NEW YORK – Cast members of The Sopranos are strong-arming HBO for substantial raises with less than four weeks to go before filming begins on new episodes.
While five of the series' better-known supporting actors signed new contracts just this week, new deals with the show's lead actors are still pending.
That includes James Gandolfini, the beefy actor who stars as Tony Soprano, the fictional boss of the wildly popular series about a North Jersey mob.
The Sopranos has made Gandolfini into one of the nation's biggest TV stars and he wants to be paid accordingly, sources say.
Gandolfini, who's the highest-paid cast member on The Sopranos, earned about $400,000 per episode last season, substantially less than the salaries earned by top network stars.
Moreover, The Sopranos makes only 13 episodes per season while the stars of network shows get paid for 22.
"He wants fair-market value," a source said.
Also not yet signed, with production set to commence at the end of next month, are Edie Falco, who plays Tony's wife, Carmela; Lorraine Bracco, his shrink, Dr. Jennifer Melfi; Dominic Chianese, who plays Uncle Junior; and Steve Van Zandt, the guitarist from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, who plays Tony's consigliere, Silvio Dante.
"We are in the process of negotiating Dominic's deal and I've heard the same thing about the other four," said Chianese's agent, Brian Liebman of New York-based RK Talent Management Group.
Representatives for Falco, Bracco and Van Zandt did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Although time is running out, the show's principal stars are all expected to sign up for a fifth season, sources agree.
The actors are also expected to largely win their raises. "There is an opportunity for them to make more money than they have made," Liebman said.
In fact, the five supporting actors have already won substantial raises under new contracts they signed just this week.
The contracts include options for a sixth season, although most observers believe the show's fifth will be its last.
Of the five supporting players, four banded together to press for substantial raises.
The four are Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano), Robert Iler (Anthony Junior), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts) and Drea de Matteo (Adriana).
They were paid an estimated $15,000 to $25,000 per episode, but will now earn about $60,000, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The fifth supporting actor is Michael Imperioli, who plays drugged-up Christopher Moltisanti. He upped his salary to $80,000 per episode, according to the trade paper.