There’s a fine, and somewhat rare, profile of James Gandolfini on the AP wires. With all the focus on “The Sopranos” auteur David Chase — “The Sopranos” is nothing if not a series that highlights great writing and character development — it shouldn’t be overlooked that Gandolfini has completed what might be regarded as the greatest performance in the history of motion pictures.
“What???” I hear you saying. “In your opinion,” my late grandmother would remind me.
Well…there have been a lot of great actors in movies and TV, Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Jack Nicholson, Lawrence Olivier. But none of them have taken a character like this, Tony Soprano, basically an evil man, and managed to make us care about him for 86 explosive hours over the course of eight years. Maybe they could have, but Gandolfini actually did it. And he’s doing some of his best acting right now in these dark final episodes, not coasting but stretching.
From the AP piece:
“Good writing will bring you to places you don’t even expect sometimes,” he marvels, meaning himself, and how the material could catch him off guard and take him somewhere new, even as he was performing it.
“It’s a ride that I was along on, with everybody else,” he says.
And like everybody else, he can’t help feeling appalled by Tony’s brutish misbehavior. After shooting a scene where Tony did something despicable, Gandolfini would sometimes upbraid his own character.
“I would say, God, what a -!” Whereupon he helpfully substitutes his unpublishable outburst with a family friendly version: “What a jerk!”
So what’s the truth? Does he like this jerk who was part of him for so long?
“I used to,” he says. “But it’s difficult toward the end. I think the thing with Christopher might have turned the corner.” That was a soulless display: Fed up with his nephew’s shortcomings, Tony pinched shut the nostrils of the gravely hurt Christopher, ensuring he would choke to death.
But wait! Gandolfini thinks a moment, and more of Tony’s recent misdeeds – not homicidal, but clearly depraved – come to mind: “Maybe the gambling thing with Hesh. And maybe the thing with Tony Sirico (as Paulie Walnuts) on the boat.
“It’s kind of one thing after another. Let’s just say, it was a lot easier to like him before, than in the last few years.”
If you can catch it sometime, there’s also a great interview with Gandolfini from about two years ago on “Behind the Actor’s Studio.”