James Gandolfini - Why James Gandolfini Should Be Remembered As More Than The Unforgettable Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini, the actor who played the the complex, unforgettable Tony Soprano on The Sopranos – a show that many have called the best television drama of all time – had other roles as well. Gandolfini played a huge variety of characters – from the calculating, conflicted mobster of The Sopranos, to a regular old thug in Killing Them Softly, to the voice of the impulsive wildling Carol in Where The Wild Things Are.

While Tony Soprano is usually cited as Gandolfini’s best and most memorable cgaracter, the actor managed to inject a sense of stability and wisdom into all of his characters, even the most ruthless ones. Even his most minor roles bore the stamp of James Gandolfini, without creating the sense that one is watching an actor playing a part – probably just the character, having randomly wondered on set. The 2001 Brad Pitt title The Mexican, if nothing else, instantly brings to mind Gandolfini’s Winston Baldri – a manipulative sociopathic killer, who none the less gives the heroine some invaluable advice and manages to fall in love and subsequently lose that love – all in the space of half an hour. Bringing this kind of complexity to a small supporting role might have been a challenge for another actor, but Gandolfini pulls it off easily enough for us to forget that he is an actor and Winston Baldri is just a character.

Perhaps this is due to the nonchalance that he seemingly approaches his roles with. At the same time, however, interviews with Gandolfini show how much work he really put into becoming an actor, and then becoming each separate character. “Some scripts you do this (small hand gesture) much backstory. Some scripts, to support things, you need to do this (big hand gesture) much backstory to get everything in. But, you need it, I think. You need it. And the times I don’t do it and I think I don’t need it are the times when I get on there and the camera goes on and I’m standing there and I feel like I don’t got any pants on — because I didn’t do my work.”This diligence, combined with the spontaneity and complexity that Gandolfini managed to portray in most of his characters, including the minor ones, was what made him more than the great one-part actor. Instead of being stuck as Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini had the chance and the skills to play a whole host of vastly different people.

James Gandolfini, Stella by Starlight Gala
Gandolfini's work carried depth that wasn't immediately obvious.

James Gandolfini, Nicki Deuce Premiere
While the actor himself intentionally maintained an easy and likeable demeanor.


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