The death of James Gandolfini has not only struck devoted fans of The Sopranos, in which he played the patriarch of the titular family, but all of Hollywood has been moved by the early passing of this gargantuan acting great.
Gandolfini’s seamless portrayal of the mob boss, Tony Soprano, lead many to believe that there was little to no effort required from the actor to play the role.
However, a new book, Brett Martin’s, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution from The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men, has documented Gandolfini’s trouble with the role, and one particular story, The Night Tony Soprano Disappeared, has since appeared in GQ.
Martin’s book discusses Gandolfini’s problems adapting to the stardom his performance brought him, and it adds that he was prone to violent outbursts on set, struggled with drugs and alcohol, and often disappeared mysteriously for days on end.
The GQ piece reveals that Gandolfini would hit himself for failing to remember lines, and divorce papers stated that the burly actor would often punch himself in the face out of frustration. It states, “To anybody who had witnessed the actor’s self-directed rage as he struggled to remember lines in front of the camera – he would berate himself in disgust, curse, smack the back of his own head – it was a plausible scenario.”
It also noted, “”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.”
However Gandolfini would often feel so embarrassed the next day by his behavior that he would buy the entire cast and crew extravagant gifts.
The most startling story to emerge though was when Gandolfini failed to show up for work at 6pm to shoot the final scenes of the character, Furio Giunta. The GQ article adds: “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. …”
It went on to add, “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.”
Despite these problems, James Gandolfini still managed to provide one of the most definitive, complex and emotional performances in television history, and his death has left a cinematic void that will never be filled.
James Gandolfini’s funeral will take place on Thursday at 10.00am in New York City.