Sirico had a blast playing those moments. In just the second episode, he throws a fit to Vincent Pastore’s Big Pussy about the presence of a snooty corporate coffee shop selling their heritage back to them at a markup: “F**kin’ espresso, cappuccino; we invented the shit, and all these other c**ks**kers are getting rich off it.”
Paulie is a character proud of his italianità, and was never bothered with the burden of trying to change his ways, which is what made him such a delightful contrast to the conflicted characters in the cast. When he took the role, Sirico insisted that Paulie never be revealed as a rat, lest he disrespect his friends in “the old neighborhood.” And so he did, Paulie remaining a mainstay of Tony’s entourage alongside Steve Van Zandt’s Silvio Dante throughout the show’s duration.
Sirico made Paulie watchable and lovable, even as he racked up the highest body count of any major character in the show (he whacked a whopping nine people over those six seasons). His face, perpetually half-frozen in a deeply Sicilian scowl, was always a great canvas for comedy; no one could fire off a witticism or sheepishly look over their shoulder quite like him.
In so many ways, Sirico was Paulie, right down to insisting on his own wardrobe and doing his own hair rather than let David Chase’s butchers lay a single hair on his perfect dome. His mannerisms, like the way he used his pinky finger when pointing, became signature Paulie affectations. They even used Sirico’s apartment to stand in for Paulie’s.
Paulie was a man of enticing contradictions, a goofy uncle and mass murderer all in one. He was fussy about poison ivy and what kind of finish he put on his nails (satin), but when it came down to doing Tony’s bidding, he was first in line for the bloodletting. That’s not to say his guilt didn’t creep in from time to time; In “From Where to Eternity,” he sees a medium to confirm whether Christopher’s morphine-addled prediction he’s going to hell will come true, only for the man to confront him with the ghost of his first victim: “That’s what this is—Satanic black magic! Sick shit!” But his relationship with Tony remained steadfast, as even his flirtations with leaving would result in him rescuing a painting of Tony from destruction, only to repaint his leader as a Napoleonic hero and putting it on his wall. Whatever emotions Paulie felt, he expressed them intensely.