James Gandolfini's struggles on 'The Sopranos' detailed in new GQ piece

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james-gandolfini-the-sopranos-HBO.jpgIn the wake of actor James Gandolfini's sudden passing, GQ has revealed a piece set to run in its July issue titled "The Night Tony Soprano Disappeared," which details how much Gandolfini and "The Sopranos" changed the television landscape but also the struggles the actor had during the run of the show.

Brett Martin writes for GQ, "It is not too much of a stretch to say that if Gandolfini had not gotten the role of Tony Soprano -- as, by all rights of all television rules ever written, he shouldn't have -- and attacked it with such gusto, television would not be what it is today."

"Without an actor capable of finding Tony's melancholy, his soulfulness, his absurdity and his rage, the era of TV antiheroes may never have found its foothold. In interviews, which he did his very best to avoid, the actor would often fall back on some version of 'I'm just a dumb, fat guy from Jersey.' 'That's bulls***,' David Chase once told me, with an affectionate chuckle. 'Jim knows damned well what he's doing. He knows.'"

But the article also talks about Gandolfini's struggle with becoming so famous and how it took its toll on set and on the actor, to the point where he eventually disappeared for four days:

It did not help that the naturally shy Gandolfini was suddenly one of the most recognizable men in America -- especially in New York and New Jersey, where the show filmed and where the sight of him walking down the street with, say, a cigar was guaranteed to seed confusion in those already inclined to shout the names of fictional characters at real human beings. ... All of which had begun to take its toll.

By the winter of 2002, Gandolfini's sudden refusals to work had become a semiregular occurrence. His fits were passive-­aggressive: He would claim to be sick, refuse to leave his TriBeCa apartment, or simply not show up. The next day, inevitably, he would feel so wretched about his behavior and the massive logistic disruptions it had caused -- akin to turning an aircraft carrier on a dime -- that he would treat cast and crew to extravagant gifts.
"All of a sudden there'd be a sushi chef at lunch," one crew member remembered. "Or we'd all get massages." It had come to be understood by all involved as part of the price of doing business, the trade-off for getting the remarkably intense, fully inhabited Tony Soprano that Gandolfini offered.

So when the actor failed to show up for a 6 p.m. call at Westchester County Airport to shoot the final appearance of the character Furio Giunta, a night shoot involving a helicopter, few panicked. "Nobody was particularly sad to go home at nine thirty on a Friday night," says Terence Winter, the writer-producer on set that evening. "You know, 'It's just money.' I mean, it was a ton of money--we shut down a f***ing airport.:

Over the next twelve hours, it would become clear that this time was different. This time, Gandolfini was just gone.


The production team had already performed all the acrobatics it could, shooting those few scenes that could be done without its star. The whole operation had been nervously treading water for days; many began to expect the worst -- that the pressure, the substances, and the emotional turmoil had pushed Gandolfini over the edge.

Terence Winter, driving into work, heard a newscaster report, "Sad news from Hollywood today...," and his heart stopped. "It was some drummer for a band," Winter says. "But I thought, 'Holy shit! He's dead.' "

Sooner or later, the press, hungry for The Sopranos gossip at the best of times, would get hold of the story, and the upper echelon of producers at Silvercup and at HBO began to prepare a damage-control strategy.

Then, on day four, the main number in the show's production office rang. It was Gandolfini calling, from a beauty salon in Brooklyn. To the surprise of the owner, the actor had wandered in off the street, asking to use the phone. He called the only number he could remember, and he asked the production assistant who answered to put someone on who could send a car to take him home.

Read the full article at GQ, or pick up the July issue, which hits newsstands June 25
Photo/Video credit: HBO