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<i>Sopranos,</i> New And Old

Christian women chat together as they sit on a bench at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by Christians to be the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, in Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 13, 2006. Many Christians around the world are marking the solemn period of Easter. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
The New York Times has called it "the greatest work of American popular culture of the last quarter century" and, believe it or not, they're talking about a TV show: HBO's The Sopranos.

The mob drama starts its second season Sunday at 9 p.m., and two cast members dropped by The Early Show to talk to Anchor Bryant Gumbel about it.

"It has a feeling of reality," says Dominic Chianese, who plays the conniving but defensive Uncle Junior. "And the cast and crew are just incredibly brilliant together. The chemistry is beautiful."

Did he know The Sopranos was going to be special when he first started?

"When I auditioned, I had a feeling it was a great script, but I hadn't realized until now how big it is," he recalls.

Chianese says neither he nor the other characters have any say in the development of their characters.

"No," says the actor. "I think our job is strictly to interpret. We don't have any real say in it. I don't think it should be that way."

"I feel like I fell in love," says Aida Turturro, joining the cast this season as Janice, Tony Soprano's sister. Turturro's character moved back East after some years out in Seattle.

"She has a lot of facets to her," says the actress. "I think she's funny. She's her mother's daughter, and she's tough. Maybe a little conniving."

Turturro had worked on other projects before with James Gandolfini, who plays the central character of Tony Soprano, who has struck a chord with audiences.

"Nobody knows when people are going to be so attracted to something," says Turturro, whose cousins are actor John and Nicholas Turturro. "I think he's really surprised."

After just one season on the show, Chianese finds that he's frequently recognized in public.

"It's incredible to go on the subway and complete strangers, you know, (say) 'Hey, Junior!' It's a beautiful thing," he says.

On a more serious note, the National Italian American Foundation has objected to The Sopranos, saying that the show "recycles ugly stereotypes about Italians."

But the actors say it's all about storytelling.

"I think people know the difference between stories and real life," says Chianese. "They know the difference. I think a good story's a good story."

Turturro adds, "It's based on life and relationships. That's why people enjoy the show. It's about brothers and sisters, mothers and sons… I think everybody relates to it on that level."