Jerry Stiller Was Almost Cast on ‘The Sopranos’ (Who Would He Have Played?!)

The Heartbreak Kid Jerry Stiller, 2007
Paramount/Everett Collection

The Sopranos is one of the most popular and beloved shows of all time. The actors who portrayed the characters are so ingrained in our culture that it is definitely tough to imagine them being played by anyone else. However, The Sopranos was not immune to casting changes, even at the very last minute. When they were casting for the pilot of the show, the casting directors Georgianne Walken and Sheila Jaffe revealed in a recent podcast that they were in talks to cast Jerry Stiller for the role of Herman “Hesh” Rabkin. The role eventually went to a different Jerry, Jerry Adler.

Stiller was set to appear in the pilot but said yes to a commercial that was shooting at the same time. He backed out just days before he was supposed to appear and they had to quickly replace him. Jaffe was scrambling to find a replacement and called agent Alisa Adler, Jerry Adler’s daughter for help. Turns out, he was available and was already in New York. It was serendipitous.

The Sopranos Jerry Adler, 'Pax Soprana', (S1.E6, aired Feb 14, 1999), 1999-2007

HBO/Everett Collection

Adler appeared in the pilot and went on to appear in 28 episodes of the series. While he wasn’t a main character, he was a recurring face that made the series what it was. Even so, series creator David Chase once admitted that he still wishes they could have gotten Stiller to play Hesh. Many fans don’t seem to agree since Stiller and Adler have very different energy so the character likely would have changed dramatically.

The Sopranos clockwise from left: Frank Pellegrino, Federico Castelluccio, Jerry Adler, Steven Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, John Fiore, 'Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood', (S3.E1, aired Mar 4, 2001), 1999-2007

HBO/Everett Collection

What do you think? Did you like Adler’s performance as Hesh or would you have liked to see Stiller take a stab at the role? Sadly, Adler died in 2010 while Stiller died in 2020.

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