By People Staff
March 01, 1999 12:00 PM

Twenty years ago, former E Street Band guitarist Stevie Van Zandt used to jam with the Boss, Bruce Springsteen. But the new Boss in Van Zandt’s life is more the Born to Gun type. On The Sopranos, HBO’s acclaimed new crime series, Van Zandt doffs his trademark bandanna for a dark wig to play Silvio Dante, a slick strip-club operator and crony of New Jersey Mafia capo Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). “He’s very witty and very smart,” says Gandolfini. Real-life wiseguys also seem to like his portrayal. “Let’s put it this way,” says Van Zandt, 48, who came of age in Asbury Park, N.J., and hooked up with Springsteen at 19. “You hear from guys who know guys. They’re saying the show is very realistic.”

Not bad for a guy who has never acted before. “I was a Springsteen fan,” says Sopranos executive producer David Chase, “and I’d see Stevie’s face on the album covers.” Impressed by his look, in 1997 Chase made Van Zandt an offer he couldn’t refuse: Create your own Sopranos character. Van Zandt, who rescreened his favorite gangster flicks, rehearsed in front of his wife, Maureen, 48, a stage actress with whom he shares a Manhattan apartment. Now he’s a made man. In June he’ll juggle a reunion tour with Springsteen and shooting the show’s second season. Other gigs? Fuhgedd-aboutit! “The Sopranos is all I want to do,” says Van Zandt. “I’ll do it for 10 years.”