A sit-down with a ‘Sopranos’ star

Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who plays Meadow , spoke to students

Jamie-Lynn Sigler spoke Monday about her role on The Sopranos and her descent into and subsequent battle with an eating disorder. ORACLE PHOTO/MARLOW GUM

After winning what would be the defining role of her young career, 16-year-old Jamie-Lynn Sigler found herself embroiled in a fight against her own body.

“I was in a race with the scale,” she said. “I actually avoided mirrors and wore baggy clothes to hide how skinny I was.”

Sigler, who suffered from a condition known as exercise bulimia, shared her experiences as an actress Monday at the Corral in the Sun Dome, drawing a sharp line between herself and Meadow Soprano, the character she plays on the hit HBO series The Sopranos.

Between shooting the pilot and the second episode of what would turn into one of the most critically acclaimed series of its kind, Sigler suffered through 11 months of a disease that hurt her social life, forced her to contemplate suicide and nearly cost her the role of Meadow.

Sigler’s ordeal began soon after she broke up with her first boyfriend, she said. A friend suggested offhand that she shed a few pounds to show him she was making an effort.

It began innocently, Sigler said, with a few minutes on a treadmill, but her habits began to spiral out of control. Between six dance classes and her participation on a softball team, her exercise regimen began dominating every aspect of her life.

“It snowballed into working out four and a half hours before school every day, which meant getting up at 3 a.m.,” she said.

“Ultimately, this sense of control I thought I had ended up controlling me. Everything in my life revolved around counting calories and burning calories. If I had a piece of gum, I would raise my hand in class and ask to be excused to go to the bathroom so I could burn off those calories by walking to and from the bathroom.”

As she grew skinnier, she withdrew from social situations to avoid explaining why she didn’t eat. The disorder eventually began to affect her acting career, as Sopranos producers began to worry she may not be able to handle the rigors of an active shooting schedule. After the pilot’s success, they spoke to Sigler’s mother, telling her that Sigler would have to maintain a healthy weight to continue her role as Meadow.

“In the end, I would be more accepted if I got better, so when (my mother) told me, I said, ‘Take me to McDonald’s, that’s what I want,'” Sigler said.

According to Student Health Services Senior Dietitian Kim May, eating disorders are commonly caused by a traumatic experience such as a divorce or leaving for college for the first time. Many factors can contribute, such as perfectionism and the influence of the media. Approximately 5 million females and 1 million males nationwide suffer from eating disorders, May said.

“It is important to support (a person who may be suffering from an eating disorder),” May said. “Don’t try to force them into anything.”

‘Sopranos’ final bow

Sigler also spoke on life as a Sopranos cast member and imparted the difficulty of readjusting to life after the show, which is in its last season.

“Symbolically, my last scene was me walking out the door, and after I shot it twice, they said, ‘OK, let’s do it again,'” Sigler said. “When I come back into the room, I see everyone I’ve worked with for the past eight years in the room. … They said, ‘That’s a series wrap on Jamie,’ and, of course, I started bawling, and they brought champagne and flowers in.”

James Gandolfini stands in contrast to his character, Tony Soprano, Sigler said. When off-camera, Gandolfini wears khaki pants and Birkenstock shoes, and lacks the New Jersey accent for which Tony is famous.Sigler wouldn’t share any details of the plot for the last season, but said every aspect of the remaining episodes – down to the food each character eats – has a special significance.

Though she said she will miss the set of The Sopranos, she expressed optimism for her future as an actress.”There’s a slight fear that you have,” she said. “But there is also the excitement of the unknown right now.”

The University Lecture Series sponsored the event.