James Gandolfini’s death has not made me particularly eloquent. It hasn’t offered me many lessons or reminders of beautiful characteristics of life or art. It’s just made me sad.
I’ve been sad since I made the ill-advised decision to peek at my phone while I working on a set yesterday. Even worse was explaining to people why I was glum- if it wasn’t a “who’s that?” when I mention that one of our greatest actors had passed, it was a reaction of very real shock and sadness that almost immediately dissapated as they returned to checking their phones or doing their job. That’s probably the right reaction- the only real appropriate response to the “loss” of someone who was effectively a fictional concept in your life anyway. I’m not really sure. I did see him in the flesh once or twice, took a shitty picture with him, so I guess I had at least that personal awareness of his existence as a real person. Still, it has hit me harder than I can remember being hit by the death of an artist I didn’t know. This just feels different, and I have to believe it’s because he really was one of the best actors working, that I really did have a deeper affection for him than virtually any other actor out there, and that it’s not some obtuse nonsense about him representing the grand spirit of whatever.
It’s infuriating above everything else. He was just starting to be far enough removed from the cultural Big Bang that was The Sopranos that he could play a role in a movie and not have that baggage loom over the part. Just last year brought us three Gandolfini performances in three very different movies, and he was as good as it was possible to be in all of them.
What hurts is that he was so hugely talented, such a force, but more that he seemed to be right in the place where the best work happens, where he would have found the most joy. This is not a tragic flame-out death of a young talent perhaps shining too bright, nor is it the inevitable departure of an aging master. He was right in the middle. His craft was honed, his shit was together. This was supposed to be the effortless time. I suppose it’s better than the long, decrepit death of “another toothpick,” as Livia Soprano is said to have termed it, but even that’s a heap of shit. He should have had decades left.
It all make David Chase’s decision on the manner in which The Sopranos would end all the more brilliant. These feelings I’m experience now are remarkably familiar. I watched the last-ever episode of The Sopranos with a group of friends at a little beach house on a rinky-dink island, and once I knew for sure the cable hadn’t screwed up at an impossibly unfortunate moment, I took a walk. The Sopranos played out at time when I was incredible impressionable, a young obsessive just starting to explore filmmaking and the structure of fiction. The show aired its final episode the summer after my first year of film school. Nothing was the same for TV and narrative fiction in general after The Sopranos, but it was effectively the first “real” TV show I personally ever sank into. I’ll spend the rest of my life chasing after what that show did for me. There was never anything else, and suddenly the show was gone with no satisfaction except the journey itself (no pun intended). That’s fine, and the way it should be, but we didn’t know that was how it was going to be until the end. “JUST LIKE REAL FUCKING LIFE,” Chase seemed to scream at us from the punctuating darkness between that last frame of Tony Soprano looking up and that first screamingly white end credit.
I now think of those feeling of confusion, anger, sadness, and even betrayal I felt as I trotted along the beach, my feet squelching in dry sand that was still warm from the day, but very quickly cooling. It’s pretty much what I feel now. It’s hitting me hard.
That’s all I’ve got though. So I’ve been reading everything out there in response to Gandolfini’s passing. I’ve given all of the other great writers out there the reigns to my feelings on this one, to let them process the meaning of this man’s life and career for me. I’ve let them interpret why this one doesn’t feel like the other ones. I’ve let them remind the casual fans that it wasn’t just The Sopranos, but turns like his in True Romance and Get Shorty that were so great, or the roles like in Violet & Daisy, In The Loop, and the heartbreakingly wonderful Where The Wild Things Are that revealed his mythic gentleness.
I’m going to try and let the glumness slip away today. I’ll watch one of his films. I’ll smoke a cigar in his honor when I play poker tonight, even though it will give me a headache. I’ll try not to think about the dozens of onscreen hours we had left to share with him through his great work, or that I’ll never have the pleasure of seeing him on stage.
This is where the big final line goes- that poetic or emotional statement that ties it all together and makes it all okay and points towards hope. You know, the one that
I have lost a brother and a best friend. The world has lost one of the greatest actors of all time.
— Steven Van Zandt (@StevieVanZandt) June 20, 2013
Massive blow to the acting community today… The passing of James Gandolfini. So talented. My heart goes out to his family!
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) June 20, 2013
God bless James Gandolfini
— Val Kilmer (@ValEKilmer) June 20, 2013
RIP James Gandolfini – had the pleasure of working with him and knowing him a bit- always a truth teller- gent and all around class act-
— John Cusack (@johncusack) June 20, 2013
One of the great things about Gandolfini was how much he helped and cared for our injured veterans.
— Richard Kelly (@JRichardKelly) June 20, 2013
So sad to lose James Gandolfini. One of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I’ve ever worked with. Sending prayers to his family.
— Susan Sarandon (@SusanSarandon) June 20, 2013
James Gandolfini. This is a tremendous loss. A brilliant actor and a wonderful man. Our deepest sympathies to his family. Devastating.
— Michael Chiklis (@MichaelChiklis) June 20, 2013
James Gandolfini. Unbelievably sad news. A fine man.
— Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) June 20, 2013
Jesus. The world just lost one of its great actors. James Gandolfini has passed away. Thoughts to his family. Such a talent. I’m saddened.
— Ewan McGregor (@mcgregor_ewan) June 20, 2013
Had the pleasure to work with James Gandolfini twice when I started out. Both times I had small roles but he treated me with respect. RIP
— Bryan Greenberg (@bryangreenberg) June 20, 2013
Gandolfini was a down-to-earth, self-aware man with an ocean of talent, craft and soul. Can’t believe he’s gone.
— petergould (@petergould) June 20, 2013
James Gandolfini. You will be missed.
— Molly Ringwald (@MollyRingwald) June 20, 2013
RIP Mr. Gandolfini. If u have 4.5 mins pls enjoy this story about my run in w this GREAT talent http://t.co/iuh515kVxl
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) June 20, 2013
awful awful news. James Gandolfini will be missed. He was a great actor. Just great.
— mia farrow (@MiaFarrow) June 20, 2013
RIP to my old network mate James Gandolfini
— Freddy Rodriguez (@FreddyRdriguez) June 20, 2013
Death needs to get stabbed in the foot with a corkscrew by Patricia Atquette. #RIPGandolfini
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) June 20, 2013
Sad to hear about James Gandolfini . First met Jimmy back in ’94.He was roommates in NY with Lenny Loftin. Lovely man. RIP Jimmy
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) June 20, 2013
Tony Soprano always entertain the legend. he always going to be #1 like the legend
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) June 20, 2013
Oh Jimmy. It’s a crying shame. You stormed in and out. Your voice like velvet granite. From a whisper to a shout. A comet of a man. So long
— Mark Ruffalo (@Mruff221) June 20, 2013
Some fine pieces on the passing of James Gandolfini (1961-2013)…
That’s what made Tony Soprano, a bully and killer and cheater and disgusting hypocrite, so likable. The decent part of Tony, the part that stood in for the tragically wasted human potential Dr. Melfi kept trying to tease out and embrace, came from Gandolfini. His humanity shone through Tony’s rotten façade. When people said they sensed good in Tony, it was James Gandolfini they sensed.
Seitz on James Gandolfini, 1961-2013: A Great Actor, A Better [Matt Zoller Seitz – Vulture]
And Gandolfini played every facet of that character beautifully. When I heard the sudden, shocking news of his death, my mind immediately flooded with images of Tony Soprano at either his most horrible or human: Tony goading his sister Janice into rejecting the lessons of her anger management class because he can’t stand to see her happier than he is; Tony brawling with Ralphie Cifaretto over the death of the horse Pie-O-My; Tony asking his senile, mean Uncle Junior, “Don’t you love me?”; or Tony needling Janice and Bobby Bacala during the most violent Monopoly game ever played.
Remembering James Gandolfini and Tony Soprano [Alan Sepinwall – HitFix]
But like a good friend or good relative, Gandolfini didn’t just provide a larger context, he kept showing up, in ways large and small but always pleasant. So many of us remember Tony Soprano, but we have our private Gandolfinis, too…
Remembering James Gandolfini For More Than Just ‘The Sopranos’ [Alyssa Rosenberg – ThinkProgress]
Unlike so many celebrities of his time, Gandolfini didn’t seem the least bit interested in fame or in sharing every detail of his private life. Until the stunning news of his death on Wednesday, I didn’t know he had a son from his first marriage, or that his current wife, Deborah Lin, gave birth to their baby girl just last fall. So as we mourn the loss of a great talent who gave us a TV character we’ll never forget, we send prayers and sympathy to those who lost a husband, a father, a friend.
Recalling the genius of James Gandolfini [Richard Reoper – Chicago Sun Times]
…MOST RECENTLY AS THE CIA DIRECTOR IN ZERO DARK THIRTY. THE LAST OF WHICH PERFECTLY ENCAPSULATES THIS EFFECT. THINK ABOUT THE CAFETERIA SCENE, WHERE HE IS AT ONCE IMPOSING AS HE IS CRAVING HONESTY, THEN YOU CAN FULLY SEE THE WAY SHE EARNS HIS TRUST WITH HER CERTAINTY. GANDOLFINII JUST HAD THAT SHORTHAND OF INSTANTLY CREATING IMPACT, CONVEYING A SIMULTANEOUS SENSE OF STERN EXTERIOR AND BUBBLING HUMANITY UNDERNEATH.
Why James Gandolfini Matters [FilmCritHulk – Badass Digest]
Gandolfini was a Jersey guy long before he became a suburban mobster on TV. He was born and raised in New Jersey and attended Rutgers. He went to many Jets home games in recent years. In fact, he witnessed at least three memorable games — a fourth-quarter comeback win over the Houston Texans in 2010, the emotional and dramatic 2011 opening win over the Cowboys on the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 and the crushing Christmas Eve loss to the Giants in 2011.
Tony Soprano and the Jets [Rich Cimini – ESPN]
He was just so good at the emotion. A very passionate man and a very, very tender man,” Matthew Warchus, who directed Gandolfini in the 2009 Broadway play “God of Carnage,” told CNN. “I really loved him and admired him a great deal.”
Actor James Gandolfini dead at age 51 [Chelsea J. Carter and JD Cargill – CNN]
“I am shocked and devastated by Jim’s passing. He was a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words. I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague. My heart goes out to his family. As those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together. The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I’ve ever known.”
Reactions to the Death of James Gandolfini [Dave Itzkoff – LA Times]
Gandolfini was perfect in the role of a guilt-crazed family-man mobster. “I’m a neurotic mess,” he told Rolling Stone’s Chris Heath in our 2000 cover story. “I’m really basically a 260-pound Woody Allen.”
No other actor in TV history has been called on to do the heavy lifting Gandolfini had to do. All those years, all those intricate calibrations of charm and evil, subtly building up the character of Tony Soprano with six seasons of slow-burn menace. It was a marathon feat of long-term detailed storytelling, the kind of thing nobody had attempted. Others followed – Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage, practically the entire cast of Mad Men. But they didn’t have to prove it could be done. That was Gandolfini’s job.
James Gandolfini: The ‘260-Pound Woody Allen’ Who Changed TV [Rob Schefield – Rolling Stone]