Tragic news as outstanding character actor James Gandolfini has passed on at the young age of 51 whilst in Italy. Gandolfini, who became an iconic figure as the lead in television series The Sopranos, was an immeasurable talent who would elevate any film with his performance, be it his portrayal of a soft-hearted stuntman in Get Shorty or homosexual hitman in The Mexican, layer upon layer of character in every performance, and with the kind of nuances that would make any role a career best in many other actors’ CVs. Last seen as a Vegas hotel owner and promoter who just can’t give two honks about his son when he has a new hotel to open in the hilarious and painfully underrated The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, it’s a strongly comic final screen performance but when it comes to longevity we should look more to films such as Where The Wild Things Are and In The Loop, one where he’s a tragic, bounding monster that isn’t childlike so much as utterly immature and bipolar, the other where he’s an American general ready to declare war at any opportunity. Not simple performances, yet the way Gandolfini tight-roped many facets of each character gave the audience so much nourishment within the roles and yet made it truly look easy.
But of course it will be the 6 seasons he spent on HBO’s The Sopranos where his Tony Soprano was an undeniably enjoyable lead. A mob boss with mummy issues seeing a therapist whilst trying to sustain a family and The Family. He could be the scariest, most violent individual in the room, to whom you’d turn to for any recompense on some insult or injury from another character or the sweetest, most endearing, well-meaning fool trying to maintain his alpha male role in a life that’s quickly getting away from him. Over the course of the show’s 86 episodes we knew Tony Soprano like no-one else, and Gandolfini’s performance alongside the writing of David Chase made it so the audience could find this man and see him more than just a two-dimensional television creation but a fully-formed, living, breathing character. No mean feat, in the grand history of television only a few actors have ever truly managed that, and Gandolfini most certainly did.
What could have been will always be a mystery, having only just re-teamed with Sopranos creator David Chase for Chase’s debut feature Not Fade Away, there might have been so much more between those two over the next decade, classic, iconic characters and creations, alongside Gandolfini’s insanely brilliant comic timing lending himself well to both broad and subdued comedies and his potent figure and personality that have been well represented in films such as True Romance, where his scenes with Patricia Arquette were so intense that the original cut was given an NC-17 in the states.
James Gandolfini will be missed by many, much loved in his career there’s nary a bad word being said about him in his personal life either, everyone opening up about just what a kind and sweet human he was as well. In a world where people can be angry, mean, acting above their station, James Gandolfini was a character actor true enough, and whilst he lead a hit show he would never take a lead in any film, instead helping make films stronger with his performances. A true professional and a legend in his own right. We will miss James Gandolfini a lot, and whilst it’s great we have such a variety of films and television to enjoy, it’s a shame we’ll never see more of his genius, more in variety and more in quantity.
James Gandolfini 1961-2013