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The Lost Soprano

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From left, Domenico, Lillo Sr., Vinny, and lawyer Mel Sachs at the Brancatos' house in Yonkers.  

Vinny solved the problem by settling down with his high-school girlfriend. Lillo picked a few Yonkers hotels. By nature, he didn’t like to spend more than he had to, so he found one for $34.50 for three hours for the girls he could care less about. If the girl rated a little better, there was the Holiday Inn. The best ones he took to the Royal Regency and got the nice room, hot tub and everything, which cost $280.

Incredibly, one afternoon Stef caught Lillo at the front desk of the Regency. He was standing there with Jennifer from the movie set. Stef had broken it off the week before. But Lillo had been calling every day. “You said you missed me,” Stef screamed. She ran down the steps, crying. After that, Lillo couldn’t enjoy himself. He felt like asking Jennifer, “You got $140?”—he was so downhearted. Not that Jennifer expected much. With Lillo and drugs, Jennifer knew sex was iffy.

When Lillo gets out, he wants to make a movie. “In a way, I’m glad I went through this stuff,” he says, “because I can capture it on film and would know how to do it.”

The day after the Regency fiasco, Lillo called Stef but she wouldn’t answer. “I didn’t realize how much I loved her until we started quarreling,” he says. He sent roses. She responded with a text message: THE FLOWERS WERE BEAUTIFUL BUT THEY CAN’T HIDE THE PAIN. He bought her a ring, a pink sapphire, and it cost him. “By me spending this money meant that I really loved her,” he says.

Lillo finally got her to see him.

“You ain’t never going to meet anyone like me,” he told Stef. “No other Lillos.”

She laughed. “I know,” Lillo remembers her saying.

They got back together Christmas day, 2004, almost three months after the Regency situation. “It was the best Christmas present I could have got,” says Lillo.

The relationship was good for a time. Then in June 2005, Lillo was arrested for possession of heroin. For Stef it was awful. Her father chose drugs over being a father. She tried to get Lillo off the stuff, yelling, throwing things at him, feeling guilty if she went to school and wasn’t there to monitor him. “I never wanted to break up with him,” she says. Lillo kept promising to quit, then he’d sneak out of her bed to go score. When she caught him, she freaked out: “What, are you fucking kidding me?” By October, Stef and Lillo were over.

Lillo was devastated. “She loved me so much, and I hate to say it, but I had her in the palm of my hands,” Lillo says. “And then one day I didn’t, and it was so hard to accept.” Lillo built the whole thing up, as if Stef might be his only salvation. “It was like I had to get back with her because I knew I would have chosen her over drugs,” he says.

And so on December 8, Lillo drove to Stef’s house hopeful for one more reconciliation. It was 9 p.m. when he rang the doorbell. Stef wasn’t there. Her sister intervened. She wouldn’t let him in. “She just wouldn’t mind her business,” says Lillo. There was no way Lillo was coming in. She not only called the cops. At her instigation, the sisters petitioned the court for a protection order prohibiting Lillo from visiting or even phoning Little Stef.

For Lillo, drugs had been like a second career; eventually they became a first. After A Bronx Tale, De Niro helped Lillo land a featured role in Renaissance Man, the Penny Marshall film with Danny DeVito. It was a great character, a four-eyed kid from the Bronx who joins the Army. Lillo played a climactic scene, reciting Shakespeare in the rain. Then he won an important part in Crimson Tide, which starred Denzel Washington. It was another strong performance as a streetwise kid with a Bronx accent. “I saved the world,” says Lillo. All this before age 20. He thought, This is the way it’s supposed to be.

A manager urged Lillo to work on his accent so he could play something besides the outer-borough type—the hood, the drug dealer, the cop. Lillo, though, didn’t really think of acting as a career to be shrewdly managed. He’d never take acting lessons.

He did, though, take drugs. People told Lillo a person takes drugs for a reason. Lillo couldn’t see it. “I had the opportunity. When you were still in school, I was in Hollywood. It’s just different lives,” he says. The spur to drugs, as Lillo saw it, was free time. “I swear, a lot of the times I did drugs, it was straight up out of being bored,” he says. Most days, Lillo slept till all hours, then went partying at night. At nightclubs in Yonkers or White Plains, he’d run into trouble—guys making comments, picking fights, since their girlfriends sought Lillo’s attention (even with Stef holding his hand). So he gravitated to Manhattan clubs. He especially liked Veruka or NA, owned by his friend Noel Ashman. There he was ushered into the VIP section with David Wells, the ex-Yankee, or Leonardo DiCaprio. One night, Lillo ran into De Niro at Veruka. Lillo introduced him around, a small reunion.


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