×
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

  • Prince Albert II of Monaco (C),

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union's 'L.A.’s Finest' Opens Monte Carlo TV Festival

    Prince Albert II of Monaco opened the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival on Friday at a glittering ceremony at the principality’s Grimaldi Forum attended by Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. The Hollywood actresses presented the French premiere of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest,” which has just been renewed for a second season. “You typically [...]

  • Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba'L.A.'s Finest'

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union Speak About Horrific 'L.A.’s Finest' On-Set Accident

    Actresses Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba spoke about how the horrific accident on the set of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest” affected them and the crew at the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival Saturday. They also paid tribute to the main victim of the incident, executive producer/co-showrunner Brandon Sonnier, whose leg was amputated below [...]

  • Emmys: How a Social Media Campaign

    How a Social Media Campaign to Game the Emmys Led to This Week's 'Block Voting' Scandal

    The Television Academy’s “block voting” controversy has quickly become the talk of Emmy season — and that appears to have been the org’s point. According to multiple insiders, the number of people disqualified from voting in this year’s competition is believed to be small, only around three members (out of nearly 25,000 members overall). But [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Drops Trailer for 'Veronica Mars' Revival (Watch)

    In today’s roundup, Hulu dropped the official trailer for the “Veronica Mars” revival and HBO revealed more cast members for “Lovecraft Country.” FIRST LOOKS Hulu has dropped the official trailer for its revival of “Veronica Mars,” set to premiere on July 26. The series will bring back most of the original cast, including Kristen Bell, Jason [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Viacom CEO Bob Bakish

    Bob Bakish Talks Pluto TV, Netflix and CBS-Viacom Merger Rumors

    Viacom CEO Bob Bakish knows that a lot of his peers are in the original content space in streaming, but he believes the company’s ad-supported free service Pluto TV is better off relying on Viacom’s library of content. “We can debate a lot of things about the future, but in the near term, the opportunity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content