Friday, September 19, 2014 Elul 24, 5774

What's Next: Ant'ny and Cleopatra? Who knows?

May 4, 2006 By:
Comment0

Multimedia

Enlarge Image »
Photos by Craig Blankenhorn/HBO (top) and Michele Frentrop
So, tell me, Sylvia, first thing you thought of when you woke up this morning … gotta get a gun?

More like a hamantashen, laughs the actress whose face has launched a thousand ship-shape parts.

These days, her countenance can be counted on to show up in "The Sopranos," where the Center City resident is a good goomba of a golden gal whose role - rolled-up stockings and all - is in this Sunday's episode.

And if in real life she's more kreplach than cacciatore, Sylvia still gives them a slice of pizazz with their pizza as an Italian with an itinerary all her own.

Indeed, Kauders, a former Philadelphia city representative, represents the best of show-business tradition. The show must go on? Yeah, that, but more than anything, give it your best shot.

And her shots are heard round the TV world, where Kauders has done commercials for Aflac ("You know, the one with the duck") and Samuel Adams Beer, among countless others; stage (the original cast of off-Broadway's "Crossing Delancey"); and film (the tourist surprised by a trash-mouth talking Harrison Ford in "Witness," the grumpy old lady with a pushcart and an agenda to push in "American Splendor").

But now, the sprightly spanking-energetic Kauders - one-time star of Broadway's "Torch Song Trilogy" - is carrying a torch for Tony Soprano.

Well, not exactly a torch but a fondness for the actor who plays him (James Gandolfini). Carmela needn't worry; she adores Edie Falco, too.

So there she was, stopping off at her Center City abode, biding her time for the next audition, when Kauders got the molte bene of casting calls.

Makeup at 19th and JFK? She can't make this up.

"I do one monologue as this older widow, Mrs. Conde, who protects her parking space on the street," says Kauders, a widow herself who can appreciate the role in more ways than one.

Like Sylvia, this "widow can't drive, but protecting that one spot is the one pleasure she has in her life."

Gettin' into gear is not difficult for the actress in what for others could be a stop-and-start business. Far better attired than the tired grumpy busybody she portrays in "The Sopranos," Kauders is busy planning other projects.

A look back may mean a look forward; critically hailed with over-the-top raves for her work in "Under the Bed" in South Florida, she is primed to go should that play, which just ended its run, move elsewhere.

"I'm the Mort Sahl of Boca Raton," she laughs of the role that found her onstage each night "sitting on a stool in an orange pants suit."

With more of a "don't-dare-to-come near" than a "come-hither" look, daggers in her eyes that would scare off a Jim Bowie, Kauders bows to no one - except the audience, who, for decades, have been acclaiming her with applause, whether it be for roles at the old Riverfront Dinner Theatre in Philadelphia or for a recurring role on "Spin City."

Not even Bill O'Reilly could stop her spin zone, which has Kauders turning this way and that to accommodate producers' requests and job offers.

She's one trouper with that old ring-a-ding-ding. And here it rings again. "I'm going back to my TV career," says Kauders. "The phone rings and you go."

Listen up AMA: "It keeps you from getting Alzheimer's. It keeps the brain active."

Never been a problem for Kauders, whose many years as the City Rep involved creative accomplishments to go along with her decades of ingenuity as a public-relations exec.

But it's not every Big Mama who celebrates Mother's Day a week early married to a mob hit of a show. Gossip is "I'm the gossip of the neighborhood," she says of Mrs. Conde.

"She's a neighbor of Olivia's - Tony's late mother - and she feels that Olivia raised Tony right."

(That's one heads-up that won't cut it with Ralphie.)

"Here she is, she sits on her beach chair, using all the four letter-words available because they're playing the music too loud at the nearby beauty salon."

Wacky role - but at least she doesn't get whacked. "Who knows?" laughs Kauders.

Some roles are meatier than others. "You can always tell the quality and the budget of a show by what's on the table to eat," says the actress of the catered affair at the table reading of the script. "They had three trays of sandwiches on the fanciest bread and fruit and crudites." Crudites? Isn't that how Paulie "Walnuts" once described his big boss?

The most surprising inaction at the script table reading? No table noshing! "No one was eating."

Gotta Get a Sandwich

So, whether it was in character or out, Kauders ad libbed by adding to her personal bounty: "So I took a couple of sandwiches for dinner."

Go fight City Hall? Go eat there! "Same thing when I did 'City Hall' with Al Pacino. It was catered by Balducci; we weren't exactly eating from aluminum pans."

It's panned out to a great career for the actress, and "The Sopranos" may just prove to be the tenor of the times. "The secret to a successful show of any kind is good casting," says Kauders, who was "most impressed by Edie Falco on the set, so kind and gracious."

And when it comes to casting for compliments, look no further than Diane Heery Casting, a Philadelphia company whose owner "is a smart, casting person."

It was Heery who heard of the "Sopranos" gig and got Kauders involved. Would the Jewish accent she used in the supermarket scene for "American Splendor" - or for that matter the Korean, British, Irish, French, Polish and Hungarian accents she's also adept at - matter now? After all, this was "The Sopranos," not "The Goldbergs."

What was needed here was a slouch of South Philly by way of Carney, N.J., where the scenes were shot - far from the home she loves.

"I used South Philly-speak," says Kauders of calling Tony "Ant'ny - like they would at 10th and Passyunk."

Make that Pashyunk? "Obviously, Gandolfini liked what he heard. "He was very nice, but he was surprised that I was as good as I was. I felt like asking, 'What - you thought they just got a woman off the street for this role?' "

It's the street savvy simmering with sophistication that Kauders creates on screen in so many roles, whether it be Aunt Esther ("Analyze That," opposite Billy Crystal) or Aunt Tekla ("My Life," with Michael Keaton).

And what a life it's been. But then, what's not to love - and who wouldn't love a Sylvia Kauders? Problematic diva? Fuggedaboudit!

"I'm easy to work with, and everybody on the set loved me," she says without a trace of bravura about her brava-hailed work and professional credo.

It's easy to see why she's so easy to work with although it may not be easy for Sylvia to see her own work. Yo, Mrs. Conde, wanna turn down the volume on your TV set? Wacha watchin' anyway? "The Sopranos"? Impossible.

"I don't have HBO," she says.


Comments on this Article

Advertisement