrance.

This is the world I spent yesterday in, as a background actor (also known as an extra) playing an EMT for a popular cable show. Background acting is a fun hobby I picked up in late 2019, but I hadn’t done a gig since the beginning of COVID. But now I’m fully vaccinated and back in the game.

So what’s it like to film a television show in New York City in the middle of a pandemic? First, be prepared to get COVID tested a lot, even if you’re vaccinated. I took a COVID test 10 days before the shoot, a rapid test at the fitting one week out, another test 4 days out, and yet another rapid test as soon as I arrived on set.

But that’s not all. You have to fill out an online form about symptoms and travel every day you come in. Even on the shoot day, you wear a mask at all times unless you’re on camera or eating.

Even with these changes, filming is a lot of fun! I wore an elaborate costume that had been tailored to fit me personally. The tailor even sewed “EMT New York City” patches onto the uniform. I was rather honored to have such a fuss made over me, despite being just a background actor.

I had the opportunity to ride in a 1982 Ford ambulance like this one, which was fascinating! My fellow EMT, who was also a trained stunt driver, took the wheel. I also got to see circa 1990 NYPD squad cars on the set, which is a rare opportunity.

The episode was set in 1991 and we filmed in a remote part of New York City. I can’t get into specifics on the show until it airs later this year, but I was incredibly impressed at the very real little world they had created. Two characters had Timberland boots, thick gold necklaces, and tall, fade-style Afros cut specially for the scene. The cars were picture perfect. There’s something about seeing a little world where the past has been recreated, and becoming a part of it, that’s quite thrilling.

In all, with the many tests and fitting and elaborate setup, I was only actually on camera for maybe 90 minutes. That footage will later be cut down to probably just a few seconds. The amount of work that goes into making a perfect scene that may last just an instant is incredible.

I look forward to being a part of lots of other interesting shows soon!

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Photos:

“VFS Film Production: ‘Milligan’s Stew'” by vancouverfilmschool is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“1982 Ford F-100 ambulance” by sv1ambo is licensed under CC BY 2.0