Call it method acting to the max.

“The Sopranos”‘ Steve Schirripa, whose wise guy Bobby “Bacala” Baccilieri never met a crumb cake he didn’t like, packed on so many pounds over the first two seasons that he no longer needed a fat suit.

“They thought I was fat enough on my own,” says the Brooklyn-born big guy. “I had to learn to take small bites, but sometimes it’s impossible.”

“Sopranos”‘ fifth season launches Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO. Thirteen episodes are ordered.

It’s easy to understand why Schirripa ballooned to 300 pounds last season. In one memorable bar scene with Tony (James Gandolfini), he ate six porterhouse steaks over four hours.

In another, he and Tony put away so much chicken cacciatore “I thought I heard him clucking. After a while, it gets sickening. Bobby’s a gluttonous guy. I wanted it to look real.”

Looking like a real mobster is easy for Schirripa, 46. His father was a “low-level” bookie, and he grew up surrounded by guys with Cadillacs and wads of cash.

Many of Schirripa’s boyhood friends ended up dead or in jail. He “smartened up” and went to Brooklyn College.

Don’t look for Bobby, a grieving widower, to smarten up any time soon. In the season opener, he’s just married Janice Soprano (Aida Turturro), seemingly unaware that she had murdered her fiance, Richie Aprile (David Proval.)

“Bobby cares a lot about his kids, and they need a mom. It doesn’t hurt to be the boss’ brother-in-law. I don’t think Bobby’s that smart. He doesn’t realize how manipulative and deceiving Janice is.”

Given that Janice’s other boyfriend, Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), was hacked to pieces by Tony, Schirripa knows that Bobby’s odds for mortality have shrunk.

“The closer you get to Tony, the more possibility that you’ll get whacked.” Besides, everyone in the cast worries that creator David Chase may suddenly decide to kill them.

“Whenever you get a script, you look in the front to see if you’re in it, then you look in the back to see if they’ve killed you,” Schirripa says.

Though promoted by Tony, Bobby’s main mission continues to be caring for increasingly demented Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese.)

“Bobby wants a little more action,” says Schirripa, adding that his character, unlike the rest of the family, has never murdered anyone. “He’s very loyal to Junior, like a puppy. Junior abuses him, but Bobby loves him like a father.”

P.S. Schirripa has dropped 35 pounds since “Sopranos wrapped in December. Now about that ziti …

WCAU-TV traffic reporter John Ogden in Philadelphia is so “outraged” over President Bush’s push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that he’s decided to come out publicly.

“I want people to know we’re everywhere,” says Ogden, 22, who started his job in September after beating out 1,500 others in “CAU’s “Best Summer Gig Ever” contest.

“We could be your next-door neighbor. Someone you see on TV every day, or someone you graduated high school with. The more we put the face to the name “homosexual,’ the more people will accept us.”

Ogden is believed to be the first out TV reporter in Philadelphia and one of the few in the country. Generally, on-air types are hesitant to publicly disclose their sexuality for fear it may harm their careers.

A Roman Catholic High and La Salle University alum, Ogden says he came out to his family several years ago. He let in his colleagues by bringing his boyfriend to Channel 10’s Christmas party.

An employee of Valley Forge’s Traffic Pulse Network, Ogden reports from there weekdays between 5 and 10 a.m. and 4 and 6:15 p.m.

“We get a lot of positive feedback about John,” says news boss Chris Blackman. “There’s something about him that people like and root for.”

Going public “isn’t necessarily a brave thing,” Ogden says. “I see myself as a role model. When I was growing up, I was looking for people to relate to. I just want people to know they’re not the only ones out there.”

(c) 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-03-03-04 1936EST

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