Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Final Word on Gandolfini

Tonight my wife said to me, “Can you believe James Gandolfini’s dead?” I shook my head then proceeded to describe how it wasn’t a massive heart attack that killed JG. It was Tony Soprano himself.

The second THE SOPRANOS rolled, Tony suffocated Gandolfini’s life, consumed it, eviscerated it. Tony was too big to live on a TV screen. He was a wild fire that Gandolfini threw gas on. A Vegan who hits the gym four times a week can’t play Tony Soprano. It required a real-life monster. To play Tony, Gandlfini had to become Tony. He had to drink a lot, smoke a lot, eat a lot, divorce his wife, hang in bars, have sex with a lot of women. He had to be larger than life or he couldn’t grab even a corner of Tony’s spirit when the camera rolled. Don’t believe all those stories about how Gandolfini was Tony’s opposite off camera. You have to be a Beast. Jim Gandolfini from Jersey died in ’99, and from the ashes rose a world wrecker: Mob Boss Anthony Soprano. Nucky Thompson is “just” a part. Jax Teller is “just” a part. Tony Soprano is a way of life.

I think Gandolfini understood that Tony would kill him. The power of what that was; the all-consuming energy. He talked often in interviews about the physical and mental pain he’d put himself through to hit a Tony mark. Punching himself in the face, drinking ten cups of coffee in ten minutes, staying awake for days on end, maintaining a heavy body weight because Tony couldn’t be thin or healthy. Life is about trade-offs. Gandolfini was willing to trade his long-term existence to be Tony. He was willing to sacrifice Jim Gandolfini nice guy. When THE SOPRANOS wrapped in ’07, I’m sure Gandolfini tried turning Tony off, tried going back to nice guy Jim. Nope. You can turn Don Draper off. You can’t turn Tony off. The last time I saw Jim Gandolfini was on the set of THE MEXICAN, and that was just the ghost of him.

I can’t verbalize why Tony Soprano and THE SOPRANOS is so much more powerful than any other TV show in history. You either get it or you don’t. THE SOPRANOS was "just" television the same way Michael Jordan was just a ballplayer and The Beatles was just a bar band. There was an indescribable magic involved with what THE SOPRANOS was, and is. I think the writing on BOARDWALK EMPIRE is as good. I think the acting on BREAKING BAD is of equal class. But those are “just” TV shows, everybody knows that. THE SOPRANOS was real. It was in between the lines, the little things, the way Carmella screamed Tony’s name. Edie Falco says the love that Carmella and Tony felt was more powerful than any love she’s ever known in her own life. Even the woman who portrayed Carmella, the woman who saw the cameras and grip boys every day, understands the power of what that role was. It was real.

When Gandolfini won his second Emmy, he talked about enjoying the journey to success, because once the upper-echelon’s obtained, it can get “pretty weird.” He knew back then that Tony Soprano was slowly eating a hole through his identity, the same way the character destroyed everything he touched in the “fictional world” of THE SOPRANOS. Jim Gandolfini died in ’99. And two weeks ago, the body that carried Tony Soprano into the world, keeled over and died in a hotel room, in Italy, of course. Fitting not because that’s where Gandolfini’s people are from. Fitting because that’s where Tony’s people are from. Look at the picture above. You think that's Jim Gandolfini holding a cigar? If I had seen him on Broadway post-SOPRANOS, I would've just said: Why is Tony Soprano in this play?

They say we die when our mission on Earth is done. Tony had been delivered to the masses. Nice guy Jim’s work was done. And Gandolfini himself is to blame. He knew the agreement going in. How could you not? He knew that being Tony ended this way. He took the deal. Wouldn’t you?

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Brian Huba

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