James Gandolfini has died. I heard the news when my elbow gave me enough pain to wake me at 5AM. I got up, had tablets, checked the BBC... I couldn’t believe it. When I woke up properly, hours later, I thought it must have been a horrible dream.
I enjoyed ‘The Sopranos’ but for some reason I never watched beyond the second series, so that’s not how I best remember Gandolfini.
Gandolfini was that rare kind of movie actor, like Alan Arkin, John Goodman, or even Geoffrey Rush, who never top the billing but are usually better than the rest of the cast combined. It always pleasantly surprises me when I see their names listed in a cast. Films were never sold on the back of Gandolfini’s name but he often made films. I saw him most recently in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ where he gave real presence to the small role of the CIA Director (with a strong resemblance to George Tenet) but he was in many great films in even better roles. He was one of the best things in the remake of ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ and he stole the underrated film ‘The Last Castle’ from Robert Redford. Yet, for me, his best performance was in Armando Iannucci's ‘In The Loop’ where he played Lt. Gen. George Miller, the commander who didn’t want to go to war. The final scene between him and Peter Capaldi was not just the best thing in the movie but the best thing in many movies.
The reason Gandolfini was so memorable in all these roles was that he was always convincingly real. It wasn’t nepotism or connections that made him a success. It was talent, charisma and that ineffable likability with which some people are naturally born. Even playing a bad guy, you always knew there was a good guy deep down. That, I guess, was the magic ingredient in The Sopranos but it was something Gandolfini brought to every role.
I can’t help but feel that the good guys have just lost one of their best bad guys.