Remembering James Gandolfini's Film Career, Full Of Tough Guys Who Mattered
The loss of James Gandolfini has been felt hardest by fans of The Sopranos, the HBO series that transformed our perception of how good a TV show could be, and which made a star out of veteran character actor Gandolfini at the unlikely age of 38. But a talent as large as Gandolfini's was never going to be limited to a single role or medium, and though he never played another character as long as he played Tony Soprano, he made a huge impact on film as well, playing all manner of gruff, tough men whose souls couldn't help but peek through.
It feels crazy to write about Gandolfini's acting, though, when you can watch the man talk about it himself, in this full episode of Inside the Actor's Studio (hat tip Moises Chiullan).
Gandolfini's passing seems all the more sudden because of how busy he's been recently, appearing in no fewer than three films last fall-- Zero Dark Thirty, Killing Them Softly and Not Fade Away, which reunited him with Sopranos creator David Chase, and cast Gandolfini in a role based strongly on Chase's own father. The film's trailer focuses mostly on the kids, but you can see Gandolfini in stern father mode:
But you don't have to look hard to find beloved Gandolfini performances across two entire decades, both before and after The Sopranos made him such a recognizable star. When I learned of his death I immediately thought of the blistering 2008 comedy In The Loop, in which Gandolfini plays an American general trying to avoid a pointless war. He's a stern, tough presence in a movie that's full of them, and when he finally meets the film's amoral center-- the profanity-spewing Scottish political fixer Malcolm Tucker-- it's the film's foul-mouthed highlight. When Gandolfini smiles and admits that he's killed people… it's hard to imagine anybody else pulling off that combination so well.
Playing a tough military guy was familiar work for Gandolfini, of course. Here he is standing up to Robert Redford in 2001's The Last Castle, one of the clips that our managing editor Kelly West picked when asked about her own favorite Gandolfini scenes.
And finally, remembering his roots as a character actor, here's one of his scenes from True Romance. As Virgil, Gandolfini didn't spend a lot of time on screen, but he was an active participant in what is easily one of the most memorable scenes in True Romance. The practically-inseparable lovers Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and Clarence (Christian Slater) were separated just long enough for Alabama to walk straight into Virgil's ambush, which leads to him brutally beating her and might have ended with her murder. But she fought back. A lot.
Share your own memories of his career in the comments below, including any clips we might have missed. The man had a stunning career, even though it ended so soon; he's left us a lot to remember.
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