Gandolfini, James


Gandolfini, James
▪ 2004

      In March 2003, when James Gandolfini—the winner of three Emmy Awards as outstanding lead actor in a dramatic series (2000, 2001, and 2003) for his portrayal of the intense, lumbering mafia boss Tony Soprano—threatened to leave The Sopranos over a salary dispute, production came to a halt on the most popular series in the history of cable television. Following a round of tough negotiations, however, filming resumed later that month.

      Gandolfini was born on Sept. 18, 1961, in Westwood, N.J., to Italian immigrant parents. After graduating in 1983 with a degree in communications from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., he worked in New York City nightclubs as a bouncer, bartender, and manager. Persuaded by a friend to attend an acting class at the famed Actors Studio, Gandolfini was intrigued and decided to study acting, supporting himself as a deliveryman. He first gained notice on the stage in a 1992 production of A Streetcar Named Desire that starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. His film career began that same year with a series of small roles; he was cast in larger roles as dangerous tough guys in films that included Terminal Velocity (1994), Crimson Tide (1995), and Get Shorty (1995). Although respected for his work in these films and others, such as Night Falls on Manhattan (1997) and A Civil Action (1998), Gandolfini became an icon in his role-of-a-lifetime on The Sopranos, which debuted on HBO in 1999.

      The Sopranos followed in the same tradition as Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather films and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. The series was as much the story of a dysfunctional family as it was of the crime syndicate as endangered species, and at the centre of both was Tony, the gangster as upper-middle-class everyman, whose sessions with his psychiatrist illuminated his deeply conflicted nature. By turns volcanic and brooding, honourable and devious, tender and cruel, a loving father and husband given to serial infidelity, Tony was one of the most complex characters in television history, and Gandolfini's performance was profoundly nuanced. How else could viewers feel such sympathy for a character capable of such tremendous violence?

      Gandolfini demonstrated his range in very different roles in three films released in 2001: as a gay hitman in The Mexican, as the uptight military prison warden in The Last Castle, and as the victim of blackmail in The Man Who Wasn't There. All the while, the balding and hulking Gandolfini was becoming an unlikely sex symbol who changed the image of a leading man.

Jeff Wallenfeldt

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▪ American actor
born Sept. 18, 1961, Westwood, N.J., U.S.

      American actor, best known for his portrayal of Mafia boss and family man Tony Soprano in the HBO drama series The Sopranos (1999–2007).

      Gandolfini was the son of Italian immigrants. In 1983 he graduated from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., with a degree in communications. After working in New York City nightclubs as a bouncer, bartender, and manager, Gandolfini was persuaded by a friend to attend an acting class at the famed Actors Studio (Actors Studio, The). Intrigued, he decided to study acting while supporting himself as a deliveryman.

      Before establishing a career in film, Gandolfini appeared on Broadway, first gaining notice on the stage in a 1992 production of A Streetcar Named Desire that also starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. That same year he began appearing in small roles on the big screen. In 1993 Gandolfini was cast as the woman-beating mob enforcer Virgil in Quentin Tarantino's True Romance. He continued to be cast as dangerous tough guys in films that included Terminal Velocity (1994), Crimson Tide (1995), and Get Shorty (1995).

 Although respected for his work in these films and others, such as Night Falls on Manhattan (1997) and A Civil Action (1998), Gandolfini became an icon in his role-of-a-lifetime on The Sopranos (Sopranos, The), which debuted on HBO in 1999. The series was as much the story of a dysfunctional family as it was of the crime syndicate as endangered species, and at the centre of both was Tony, the gangster as upper-middle-class everyman, whose sessions with his psychiatrist illuminated his deeply conflicted nature. By turns volcanic and brooding, honourable and devious, tender and cruel, a loving father and a husband given to serial infidelity, Tony was one of the most complex characters in television history, and Gandolfini's performance was profoundly nuanced. He won several Emmy Awards (Emmy Award) as outstanding lead actor in a dramatic series for his role. After six seasons, The Sopranos ended in 2007.

      While starring in The Sopranos, Gandolfini continued to appear on-screen. He demonstrated his range in very different roles in three films released in 2001: as a gay hitman in The Mexican, as the uptight military prison warden in The Last Castle, and as the victim of blackmail in The Man Who Wasn't There. Later works include Surviving Christmas (2004), Romance & Cigarettes (2005), Lonely Hearts (2006), and All the King's Men (2006).

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Universalium. 2010.

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