Actor who played sympathetic gangster role
James Gandolfini: 1961-2013
Since The Sopranos ended its six-season run in June 2007, Gandolfini appeared in a number of big-screen roles, including Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the crime drama Killing Them Softly.
At the time of his death, he had been working on an upcoming HBO series, Criminal Justice, and had two films due out next year.
Gandolfini began his career as a stage actor in New York and went on to earn a Tony nomination for his role in the original 2009 Broadway cast of the black comedy God of Carnage.
He shared Tony Soprano’s Italian-American heritage and New Jersey roots, but he was known for a reserved demeanour off-camera and generally shied away from publicity.
In the HBO series, Gandolfini created a gangster different from any previously seen in American television or film. He was capable of killing enemies with his own hands but was prone to panic attacks. He loved his wife, Carmela, played by Edie Falco, and was a doting father, but had a string of affairs. He regularly saw a therapist, portrayed by Lorraine Bracco, to work out his anxiety problems and issues with his mother.
By the start of the show’s final season, Gandolfini suggested he was ready to move on to more gentle roles once his television mobster days were over.
“I’m too tired to be a tough guy or any of that stuff anymore,” he said. “We pretty much used all that up in this show.”
The programme, which earned Gandolfini three Emmy Awards as best lead actor in a drama series, was considered by many critics the finest drama to have aired on US television.
It was a major factor in establishing HBO, a pay-cable network once focused on presentations of feature films, as a powerhouse of original dramatic television and in shifting the kind of sophisticated storytelling once reserved for the big screen to television.
The show won the Emmy as best drama series in 2004 and again in 2007 after its final season.
The series concluded with a final episode that strongly suggested Tony was about to be murdered before abruptly ending mid-scene, cutting from a shot of Gandolfini’s face to a blank screen.
The Soprano role paved the way for a parade of popular prime-time shows built around profoundly flawed characters and anti-heroes, from Dexter and Breaking Bad to Mad Men and Nurse Jackie.