Somewhere in the bowels of the Nashville Scene’s online archives, you can read my present sense impressions of James Gandolfini when I was hanging out on the set of the movie The Last Castle. Remember, this was at the beginning of the decade, when everyone was still embroiled with Soprano Fever.
I don’t remember now whether the director (Rod Lurie) told us not to look Gandolfini in the eye or anything like that. I think there was a general admonishment just not to engage any of the major players in any conversation. Everyone forgot that on day one.
Now recall that this movie had The mother-f*ck*n’ Natural, Robert Redford on set, Delroy Lindo on the way, indie legend Paul Calderon and soon-to-be superstar (and activist/nice guy) Mark Ruffalo. And everyone wanted to be next to Gandolfini.
And Jesus did the lads on set, the as yet un-jaundiced extras, love Gandolfini, if only from afar. For the first few weeks it was “Heyyy Tonnyyyyy!” whenever people saw him. He took it in stride, smiled, waived, got on with his business. He never played the diva role, “don’t call me that.” I don’t think he had to. The look he gave us was somewhere in between genuine appreciation for the fandom and that smirk that appeared on Tony Soprano’s face when he knew he had to take care of business.
That love had as much to do with the team behind The Soprano’s as it had to do with the man himself, of course, everything that went into making the show such an enduring success.
My strongest memory of Gandolfini during the filming was him preparing for a scene, the climactic scene where he’s yelling at Redford to do something. Before “Speed. Tape. Rolling. Action!” Gandolfini was smashing his forearms into the wall, grunting and huffing like a hulking defensive end getting his game face on. The huffing recessed as Gandolfini spoke his lines, then, slowly that physicality reappeared into the performance.
Sorry, I don’t have any memories that include Gandolfini sharing a snack with me at craft services (that was Rachel Ticotin’s brother, the 2nd AD) or giving me advice (that came from Michael Irby who told me I’d have to live south of Williamsburg at first if I moved to New York), or telling great stories from the past (Calderon had the best) or telling me I was going to be famous someday (absolutely no one). It was just, he was there, he worked, and then fade to black.