James Gandolfini RIP

I was so sad to hear of the news of James Gandolfini’s death.  It was mention on Twitter that first alerted me, and it was one of those moments when I genuinely hoped that it was another of those fictions that proliferate there.  It was not only from his acting performances he seemed to be a force of nature, but that he was so young and it happened so suddenly.

It stopped me in my tracks.  Even if I felt as if I knew him because I spent so much time in his company, I really don’t know anything about the man.  It is his work as an actor that will stay with me.

He was so fabulous in the television series The Sopranos.  I watched all of the series on DVD, usually on my computer in hotel rooms when I was away for work, and it kept me company; it was the thing that kept me sane and for which I looked forward at the end of the day.

It’s an incredibly clever piece of narrative stretched over hours of drama, and James Gandolfini was in most of it, as Tony Soprano. the head of a New Jersey crime family, with problems of his own.  Pretty much every aspect of the series was brilliant, but without his central nuanced performance it would not have worked anywhere near so well.  Even though we knew that he did terrible things, and that the threat of violence was always there just below the surface, we were still rooting for him, we retained our fascinated sympathy for the complex character.  It was so effective that it came as a shock to me when I realised suddenly towards the end of the final season, that one act of violence had finally exhausted my sympathy.

David Chase, the creator of the series has been quoted as saying that the key to the performance was in the actor’s eyes.  I think that’s true; even when his face was otherwise still, it was possible to discern the thoughts processing in the brain behind, but there was also his ability to switch from brooding threat, to cheeky smile in an instant to keep us guessing and engaged.

The scripts were always well written, with the delicious dark humour that appeals to me, but Gandolfini had the skill to deliver some fantastically funny and clever lines completely deadpan.  In my current phase of rewatching the show, I keep pausing to wonder how many retakes some scenes would have needed; surely everyone would be helpless with laughter before they could regain the composure to deliver the lines, in the surreal dream sequences or in the ironic retelling of the truth in the psychiatrists office.  The Independent has compiled a pretty good Top 10 of quotes which includes my particular favourite.

It’s a cliché perhaps, but the news is something that does renew the resolution to make the most of things every day because it could end any time.

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