After attending Syracuse University-level classes that comprise her senior year of Jericho High School, Jamie Lynn Sigler hangs out with her friends to rehearse the school Drama Club's production of Grease, in which she plays the lead role of Sandy. And in her leisure, she drives to the Cultural Arts Playhouse, a semi-professional regional theater located in Old Bethpage, to perform in its Young People's Theater production of A Chorus Line.
And then there is her second life - a professional, grown-up world where she stands at the cusp of stardom. Her eight-by-ten glossy may still be humbly hanging up on the walls of community theaters, but the suddenly omnipresent visage of this 17-year-old is now gracing giant Manhattan billboards, youth magazines like Seventeen and scores of cable television promotions, all of which coincide with the highly anticipated debut of mob drama The Sopranos. Sigler plays the lead character's daughter in the show, which airs Sunday nights on HBO at 9 p.m.
According to Sigler, and the friends who know her best, her two worlds don't often intersect. Once off the Queens-based Sopranos set, she's simply Jamie. Her head may be super-sized on Times Square ads, but in reality her ego fits squarely in her life-sized head. She's as down-to-earth as a flower, and unless prompted, she won't revel in her fortune while among her friends.
"It's definitely weird. I feel like I lead two different lives," said Sigler. Not wishing to appear boastful, "I never talk about [the show] with my friends unless they ask."
Sigler's attempt to balance the dichotomy in her life bears similarity to the perennial struggle facing New Jersey Mafia don Anthony Soprano (James Gandolfini), the main character of the HBO series.
Husband to Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) and father to Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) and the rebellious Meadow Soprano, whom Sigler plays, Tony tries to keep his two lives separate. The neurotic underground boss suffers from the peculiar affliction of stress-induced panic attacks, and he often finds dealing with his family even more troublesome than managing his "waste management business" (which puts a whole new inflection on the phrase, "I'll give you an offer you can't refuse.").
While he certainly frets being the target of a "hit," ordered by one of his rivals, there's no way Tony can dodge the emotional bullets frequently fired upon him by his own family. Meadow's growing suspicions regarding her father's true occupation, and a festering conflict between Meadow and her mother are already too much for Tony to handle. Add to this domestic turmoil the presence of Livia (Nancy Marchand), his critical, churlish mother; Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese), who misses the days when organized crime wasn't so disorganized; and a family tree which has sprouted a crop of bungling, law-breaking screw-ups, and it's no wonder he's resorted to ongoing sessions with a therapist and a prescription for Prozac.
However, while the fictional Soprano family breeds dysfunction, the cast that makes up the Italian clan blends harmoniously, and Sigler is a part of that.
"It all has coalesced in the most incredible and strange way," said David Chase, series creator and writer. "It's wonderful. They all seem to understand each other and there's just a chemistry there. And there's a chemistry off-camera too. There's a strange, familial feeling among the whole cast, that I certainly didn't see in the last show I worked on."
Sigler admitted that at first, she was a little starstruck working with the veteran cast. "Of course there was...you know, the feeling you get when you walk past someone famous," she said. "But everybody there is so warm and so normal and down-to-earth that I don't ever feel that way when I'm with them anymore. You know, like, when I look at pictures of us, they're just my friends. And I feel different when I pass famous people now."
Particularly solid is the relationship between Sigler and Gandolfini. "James is, like, the greatest guy ever. I love working with him. He's always looking out for you," Sigler said. "I mean I really felt like he was my father after a while...We used to talk about boyfriends, and, like, he was going to beat them up if they did anything to me," she continued, laughing. (Perhaps James is a little too invested in his character.)
But he's truly gentle at heart. "We call him the teddy bear," she said.
The evolving on-screen relationship between Tony and Meadow will be a significant focal point as The Sopranos' first season story arc - 13 episodes in total were filmed, with the pilot shot two years ago when Sigler was 15 - unfurls. While the bratty, self-centered Meadow at first alienates herself from her nuclear family, she eventually grows closer to her father.
"You learn about Meadow that she's very intelligent," said Sigler, describing her character as a younger clone of Tony's manipulative and guilt-dispensing mother, Livia. "She knows what's going on, but she won't always say it. She knows what her father does; she's not stupid. She knows that her parents are keeping it from her. She knows why all these big guys are coming over to dinner all the time."
In episode five, which will air on February 7, Meadow confronts Tony about his business, as the two embark on a road trip to inspect colleges. Tony fruitlessly attempts to dismiss her allegations until he can no longer conceal the obvious. At first she is displeased with his illegal doings, but in time, explained Sigler, "You learn that she loves her father, unconditionally, and she learns to accept the fact that he's in the Mafia."
Sigler added, "She realizes, okay, even though I think this is bad and it isn't right to be in the Mafia, this is me, this is my family, this is my life and this is what I have to deal with."
Producer-Director Allen Coulter, who directed episode five, called Sigler's performance "incredibly well-honed and sensitive."
While Chase said he did not wish to "wreck the fun" by revealing future plot twists, Sigler was less tight-lipped. She revealed that in one episode, Meadow experiments with drugs, "but she confesses to her father and...tries to be a better person." She plays a major part in episode 11 as well.
When Sigler first auditioned for the role, Chase was impressed with her interpretations of Meadow's lines. "She doesn't overact. She's very natural, and she's very believable," said Chase. "She [auditioned] without being cloyingly cute, which happens 80 percent of the time with actors her age."
Sigler, in turn, complimented Chase, crediting the strong characterization in his writing with making it easy to identify with Meadow. Chase, who formerly wrote for The Rockford Files , I'll Fly Away and Northern Exposure, stated that "I really can't write except through characters."
"She [Meadow] was so easy to relate to," said Sigler. "It was kind of like I would just read the script once and I would know what I would want to do...We're similar in the way [that] every teenage girl fights with her parents. She always wants, you know, extended curfews, she always wants to be with her friends. That's every normal teenager...I can relate to her, definitely."
But that may be where the similarities between Sigler and Soprano come to a screeching halt. Used to Sigler's sun-shiny disposition, many of her friends, after viewing her as the tempestuous Meadow during a debut party that her family hosted last Sunday night, were a little surprised.
They weren't used to seeing Sigler's mean streak. It's just not Jamie. And apparently, fame won't change that sunny personality. Ask any of Sigler's friends, and they'll tell you as much.
"The only change I see in Jamie is the growth in her talent," said Kimberly Joy, a friend of Sigler, who had alternated with her as Annie in a Gray Wig production at Hofstra University six years ago. "Quite honestly, I'm not surprised by her success. I've been anticipating it for as long as I've known her," said the Roslyn Heights resident.
"She has been a professional since the day I met her," said Peter Leskowicz, another community theater associate, from Oyster Bay Cove. "Jamie has always been really mature for her age."
Maturity is a word recited quite often when people speak of Sigler.
Quite often young adults are cast in the roles of teenagers instead of teens themselves. "The reason it happens that way is...[that] if someone is over 18, they're able to work longer hours [according to the Screen Actors Guild rules]. But she was just so good, we sort of bit the bullet," said Chase.
Coulter compared Sigler to actress Claire Danes, "who can play someone older than herself, [which is] very unusual. [Jamie] has enough maturity to understand," he said.
Her maturity also explains why Sigler, despite being one of the youngest actresses to ever earn the role, will play every female's fantasy part from Les Miserables - the love-struck Eponine. She was cast in the role after merely one audition late last year, her chances undoubtedly boosted by the acclaim and attention she has received from The Sopranos. "Eponine is my dream. To sing On My Own on Broadway is my dream," said Sigler, who will also get to sing the melodious duet, A Little Drop of Rain. Sigler, who has seen the show four times, does not know just yet when she will begin her run.
Sigler lives with her mother Connie, and father Steve and has two older brothers, Adam and Brian. She was recently accepted to NYU, where she wants to major in psychology to ultimately pursue a profession in theater therapy.
Best typifying her maturity and modesty, Sigler will continue to perform on a local level until her schedule no longer permits it. "I did this HBO thing, but I'm still doing my school play and everything because it doesn't mean I'm special; it means I was lucky. I had the right looks or whatever they wanted. Everybody gets their shot, being in the right place at the right time."
"I've gotten tons of rejections. Tons. Years of rejections. I know how it feels...I'd never take this [HBO show] for granted and my parents would never let me get any kind of big head or anything. But I would never anyway because I really don't like people who are that way."
Episode two of The Sopranos will be re-aired on Saturday, January 23 at 11 p.m. Episode three will first air this Sunday at 9 p.m.
Here's what you need to know about Episode One of The Sopranos in order to be kept up to speed:
After a series of stress-induced anxiety attacks, Tony Soprano visits psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi, who analyzes his troubles, interprets his dreams and prescribes him Prozac. Tony's family problems include friction between his wife and daughter, the need to place his manipulative mother Livia in a senior residence and his nephew Christopher, whose temper always seems to be interfering with the sound running of the family business. Tony fears that he is losing grip of the people for whom he cares.
Also troubling Tony is the knowledge that Uncle Junior wants to carry out the hit of a rival in the restaurant of Tony's old friend, Artie Bucco. When he cannot persuade Junior otherwise, Tony arranges to blow up Bucco's establishment and make it look like an accident, even to Artie.
The episode was written by David Chase.