It's been a year now.
He played a viscous crime boss on television, but what I saw was an honest vulnerable and loving man portraying a character on one of the most successful television series of all time, acting alongside his friends and people he loved, playing one part of the Tony and Carmela power couple with Edie Falco...his spirit always came through in his work. It was that spirit that drew us into his performance and it was that spirit...injected into the persona of Tony Soprano...that made him human, brought him to life and it's why so many of us loved him.
Had anyone else played Tony, we wouldn't have loved him half as much as we did with Jimmy.
I stand by that statement.
I've written about learning of his passing and running over to see brother Darren to tell him because he was the only one I knew that would get the pain I was in.
Brother Darren and I wanted to write a piece for this day, the 1 year anniversary of James Gandolfini's passing. To honor a man that touched us both deeply , a man for whom we have immense respect as do many of his fans around the world, his friends, his family and his loved ones.
Below is Brother Darren's take on my delivering he news that neither of us wanted to believe, and his reflections on the great actors contributions to the visual storytelling medium.
Scattered throughout are images, immediately above these words is a great and heartfelt and often sad tribute video made for him late last year by his friends and family at HBO.
We send our love to his friends & family.
Here's to Jimmy, Salute.
A year ago, Wes came into my workplace and gave me the news. James Gandolfini was dead. I thought he was kidding, but soon I saw he wasn’t – and that it was true.
I was left like Jackie Junior, in the bathroom of the Bada Bing, when Tony found that gun on him and kneed him in the nuts, and left him gagging on the filthy bathroom floor.
No, Wes hadn’t kneed me in the nuts, but he may as well have had with the news he had just delivered.
There is so much to say about James Gandolfini,
so many thanks,
so much praise.
He gave us all one of the best performances of any actor of all-time, in one of the greatest shows of all time, as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.
He was funny.
He was charming, especially in his scenes with Dr. Melfi.
He struggled with fidelity to his wife, with religion, with family, with making the right decisions, as we all do.
But, for me, the real draw to watching Gandolfini was that seething, just-below the rim anger that threatened to explode off the screen at any moment.
It’s no secret that Mr. Gandolfini somewhat resented the fame that Tony Soprano had brought him, and the pigeonhole aspect it put on him. It is normal for any actor of a hugely successful series to be pigeonholed into that persona of their character. Bryan Cranston is doing a good job of crawling out from the shadow of Walter White as we speak.
I’m sure Charlie Hunnam will have some work to do to get out from under Jax Teller when Sons Of Anarchy finally wraps up.
I read in an interview that for years, Sylvester Stallone resented the Rocky persona, to the point of making questionable career decisions to distance himself from it. Now, 20 and 30 years later, Stallone has stated that he now has come to admire the place Rocky has taken him, and what the character meant to his career.
He needed to travel the arc of that career to gain the hindsight, to be able to put it all into perspective and the initial resentment behind him. Now, Stallone freely parodies his Rocky persona (as he did recently in Grudge Match) and his action-hero persona as well with the brilliant Expendables franchise.
Anger is a base, common emotion. We all feel it. But anger, when channeled properly, can lead to great things.
A young Mike Tyson channeled his anger to the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship.
Chuck D channeled his anger to be the frontman of one of the greatest rap groups of all time, Public Enemy.
In the words of Rage Against The Machine,
"Anger is a gift."
If, and when, channeled properly, anger indeed can be a gift.
As Tony Soprano, Mr. Gandolfini exuded a controlled, brimming rage on the screen that few actors, of any generation, can match. He nailed the role of Tony Soprano much like Stallone did Rocky Balboa, and De Niro did Travis Bickle – he became the role, and to a certain extent, the role became him.
I remember a few years ago seeing a You Tube video taken by some idiot with a video camera filming Mr. Gandolfini as he was waiting for his bags at Kennedy Airport. The guy kept goading him, and getting closer, saying:
“Tony, ay, yo, how ya doin’ Tony, do some Tony for us.”
Mr. Gandolfini was visibly becoming more angered as this went on, and then it happened. A switch was flipped. Mr. Gandolfini whipped around, grabbed the guy by the throat, and pinned his head against a pillar.
“How’s that, hah?”
He said. The video ended with the guy whimpering.
It didn’t just sound like Tony Soprano,
It was Tony Soprano.
It was hard to tell if he was acting as the role, or was the role. On the screen, embodiment of that anger as Tony was what made his performances so brilliant and convincing. He was channeling his real-life inner demons into pure acting brilliance.
At the baggage claim at JFK, with a stranger’s head pinned against a wall, that brilliance may have been harder to see, or appreciate, but it was readily apparent why Mr. Gandolfini was so perfect in his craft – because his emotions were real, not just ‘acted’, and he channeled that emotion into his role.
Every time you watched a Sopranos episode, you weren’t watching Mr Gandolfini play Tony Soprano. You watched him be Tony Soprano.
And that, my friends, was a gift we all should be appreciative of.
Mr. Gandolfini, thank you once again for what you have given us in your brief lifetime.
May your soul – buon anima – forever rest in peace.
- DA | June 6th, 2014