More than Tony Soprano

Recalling 10 of James Gandolfini’s most memorable roles.

June 22, 2013 23:47
3 minute read.
James Gandolfini at the BAFTA Brits to Watch event in Los Angeles, July 9, 2011.

James Gandolfini 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

James Gandolfini’s untimely death at the age of 51 was as shocking as the abrupt cut-toblack conclusion of his most famous series, The Sopranos.

Although most people became familiar with the imposing-looking Italian American actor after seeing him play the tough-guy mob boss Tony Soprano on HBO from 1999 to 2007, he had a successful career as a character actor on film long before that.

For those curious to see some of his best work outside the mob confines of northern New Jersey, here are 10 of Gandolfini’s most memorable roles.

True Romance, 1993: Gandolfini had only a few screen credits to his name when he shared a short but memorable scene with heartthrob-on-the-rise Brad Pitt in Tony Scott’s smart 1993 crime comedy-drama with a script by Quentin Tarantino. Gandolfini and Pitt would act together again eight years later in The Mexican, when they were both major stars.

Crimson Tide, 1995: Tony Scott had an eye for acting talent, and his second film with Gandolfini also featured many other unknown faces who would go on to great heights, including Viggo Mortensen, Steve Zahn and Ryan Phillippe.

Get Shorty, 1995: John Travolta was making headlines with his resurgent career when this 1995 adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel came out, but Gandolfini stole his scenes as the mob heavy, Bear.

A Civil Action, 1998: Though by now he’d cultivated an impressive career playing tough guys, thugs and heavies, Gandolfini subverted expectations by playing an average working-class guy, wronged by the company he worked for in director Steven Zaillian’s 1998 drama. Once again, Gandolfini appeared opposite Travolta.

The Sopranos, 1999-2007: Gandolfini was just 37 years old when he began filming this HBO original series about a mobster seeking therapy for his issues with his mother, but he seemed as though he’d lived a lifetime. His layered, deeply felt portrayal of Tony Soprano turned Gandolfini into a household name and earned him multiple awards and nominations, including three Emmys for lead actor in a drama series.

The Man Who Wasn’t There, 2001: Gandolfini joined the small but elite group of actors interesting enough to appear in one of Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies in 2001, appearing in this blackand- white homage to noir films of the 1950s. His small role as sinister department store owner “Big Dave” Brewster gave him an opportunity to act opposite Billy Bob Thornton as well as a memorably gruesome onscreen death.

Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, 2007: When The Sopranos ended in 2007, Gandolfini had the clout to do pretty much anything he pleased, and he could easily have gotten any vanity acting project funded and produced. But instead, he used that clout to produce an affecting documentary that featured him on-camera interviewing wounded veterans of the war in Iraq. He followed that project up with another documentary, Wartorn: 1861-2010, in 2010.

In the Loop
, 2009: Transitioning from drama to comedy, Gandolfini provided an American draw to this political satire from British writer-director Armando Iaannucci which poked fun at political buffoonery on both sides of the pond. Iaannucci has since focused on American buffoonery with his HBO comedy series, Veep.

Where the Wild Things Are
, 2009: Rather than play it safe by lending his voice to a run-of-the-mill computer-animated feature, Gandolfini instead went with director Spike Jonze’s risky 2009 liveaction adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book. As Carol, the most prominent of the boy Max’s wild-thing friends, Gandolfini revealed a playful, childlike side to a voice most knew only as a threatening presence.

Zero Dark Thirty, 2012: Despite having an undeniable screen presence, Gandolfini was as comfortable in supporting roles as he was starring. In director Kathryn Bigelow’s acclaimed 2012 film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Gandolfini had a small but powerful role as real-life CIA director Leon Panetta.

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