Family & Companions
His surname should be pronounced "GAN-dol-fi-ni".
Gandolfini plays the trumpet and sax.
An unlikely leading man and even more unlikely sex symbol, James Gandolfini was touted as both after his star-making portrayal of mobster Tony Soprano, a family man undergoing a mid-life crisis on the hit HBO drama, "The Sopranos" (1999-2007). Although he came to an acting career later in life, he was already a well-respected character player with roles as a hitman in "True Romance" (1993), a bearded stuntman and low-level henchman in "Get Shorty" (1995), and a drunkenly abusive neighbor in "She's So Lovely" (1997). Gandolfini made his television debut as Juror #6 in the remake of "12 Angry Men" (Showtime, 1997), while landing supporting roles in high-profile films like "A Civil Action" (1998) and "8mm" (1999). But it was "The Sopranos" that truly launched his career and led to a wider range of leading roles, like playing a sensitive hitman in "The Mexican" (2001), a cheating husband in "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001) and reprising his "Get Shorty" role for "Be Cool" (2005). When "The Sopranos" went off the air with a literal bang in 2007, Gandolfini opened up to a bigger range of projects: interviewing disabled Iraq War veterans in "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq" (HBO, 2007), winning a Tony for his performance in "God of Carnage" (2009) and playing man grieving the loss of his daughter in the indie drama "Welcome to the Rileys" (2010), which underscored Gandolfini's skill in a wide range of mediums. He died unexpectedly in 2013 at only 51 years of age.
Born on Sept. 18, 1961 and raised in Westwood, NJ, Gandolfini graduated from Rutgers and went on to work as a bouncer and nightclub manager. A friend convinced him to attend an acting class and he gamely went along. The experience left him "unsettled," especially an exercise in which he had to thread a needle; it was enough to push him into a new line of work. After studies at the Actors Studio, Gandolfini landed stage work in small venues before finally making his Broadway debut in 1992 as Steve Hubbell (and understudy for the role of Mitch) in a revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" starring Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. That same year, he made his film debut supporting Melanie Griffith in "A Stranger Among Us," Sidney Lumet's uneven thriller set in the Hassidic community of Brooklyn. Gandolfini first registered with viewers as the philosophizing hit man, Virgil, in "True Romance" (1993), directed by Tony Scott. On the same day that film opened, he was also starring as John Cusack's brother in "Money for Nothing." Displaying a softer side, the actor was cast as Geena Davis' love interest in "Angie" (1994). After those mediocre offerings, the actor moved on to roles that saw him play villains such as in "Terminal Velocity" (1994) and competent men of authority, as in Scott's thriller, "Crimson Tide" (1995). Gandolfini mined the humor of the stuntman-mobster in "Get Shorty" (1995) to great effect. He gave a chilling account of an abusively drunk neighbor who tries to force himself on Robin Wright Penn in "She's So Lovely" (1997) and further displayed his versatility as the concerned father who pleads with lawyer John Travolta to represent the community in its claims of water contamination in the based-on-fact drama, "A Civil Action" (1998).
Continuing his growing résumé, he essayed a creepy pornographer with a deadly secret in "8mm" (1999) and a cold-blooded killer with a sensitive side in "The Mexican" (2001), opposite A-listers, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Later that year, he garnered additional praise as a prison warden with a mean streak in "The Last Castle" opposite Robert Redford, and as a straying husband in the noirish "The Man Who Wasn't There," written and directed by the Coen Brothers. All of these roles, however, were mere warm-ups for his portrayal of conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos," one of the richest, most layered characters in the history of the medium; certainly ever seen on original cable series. Over the course of the first season, Gandolfini was handed a plethora of emotions to portray - from exasperation at the machinations of his fellow mobsters, to the frustrations of dealing with his needy wife and overbearing mother, to the discomfort of therapy sessions with the attractive Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The actor masterfully conveyed the conflicting feelings with the right mix of anger and humanity. Audiences loved him and critics praised him and for his efforts. He was rewarded with a justly deserved Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2000 and repeated the triumph in 2001 and 2003.
Back on the big screen, Gandolfini's creative fortunes were not as rich, partially because he had become typecast. So powerful was his portrayal of Tony that he looked out of place when he appeared opposite Ben Affleck in the unfunny holiday comedy, "Surviving Christmas" (2004). After appearing in John Turturro's festival piece, "Romance and Cigarettes" (2005), Gandolfini gave typically solid performances in otherwise middling fare, including Todd Robinson's 1940s noir, "Lonely Hearts" (2006) and Steve Zaillian's miscalculated remake of the classic courtroom drama, "All the King's Men" (2006). After a year off from the show, Gandolfini returned for a seventh and final season of "The Sopranos." With so much time and emotion invested in the characters, viewers had only one question: not if, but how Tony would get whacked. The show's creator, David Chase, kept any spoilers under lock and key. Even when the show aired, answers were not forthcoming. In perhaps one of the most talked about season finale scenes of all time, Tony eats onion rings with Carmela (Edie Falco) and son A.J. (Robert Iler) at a diner while waiting on daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) to arrive. After a mysterious man disappears into a bathroom and Meadow finally parks her car across the street, Tony suddenly looks up and the screen goes blank, leaving doubt as to whether or not he was indeed killed. While most viewers - many of whom were in the midst of "Soprano" viewing parties - were confused by the sudden cut to black, with some even thinking their cable had gone out. It had been Chase's decision, whether good or bad, to leave his antihero's fate a question mark.
Meanwhile, Gandolfini earned his fourth Emmy nomination for the role, entering the 2007 awards show as the odds-on favorite to win for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series. Many were surprised when he lost to James Spader of "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), who seemed shocked himself to beat the actor in his epic swan-song performance. Showcasing a very different side of his personality, Gandolfini executive-produced "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq" (HBO, 2007), an HBO documentary in which he interviewed disabled veterans about their experiences in the Iraq War. After staying out of the spotlight for a well-deserved stretch of post-"Sopranos" peace, Gandolfini resurfaced on Broadway in Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage," a comedy about two sets of parents - Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden vs. Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis - attempting to solve a playground dispute between their children. Gandolfini was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance. While the show continued a strong run on Broadway, Gandolfini was on the big screen again, this time playing the mayor of New York in Tony Scott's remake of the 1974 classic thriller, "The Taking of Pelham 123" (2009).
From there, Gandolfini was tapped to star as a military general in the indie satire about international relations between the U.S and England, "In the Loop" (2009). After voicing the introspective monster Carol in Spike Jonze's highly anticipated adaptation of the children's classic, "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009), Gandolfini played a father coping with death of his daughter who is brought back together with his estranged wife (Melissa Leo) after meeting a troubled young woman (Kristen Stewart) in the little-seen indie drama "Welcome to the Rileys" (2010). He followed up with a turn as a mysterious man who confronts two young assassins (Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel) in the action comedy "Violet & Daisy" (2011), before returning to the Mafia in for the indie crime thriller "Killing Them Softly" (2012), starring Brad Pitt as a professional enforcer who investigates the heist of a high-stakes, mob-protected poker game. Following a turn as CIA director Leon Panetta in "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), Kathryn Bigelow's action thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Gandolfini reunited with David Chase for the director's feature debut, "Not Fade Away" (2012), which focused on a group of teens in 1960s New Jersey who form a rock band and try to make it big. While abroad in Italy during June of 2013, Gandolfini died suddenly, leaving his fans and admirers around the world stunned at the loss of such a singular actor. Emotional tributes from friends and peers immediately followed the news of his death, pointing to the profound effect that Gandolfini had in his many screen roles.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Broadway debut playing Steve Hubbell in the revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire," also starring Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange
Film debut, "A Stranger Among Us"; first collaboration with Sidney Lumet
Breakthrough film role as the hitman Virgil in "True Romance," directed by Tony Scott
Cast as John Cusack's brother in "Money for Nothing"
First leading role, as the title character's plumber beau in "Angie" opposite Geena Davis
Played a stuntman in "Get Shorty" opposite John Travolta
Cast as the supply officer in Tony Scott's "Crimson Tide"
Returned to Broadway as Charley Malloy in the ill-fated stage adaptation of "On the Waterfront"
Supported Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore in "The Juror"
Delivered a memorable turn as a drunkenly abusive neighbor in "She's So Lovely"
Reteamed with Lumet for "Night Falls on Manhattan"
TV movie debut as Juror Number 6 in the Showtime remake of "12 Angry Men"
Featured in the L.A. stage play "Remembrance"; produced by Sean Penn and starring Penn's parents Leo Penn and Eileen Ryan
Featured as a concerned parent in "A Civil Action," starring John Travolta
Became a bona fide star and unlikely sex symbol as Tony Soprano, a gangster having a midlife crisis on the acclaimed HBO drama "The Sopranos"; received Emmy (1999, 2004, 2007), Golden Globe (2001, 2002, 2003) and SAG (2001, 2002, 2005, 2007) nominations for Best Actor
Appeared as a pornographer in Joel Schumacher's "8mm"
Portrayed a hit man with a sensitive side in "The Mexican"
Played a cheating husband in the Coen brothers' film noir "The Man Who Wasn't There"
Co-starred with Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate in the comedy "Surviving Christmas"
Reprised his role in "Be Cool," the sequel to the 1995 hit "Get Shorty"
Cast opposite Kate Winslet, as a two-timing husband who must choose between his mistress and his beleaguered wife in "Romance & Cigarettes," helmed by John Turturro
Cast in Steven Zaillian's big-screen adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren novel "All the King's Men"
Executive produced the HBO documentary on the Iraq War "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq"; the film featured Gandolfini interviewing numerous disabled veterans
Played a homicide detective in "Lonely Hearts," based on the true story the notorious <i>Lonely Hearts Killers</i> of the 1940s
Played a peace-loving general in the political satire "In The Loop"
Voiced Carol in Spike Jonze's live-action adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's book "Where the Wild Things Are"
Cast in the Broadway production of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage"; earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play
Played a man dealing with the death of his daughter in "Welcome to the Rileys"
Portrayed filmmaker Craig Gilbert in HBO drama "Cinema Verite"
Cast in the feature adaptation of "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"
Co-starred with Brad Pitt in crime drama "Killing Them Softly," a feature adaptation of George V. Higgins' novel <i>Cogan's Trade</i>
Played U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow directed "Zero Dark Thirty," based on the hunt for Osama bin Laden
Cast in 1960s-set drama "Not Fade Away," written and directed by "The Sopranos" creator David Chase
Played a billionaire casino owner opposite Jim Carrey and Steve Carell (as dueling magicians) in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"; film reunited him with "The Sopranos" co-star Steve Buscemi
His surname should be pronounced "GAN-dol-fi-ni".
Gandolfini plays the trumpet and sax.
"I was a bit wild, but hey, I didn't stab anyone."---Gandolfini on his upbringing, to the London Times, October 1, 2000.
"You go into these TV things always worrying about the kind of egos you're going to encounter, but he just doesn't have one."---"Sopranos" co-star Edie Falco on Gandolfini, quoted in Time, March 22, 1999.
"I think I feel a lot. I never wanted to do business or anything. People interest me, and the way things affect them. And I also have a big, healthy affinity for the middle class and the blue-collar and I don't like the way they're treated and I don't like the way the government is treating them now ... And I think that if I kept it in, it wouldn't have been very good. I would have been fired a lot. So I found this silly way of living that allows me to occasionally stand up for them a little bit. And mostly make some good money and act like a silly fool."---Gandolfini on why he acts, quoted to GQ, December 2004.