Friday, June 21, 2013

I Remember James Gandolfini

I'm trying to remember the first time I noticed the great character actor James Gandolfini who has died in Italy, aged just 51 years.
I certainly do remember him as Juror Number 6 in the 1997 TV movie remake of 12 Angry Men where he stood his ground against Hume Cronyn, Jack Lemmon, George C. scott and William Petersen.
In the same year he was in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil unbilled as a waiter or so says IMDN. And I certainly don't remember him there.
But two years later there he was starring in The Sopranos and giving the performance of his life as Tony Soprano.
He was as good as an actor can get but in one mass interview session I attended he said he was afraid of getting typecast as an actor.
It was as if everything he had ever done was forgotten and now he was this great TV star and he rather resented the loss of that anonymity.
His greatest thrill on the set, he said, was acting opposite the great character star Nancy Marchand who played his mother. She was dying even as we spoke but not before she'd fufilled her contractual obligations for the season.
I spent years in Hamilton and thought The Sopranos could just as easily have been set there because both Hamilton and New Jersey had storied gangland pasts.
In the TV universe it's one character that makes a star and some actors never get away from it.
In person Gandolfini was feisty. I liked it when shock radio guy Glenn Beck complained Gandolfini had been rude to him in a New York city nitery.
I'm glad Gandolfini got such attention and awards for The Sopranos.
But I was expecting two more decades of film and TV achievements ahead.
Jim Arness was forever tagged as Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke.
Jim Garner despite the multiplicity of parts was always Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files. Larry Hagman was always Dallas' J.R. Ewing.
Some huge TV stars from Dick Chamberlain to Mary Tyler Moore to Dick Van Dyke never quite shed their TV pasts to make it big in movies.
But Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood did so go figure.
We'll never know how Gandolfini would have fared. He had been searching for that big movie cross over role.
I know when I heard of his death I was not that surprised. I'd heard stories about his drinking problems. He looked much older than his 51 years.
He was always corpulent, wheezing, that's what made him such a fine character star.
I'll always wish he had simply taken better care of himself.

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