Look, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend like I knew or even ever met James Gandolfini. Truth be told, I’m with most everyone else in the world that recognized him as a truly talented individual that fronted what was arguably the greatest television show ever made. A movie I worked on played “The Sopranos” in softball once… Does that count for anything?
Anyway, I fall very solidly into the category of those that didn’t quite realize how much they liked this mountain of a man until yesterday evening when we found out he’d been taken from us far too soon.
What I will do is say that as a staple of the New York City talent pool, James was always mentioned at the top of every list. He’s a name that I think could be associated with at least one (if not more) productions somewhere in this city at any given time. And, it’s because of that fact that my Facebook and twitter feeds have been absolutely exploding over the last 24 hours with people that came to know and love him over the years, right within my direct circle of influence and trusted friends.
One word that is consistent within nearly every person’s thoughtful and personal notes of loss and thanks (oft accompanied with a picture that he happily posed for) is “genuine.”
My chosen industry is chock full of a vast and… the best word for it, I suppose, is “eclectic” group of people from all walks of life. I’m not only talking about the artists or talent either, as we all know society likes to write off their shortcomings and general sociopathic behavior as the unfortunate but usually harmless and forgivable side effects of having a genius and/or creative mind. Throughout cast and crew and all the way up to the top of the top, there is a lot of helplessness, a dizzying supply of entitlement, and an other worldly level of “how in the world do you get by in life when you don’t have an entire production team and multi-million dollar budget at your beck and call?” One word that you do not hear a lot, and certainly not with any sort of regularity especially when it comes to flat out uber-famous actors, is genuine.
Now, again, I never met Mr. Gandolfini but a lot of my very good friends and co-workers did have the pleasure. Everything that I’ve ever heard about the man is that he was one of the sweetest, funniest, hardest working, nicest, and most down to earth people anyone could ever ask to meet in life, let alone work with. He apparently would always make it a point to meet, learn the name and shake the hand of each and every cast and crew member he happened by or that happened by him on a set.
It saddens me to know that qualities such as these are so rare in our field, but it does make me happy when I hear that they are still alive and well, even within just a select and chosen few. Mr. Gandolfini may have left us far too soon, but we can only hope that everything he left behind - not only his incredibly impressive body of professional work, but his outstanding qualities as a human being working in an often dehumanizing industry - will be passed along and can live on for the next generation and many more to come.
Thanks for all of the memories, JG… and thanks for being a great talent, a quality friend and co-worker, a true champion of all things NY/NJ, and a genuine inspiration for so many.
I’ll leave you with a quick scene from what I still say is my favorite single Gandolfini role ever - calm down, second only to big Tone of course.
I was in a movie theatre when I got the news, and I’m kind of still hoping it was just part of the show. He was truly one of the greats.