My unfiltered thoughts about everything.
Hollywood is reeling. We’ve lost James Gandolfini, who took with him a talent that, even in death, won’t get the press it so clearly deserves. He was a different breed of actor, one of the few who made Brando look like chicken shit (yeah, I said it) . His facial expressions were worth paragraphs. His deep, sad eyes could pull an audience into the tortured psyche of whatever character he was breathing life into. He could do it with an ease Lee Strasburg couldn’t have taught on his best day. That was typical Gandolfini, subtle and yet ferocious, quietly burning with all the tension in the world. His greatest achievement, Tony Soprano, was a monument to the ever blurring lines between good and evil.
Soprano was the trigger for my creative process, the first inclination I had that you could create these monolithic paradoxes within characters. It was revolutionary, and it was morally questionable, the idea of having the main character be as inherently debauched as Tony was. And make no mistake, Tony Soprano was the embodiment of moral decay, a selfish, adulterous, borderline sociopath. He was the encapsulation of human sin. In spite of such faults, Gandolfini imbued him with a big heart, something lesser actors, given the same material, would never have felt out of David Chase’s dialogue. James made Tony real, and therefore relatable. He created a monster cloaked in variable moods, capable of love and affection one moment, yet prone to murderous rage within the same breath.
We don’t get actors like that much any more. And when we do, its the rare Daniel Day Lewis or Steve Buscemi, who spend a decent hunk of their career earning what came easier to good looking, less capable “superstars”. James Gandolfini was even less likely to make it big. His tall frame and ample girth made him perfect for type cast rolls as enforcers, bouncers and bumbling oafs. Yet he sought out roles from the beginning which allowed him to display the depth of his range. Watch his incredibly restrained scene with Brad Pitt in True Romance, or his tortured homosexual hit man throughout the otherwise banal The Mexican. For Gandolfini, the truth was in the smallest detail, in the way a character hunched or tilted an eye lid. It was never about chewing scenery to look good. That set him apart.
Along with countless other fans across the country, I mourn the loss of an inspiration. I’d have never been empowered to write for the screen had The Sopranos not kicked in the door. There was something tangible, something real about it. And James Gandolfini was the driving force. I thank him for that.