Thursday, June 20, 2013

james gandolfini (and me)

James Gandolfini just died. He was in Italy, on holiday, and suffered a heart attack. He was only 51.

It's so strange when somebody famous dies; someone you don't really know, and yet... 

Over the last few years, I've spent more time with James Gandolfini than I have some of my closest friends and family. Hours and hours and hours, rewatching the entire series of The Sporanos, then starting all over again, and trying to watch everything else that he features in. He's one of the very few actors whose name attached to a project actually means something. I trust it.

The first thing I remember seeing him in was The Mexican. My secondary school had a fundraiser screening of it at Village Newmarket. The movie was average - Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt made a strange pairing, plus the theatre was full of schoolgirls talking to each other - but I remember James Gandolfini. His character, which could have been hammy as hell, was really sweet. The Sopranos had begun but I hadn't started properly watching it yet, and I'd seen The Mighty but didn't remember him from it, which is funny, because I always remember things like that.

The Sopranos is a frightening body of work. Playing Tony Soprano for six years must have been exhausting; not just the acting, but resisting Tony. Inhabiting a character like that, in a way that makes him so relatable in spite of the horrific things he does, must compromise a person's sanity - to imbue them with enough humanity, but not to humanise everything they are, or to take on some of their character in return for yours. Tony Soprano is one of the most unforgettable characters, ever. Vincent and I reference him all the time; when I took my first ethics paper at university, I frequently used him as an example (proudly wearing that rookie badge). The character, on script, is brilliant. But James Gandolfini truly makes him. He is Tony Soprano. He will always be Tony Soprano, and that makes me happy; that to people like me, who don't know him personally, that he will be remembered as an incredible artist, by an incredible role.

Some people don't realise he was the voice of Carol in Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are. His voice was part of why I loved Carol. And it was a voice I knew best as an amoral, psychotic criminal. Ordinarily I struggle to separate actors from previous roles, particularly when a role has been so huge, but this was different. If the association brought anything, it was the side of Tony's character that wasn't so mean - the playful side, and the side that felt pain. For James Gandolfini to do this with just his voice is, to me, amazing.

My favourites of his movies are Where The Wild Things Are, In The Loop, Welcome To The Rileys, and Romance and Cigarettes. I know he had a ton more work in him; not only the series he was working on with HBO. He won't get to finish that.

Nor will he get to be at the first birthday of his little girl, this October. She only had him for a minute; her mother not much longer, in the scheme of things. They only met in 2006. He also has a son.

Knowing that makes me feel as if I don't really have the right to be sad. But I do feel sad. And not an abstract kind of sad. I feel sorry for his family and friends, and disappointed for the film and tv loving world. But I feel sad for him. And I'll miss him. James Gandolfini.

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