×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

James Gandolfini’s Unlikely Stardom, and the Role of a Lifetime

A reluctant and unlikely star, Gandolfini's role in 'The Sopranos' was one for the ages

In a different, pre-HBO world, James Gandolfini the TV star never would have happened. Fox wanted Anthony LaPaglia for the lead role when they were developing “The Sopranos,” and it’s hard to imagine a major network having gone with a guy of Gandolfini’s limited profile at the time.

SEE ALSO: James Gandolfini Dies at 51

And from that perspective, just imagine what we would have missed. The news that Gandolfini has died — of an apparent heart attack at the age of 51 — comes as a shock to the system. Having his life cut short also ensures his signature role — as the conflicted, therapy-seeking mob boss Tony Soprano — will forever be indelibly etched to him, as if there was anything that could erase the connection, in the same way Carroll O’Connor will always be Archie Bunker.

Gandolfini established some solid feature credentials both before and after “The Sopranos” (to see a much slimmed-down version rent the movie “Angie,” starring Geena Davis), and he was sensational in the stage version of “God of Carnage.” But he was the sort of actor who would have spent his career as a classic second banana, the best friend or tough guy. David Chase and HBO’s decision to make him their leading man was an audacious bet — one of those serendipitous, life-altering moments that the business rarely braves.

SEE ALSO: Hollywood Reacts to Gandolfini News on Twitter

Gandolfini brought a plethora of dimensions to the role of Tony, from a true sense of physical menace to disarming comedy, with practically every gradation in between. The program’s success earned him not only Emmy nominations, prestige and enormous wealth, but also the inevitable burden of being associated with a show whose shadow would be so difficult to escape, where everyone wanted a piece of him.

Although Gandolfini leveraged “The Sopranos” to champion causes and ventures that interested him — including the 2007 HBO special “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq,” in which he sensitively interviewed wounded soldiers — he did not appear to wear those demands comfortably. By the time the show came to an end, he clearly sounded eager to move on. No matter how unexpected the fame or terrific the role, like a lot of actors, sudden stardom seemed to wear on him.

Nevertheless, there are only so many TV shows, so many characters, that qualify a performer for true immortality, and Gandolfini’s association with “The Sopranos” looms larger than most.

Tony and the gang always seemed to be eating, and in those terms, the check came far too early. But when it comes to dramatic zest and a series that helped usher in the current renaissance of TV drama, Gandolfini — an unlikely and somewhat reluctant star — leaves behind a feast for the ages.

Salud.

More TV

  • WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE WITH ANDY

    The First BravoCon Provides an Outlet for Obsession (Column)

    Were you one of the thousands flipping tables for not managing to snatch up tickets to the first ever BravoCon? Did you find yourself refreshing your Twitter and Instagram feeds incessantly for updates on who said what to whom and where over the weekend? Are you wondering if you should try harder to get in [...]

  • Riley Keough

    Riley Keough to Star in Amazon Series 'Daisy Jones and The Six,' Niki Caro to Direct

    Riley Keough has landed the title role in the upcoming Amazon series “Daisy Jones & The Six,” Variety has learned. In addition, Niki Caro has signed on to direct multiple episodes in addition to executive producing the series, which hails from executive producer Reese Witherspoon. Based on the novel of the same name by Taylor Jenkins [...]

  • ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show' Renewed for

    ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show' Renewed for Season 2 by NBCUniversal

    Kelly Clarkson’s presence as a talk show host is about to get stronger. NBCUniversal has renewed the “The Kelly Clarkson Show” through the 2020-2021 season, extending Clarkson’s daytime run. The “American Idol” and “Voice” coach’s show has been hitting hight notes in the ratings so far, with its debut back in September scoring the highest [...]

  • Jenni Konner

    Jenni Konner Signs Overall Deal at Fox 21 Television Studios

    Jenni Konner has signed a multi-year overall deal at Fox 21 Television Studios. Under the deal, Konner will create, develop, produce and oversee series for network, cable and streaming platforms for the studio, which is now part of Disney Television Studios. She and her former producing partner, Lena Dunham, were formerly under a deal at [...]

  • 'Dead To Me,' 'Why Women Kill'

    From 'Dead To Me' to 'Why Women Kill,' Angry Women are Getting Their Due on TV

    Angry women, this is your time. At least on TV. From such classic sitcoms as “The Honeymooners” to more modern multicams including “Everybody Loves Raymond,” lead female characters were more often than not portrayed as foils or just general counterpoints to their husbands. Sometimes this was portrayed through hysterical antics; more commonly it was through [...]

  • Melina Matsoukas AFI Franklin J Schaffner

    'Queen and Slim' Director Melina Matsoukas Inks First-Look Deal at FX

    Director Melina Matsoukas has signed a first-look deal with FX Productions. Under the deal, Matsoukas will develop new content for FX Networks. She recently directed the pilot for the upcoming FX series “Y,” based on the graphic novel series “Y: The Last Man.” Matsoukas will also serve as an executive producer on the series. Her [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content