Here’s to James Gandolfini

June 20, 2013


“He [Gandolfini] was a special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth, and his humility.” –HBO

James Gandolfini, the man we would all come to know as mob boss Tony Soprano, is dead at the age of 51 of an apparent heart attack. Friends, colleagues, and fans are universally mourning the untimely death of the New Jersey-born thespian whom many consider to be one of the great actors of his generation. Gandolfini cut his teeth in high school plays, and off-Broadway productions while bar tending, delivering seltzer, and selling books at street fairs. From early on, James wasn’t primarily interested in being a star; rather, he was determined to be an accomplished and respected actor. He worked hard at his craft and sacrificed to improve and move forward in his chosen career. Gandolfini shined in small but memorable roles in True Romance, and Get Shorty, among others, before landing the coveted role of the New Jersey Don, Tony Soprano. With the mega success of The Sopranos came an assortment of A-list offers to the hulking Gandolfini, but he chose to continue his craft treading the boards on Broadway in stage plays such as God of Carnage and independent films like Welcome to the Rileys’, and the David Chase-directed Not Fade Away. A true actor to the end, James explained his passion for the work and ordinary people on Inside the Actors Studio: “I like to play people like my parents. My parents worked hard. They were honest. They were good people. They’re the kind of people I love and the kind of people I want to show in movies. Because I think they’re getting screwed.”

It’s probably safe to say James Gandolfini wasn’t a shoe-in for Hollywood stardom. The son of a high school lunch lady and high school custodian, he didn’t have high-powered contacts or any real resources other than his talent and hard work to help him get to the entertainment Promised Land. Sound familiar? So often we feel like, “If I just had enough money,” or “If I had more contacts,” or “If I didn’t have to work,” that success would be much easier; in fact, likely. And that may be true, but would your characters really possess the depth and soul you’re looking for if you didn’t have to fight relentlessly to succeed? Today, James Gandolfini is remembered as an icon of the dramatic arts, and I’m sure there were times in his career he thought all the work and sacrifice and heartache was for nothing. But something told him to appreciate what he did have, to keep going, and good things would happen. Sound familiar? Sure, it does. So, let’s all raise a glass to the underdog, James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr.–and to the underdog in all of us!