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.