From Goodfellas to The Sopranos, Michael Imperioli often plays characters associated with the mob and murder. However, he takes on an entirely different subject in his new film The M Word: menopause.
Imperioli plays Charlie Moon, a TV exec brought in to change a struggling local station when an actress named Moxie starts to film a documentary about the taboo subject she notices is happening around her but no one seems to talk about. The subject didn’t matter to Imperioli, who signed on to the movie without a script and little information just to have the opportunity to work with cult director Henry Jaglom. “I knew several of his movies and I knew a little bit about his process and approach to filmmaking, and I was always very intrigued by him,” Imperioli told EW. “I jumped at the opportunity.”
The opportunity seemed a little more daunting than Imperioli first thought when two days before shooting began, he finally was sent a script even though Jaglom is known for working in an improv environment. Panicked he would have to learn pages of dialogue in little time, Imperioli reached out to his co-star Tanna Frederick, who plays Moxie and had worked with Jaglom multiple times before, for advice. “She said, ‘Familiarize yourself with it but you don’t have to learn it cold, just get a sense of it. By the first take you might do a little bit of the script, by the second you won’t at all.’” Jaglom would eventually just let the camera run without calling cut, even after the scripted section had ended. “For an actor, that 10 minutes where the camera is just rolling and nothing is scripted, it’s very rare to just take it anywhere. You have to trust the actor you’re working opposite with and see what you’re creating together and instinctually try to tap into some truth for the character and go with it, really commit to it. Henry allows that and pushes you towards that.”
Though the movie is specifically about menopause, it really serves as a metaphor for all the big changes we go through in life while others are learning to deal with their own problems and changes. “Everything isn’t permanent,” Imperioli says, who started practicing Buddhism six years ago. “I was going through a very difficult personal issue in my life a couple of years ago, and I spoke to a Buddhist teacher and he just said to me, ‘Everything changes, everything will pass.’ It didn’t solve my problem. I still had to go through the difficulty and uncertainty and emotions of it, but when you keep aware of that and do come out of it, like a few weeks or a couple of months later, I didn’t think about this problem anymore. It was completely out of my life.” Another important “M” word for Michael has been meditation, which he says has helped both his personal and professional life. “It cultivates mindfulness. What that improves is your ability to have a bit of awareness of your emotions, so you don’t necessarily have to be victim to and swept up by your emotions.” Imperioli practices with his wife of 18 years, Victoria. “The level of trust and intimacy just grows over time.”
The level of trust and intimacy was high on set for The M Word – which also stars Corey Feldman as Moxie’s boyfriend – because Jaglom didn’t allow the actors to rehearse at all, claiming it would take the spontaneity out of the moment. “Usually you rehearse for camera moves, not for acting. Henry didn’t do that. He doesn’t even want you running lines.” Though Imperioli has made numerous big-screen appearances before, he is best known for his work on TV shows like The Sopranos, which won him an Emmy. So how did that experience help him play someone on the other side of the bargaining table? “I worked with a lot of executives, so I have a lot of insight into that world. I’ve had good experiences and bad with producers and showrunners and things. I don’t know what that’s about. For a long time it was cops and robbers, and now it’s TV executives.” In addition to The M Word, Imperioli is currently playing a more “creative” TV exec on the final season of Showtime’s Californication but isn’t afraid to get a little dangerous again. “The thing about the mob is the stakes are high, it’s life or death. It’s grand scale, ‘cause there’s big money involved and you can be dead at any time.”
So maybe menopause isn’t literally life and death, but it sure can feel that way for women all over the world. The 48-year-old admitted he has only had a few conversations about the topic with his friends and said that as he has gotten older, the conversations have become more frequent in private, but not out loud. “What amazes me about it is how little it’s talked about. I think it has to do with the culture we live in; it’s so youth-obsessed. It’s funny – you can have a movie that has the most deviant sexual things in it and people will be titillated by it, it will be attractive to an audience. But somehow aging is a tricky, tricky thing.”
The M Word is in select theaters now.