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James Gandolfini (1961-2013)

Like the rest of the world I was stunned to hear that James Gandolfini died suddenly earlier today of a stroke (possible heart-attack?) while vacationing in Italy. He was only 51 and there was every reason to believe that more great work was ahead of him since male character actors of great reknown can work for as long as they'd like really in Hollywood's male-centric world.

My most recent fond memories of the actor were the gentle surprise of his comic timing when we meet him in a frisky scene in In the Loop (2009) in which he flirts with Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy) by joking about bestiality


General Miller: Don't believe that shit I'm not going to run for office. I'm just trying to do something different.

Karen Clark: I know. That's one of the reasons I like you. I know you're passionate about education and housing and...

- [interrupting] Lingerie. And bestiality. 

- [laughter] I'd forgotten about that. Are you still allergic to the dog?

Yes. I wake up and my eyes are closed and my head is swollen and I look like a giant ballsack.

I sometimes think that the movie never garnered much traction in terms of acting plaudits because the cast was TOO good. It was a sprawling assembly of actors and each of them were really working it. Mimi Kennedy was my personal favorite in the movie but opinions varied meaning it was hard to choose a "best in show" and Gandolfini was definitely in the running. 

See, Gandolfini looked bulky and slow but his acting was anything but. If you watch the few scenes I've included below you can see a surprising array of notes in each and every scene, both the mandated ones and the extras that great actors can provide, and they often overlap with quick nimble grace.

Of course, there's no argument as to which role will grant James Gandolfini showbiz immortality. That would be the conflicted mobster Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.

I was not a faithful devotee of the show (I didn't have HBO at the time) though I have seen probably a few episodes from each season but I remember one of my best girlfriends forcing me to watch the two part "White Caps" classic. I remember reading at the time that their work was so far above what you normally see on TV (at least at the time) that they would've won Oscars on just slightly larger screens.

After The Sopranos became a big hit Gandolfini parlayed that success into several large film roles. I remember being surprised by his work as the incongruously gentle giant twist on the assassin role in The Mexican (2001)

That Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts whatsit was otherwise something of a mess. It tried to stir romcom, thriller, and road movie into one movie and congeals into something quite lumpy and uneven.

But now I'm sad and it's been too long since I've seen The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) to stir it into this tribute.

So, to close, here's that full Into the Loop scene mentioned above in full.


And this bittersweet but ultimately happy note: While his small role in Zero Dark Thirty is still fresh in the memory, it won't be his last one. There are a few more new Gandolfini turns for fans to enjoy. He's currently in theaters in the teen assassin movie Violet & Daisy (from Precious screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher) and according to the IMDb he already completed filming on both Animal Rescue (costarring Noomi Rapace & Tom Hardy) and the untitled new Nicole Holofcener picture (co-starring Catherine Keener & Toni Collette)

Rest in peace James Gandolfini. Please share your favorite moment from his career in the comments.

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Reader Comments (26)

Tony Soprano was the most interesting, nuanced, complex character on TV. And that calculator scene in In The Loop is one of the best things ever, goddamnit. An absolute great character actor, died waaaaay too young.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

I've never seen a full episode of THE SOPRANOS, but he never disappointed me in his film work. Rest in peace.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Jeremy -- right? That scene is such a marvel. I should watch that whole movie again. I found it exhausting (in a mostly good way) despite its frequent hilarity which is probably why i haven't gone back to it.

June 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

When I heard, it really took my breath away! What a shock... but The Sopranos was such an iconic show, it's hard to imagine that without it, shows like Mad Men, The Wire and Breaking Bad probably wouldn't exist. Crazy.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I started crying when I heard the news. But it was when I remembered his work in Where the Wild Things Are that I really lost it. That was such beautiful, wistful work in such a wonderful movie. All of his work is great; the first time I noticed him was in True Romance and he was terrific. And I was a huge Sopranos fan. But for some reason, the idea that Carol is gone is what makes my heart break a little bit more.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I know for some reason no one else liked it, but I simply adored Killing Them Softly, in which Gandolfini was his typically excellent self. RIP.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

His voice work in Where the Wild Things Are was so touching and perfect. That's the performance of his that I'll go to when I want to recall Gandolfini fondly.
And, of course, The Sopranos. Such a perfect marriage of actor and character (like his HBO neighbor Carrie Bradshaw) that it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. He's almost as lucky to have received that immortalizing role as we were to watch him in it.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

His quiet scenes in Sopranos were so beautiful. That show, anchored by his incredible performance showed that television drama didn't have to be car chases and shouting.

I worked background on Sopranos several times and he was such a calm guy. The set was like that. No drama, no egos, no BS. Just actors and production doing what needed to be done to make the best product possible. I remember watching one of his award acceptance speeches and thinking that that was the same guy I saw on set. An actor, just happy to be working and doing the best work he could. I view any production he is/was a part of in a higher regard because of his presence.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry O.

He was recently best-in-show and really just very, very good in the otherwise pretty tacky Killing Me Softly. It's a sad loss.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Shocked and devastated. He was one of the most diverse actors in Hollywood - and the only person to go toe-to-toe with Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker and NOT get his insides handed to him on a platter (GOD I love In The Loop so fucking much... what with its purviews and horse cocks...). I don't think I ever didn't enjoy him onscreen, but I gotta join the chorus of people praising his voice work in Where the Wild Things Are. So unexpectedly perfect for that character. I guess now is the time to finally start watching The Sopranos.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Very sad news. I loved his scenes with Nancy Marchand in The Sopranos. I love mummy issues. Did you see him on stage with God on Carnage?

PS Iannucci's work makes me feel a bit exhausted too. He's a brilliant/excessive writer.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

peggy sue -- i did see him in God of Carnage, yes. Didn't he and Jeff Daniels switch roles at some point or something? I'm trying to remember how it went down.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I never cry during movies but that final send-off in Where The Wild Things Are and that entire arc by Gandolfini was amazing voice-work ... and him and Falco were consistently incredible together in the Sopranos! :(

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

So sad at the news, I don't think I've ever been so affected by a celebrity dying like this, Tony Soprano will go down in history as one of the great acting achievements , he was so truthful in every moment just a marvel to watch. My favourite film role of his was in The Mexican, average film, but he was truly brilliant in it.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrami (ramification)

"I didn't just meet you. I've known you my whole life."

That line, and Gandolfini's stunned delivery of it, was like someone taking a baseball bat to my gut.

He was one of the all time greats. He gave us the single greatest television character in history. By all accounts, he was a kind and generous man. This hurts.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

I don't know if an actor's death has ever hit me like this. I cried, a lot, last night. I woke up this morning and turned on the computer and saw his face and knew it was true and I cried again. This is a HUGE loss, not only for cinema but for a loving family that is losing a son/husband/father/friend. I'm seriously crushed by this.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Sometimes I forget just how brilliant he was on The Sopranos, but just watching that scene... Man oh man. He was also one of the best character actors in Hollywood during and after The Sopranos. I'm thinking back on his incredibly moving final scene in last year's Not Fade Away, his voice work in Where the Wild Things Are... This is such a terrible, unexpected loss.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

As someone who has very little patience for the medium of television in general, I don't really follow any shows, but the sheer gravity of Gandolfini's presence made The Sopranos one of only a handful of shows I've watched from start to finish.
It's a tragic loss. He was one of the greatest actors working today.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Here's a guy who went to high school 6 miles from where I'm sitting now. Even without the put-on Tony Soprano accent, he felt like that local Jersey guy, like my neighbor, like a person. Kind of guy I'd have dated, honestly, because he's that authentic, that present (and totally my type).

Also, my age.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

FYI: It was a heart attack, not a stroke.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

I concur with everything you've said about Gandolfini and, particularly, his role in In the Loop. In a film with so many great performances, his scene with Kennedy stood out as one of the highlights. Films like this demand a "Best Ensemble" Oscar.

Gandolfini was so much more than The Sopranos (as iconic as his role was). He was a versatile character actor who could convey the full range of emotion.

In my mind, he delivered one of the best supporting performances last year in the under-rated "Killing Them Softly" as an over the hill, alcoholic hitman. He brought so much nuance and fire to a familiar role. I'm sad we won't get any more of that from this talented actor.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

Woke up today to this news and I'm stunned. It always saddens me when someone so contemporary passes away as it makes me think of my own moratlity; 51 is much too young. Like you Nathaniel I didn't really watch The Sopranos and know Mr. Gandolfini mainly from his film work. His greatest performance to me will always be from Where the Wild Things Are, which is still, to this day, the movie that has made me cry the most. A truly terrrible loss.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Gandolfini and Scoot McNairy (not to mention Greig Fraser's jaw-dropping cinematography) should have gotten more awards notice in Killing Them Softly. RIP

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Tony Soprano will be James Gandolfini's crowning glory, and I guess it's fitting that way. I'm still devastated by his death. Every Sunday night was "Sorpranos" night, and the idea that the man greatly responsible for one of the most brilliant television series I've EVER seen in my life is gone, I can't help but tear up and be saddened. It's too much to take, and I'll be sad for a long time.

And on that "Whitecaps" clip, that scene is one of many insanely great exchanges that would have brought both Gandolfini and Edie Falco Oscars. I know it. Suffice it to say, the dual Emmys that they received for this episode were so royally earned.

RIP to an actor who changed the television medium forever.


June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIan

That "poor you" line Tony says to Carmela is straight up Livia! Why am I just now making that connection? Wow.

RIP Mr. Gandolfini. You'll always be a legend and a personal hero of mine.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

I just watched the David Chase film "Not Fade Away" two nights ago and was marveling again at Gandolfini's subtlety and range. In one key scene, his gruff-father character softens for just a brief, confessional moment before he deflects away the emotion that wants to spill out. Then, his last scene in the film is totally silent -- he wipes away a tear watching a ballad from "South Pacific" on TV. RIP.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

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