Local teen shows up in `Sopranos,' but we can't say more than that

April 19, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

MARK KARAFIN is a young actor who appears on this Sunday's episode of "The Sopranos" and who would love to tell you all about the scene he's in, except he can't, because that would be ratting.

Look, you know what they do to rats on that show.

If you're lucky, a guy with a face like a bad eggplant pays you a visit and rearranges your dental work with a crowbar. If you're not so lucky, he stuffs you in a refrigerator and dumps you off a pier.

Well, it turns out the actors aren't supposed to rat, either. In fact, they practically take a blood oath to never reveal what happens on a show before it airs.

"Look for a pool scene," is all Mark says as we sit in the kitchen of his home in an upscale neighborhood in Owings Mills, where he lives with his mother and father, Liz and Brian, and 18-year-old brother, Seth.

Still, Mark, a poised 16-year-old who's a sophomore at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, is happy to talk about anything else concerning his role on TV's hottest smash show.

Sunday will be his second appearance on the edgy HBO series about the Jersey wiseguy life.

He was also in the season premiere, playing high school football star Egon Kosma, who impresses Anthony Soprano Jr. (A.J.), if not his cigarette-smoking buddies, as they hang out in front of a deli.

Mark appears as Egon again Sunday and also in three scenes in the season finale. What happens in the finale is ultra hush-hush, too, naturally; you probably have a better shot at seeing the debriefing papers for that spy plane on Hainan Island than of seeing the script for the last episode.

Thus far, all Mark's scenes on the show have been brief. But in terms of industry exposure, 90 seconds on a huge hit like "The Sopranos" is probably better than 22 minutes of rolling your eyes at some bratty teen on another lame sitcom.

What a wild ride it's been for Mark Karafin, this fortuitous hook-up with "The Sopranos."

Until last year, he was just another talented kid with a dream of making it as an actor. He'd done some magic, some singing and dancing and theater work. Then his New York agent sent a head shot of Mark and a resume to the "Sopranos" casting director.

Apparently, the director liked his "look" - dark-eyed and dark-haired, a Jewish kid who could play an Italian kid. Or a kid named Egon Kosma, for that matter. Mark was invited to audition in New York in June. Three weeks later, he was in the Hair Cuttery back home getting a trim when his mother called.

"Mark," she shouted, "you have a call-back from `The Sopranos!' And the director would like to meet you!"

Mark whooped and nearly dropped the phone. Not too many people get that excited in the Hair Cuttery; it was fairly obvious the kid wasn't celebrating a particularly skillful buzz-cut.

The call-back audition went well, too. So on a steamy August morning, Mark found himself, along with Liz Karafin, at a Catholic high school in the northern New York suburbs, where the deli scene in the season premiere would be shot.

Already buzzed with excitement, he was ushered into Hair & Make-up. And there, getting spruced up, were Rob Iler and "Little" Steven van Zandt, who play A.J. and mobster Silvio Dante, respectively.

"It was crazy!" Mark recalls of that moment. "I was like: This is not even happening!"

"Sit down, kid. Relax," van Zandt said to him. On stage with Bruce Springsteen, the manic van Zandt, veteran guitarist with the E Street Band, looks about as relaxed as a man standing on a downed power line. But here he was the picture of calm.

The scene took all day to shoot, maybe 45 takes to get it perfect. That meant the kids in the scene sipping their peach Snapples, Yoo-hoos and Cokes had to take 45 sips, necessitating more than a few bathroom breaks.

Plus, since some of the little hoodlums were supposed to be smoking, the repeat takes made those actors sick to their stomachs, even though they were provided herbal cigarettes.

"What was interesting," laughs Liz Karafin, "were all the moms [of the actors] who said: `Oh, my kid doesn't smoke. He's not going to know how to do that.' Then they shoot the scene and the kid is like" - here she mimicked a veteran smoker expertly raising a butt to his lips - "puff-puff, no problem!"

Mark even wangled two tickets to the glittering season premiere party at Radio City Music Hall. He took his mom. The famous joint was packed with swells and crawling with TV crews and paparazzi.

"Seeing my face on the big screen ... was fantastic," he says now.

Later that evening, Rob Iler snuck Mark and Liz into the cast party at the Hilton New York, where they rubbed elbows with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Benecio del Toro and Mayor Rudy Guiliani.

Mark capped off the evening by riding around the streets of Manhattan in Iler's limo with Iler and 15 other young actors.

At the "read-through" before the shooting of the season finale in late February, Mark officially met all the stars of "The Sopranos" except James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano), who was ill.

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