The TV show the Sopranos taught me a lot about Sri Lankan politics. I was very sad to hear that the lead actor James Gandolfini passed away recently, in Rome. He created a deeply compelling and complex character in Tony Soprano, one which had you alternately rooting for and disgusted by him. Tony Soprano was like a big, angry, somewhat psychotic child, communicated mostly through the eyes, facial expressions, and extremely loud breathing. By all accounts Gandolfini was both a brilliant actor and a kind and interesting man.
Gandolfini will forever be defined by his seasons long portrayal of Tony Soprano. What he brought to that dense and well written role was a very physical style of acting. You could feel his weight in scenes, hear his breath, and – in murder or turmoil – see the demonic gleam in his eyes and flecks of spit around his mouth. What made Tony Soprano was not over the top gangster grandioso, it was little things, the way he opened takeaway food on his desk, his extra long glances during conversation (often signifying that someone was about to get whacked), the way he got up from a chair or sat down in one. That show also involved heavy and long dream sequences (often directed by Steve Buscemi) and extended dialogues where he was sitting across from Lorraine Bracco (from Goodfellas).
Those latter conversations with his shrink are often just monologues and Gandolfini carried them amazingly. The scenes were just in a room but the way he sat or wore his clothes made a huge impact. He was always this coiled ball of anger and violence that occasionally erupted across the room.
In case you couldn’t tell, I like the Sopranos. It was, IMHO, the forefather of all the long-arc TV shows we’re seeing today (Mad Men, Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, etc). It showed networks that investing in long storylines and deeply developed characters could pay off not only on a weekly basis but also in terms of long-term DVD rentals and streaming of content. The Sopranos, viewed in full (as I did recently over a period of months), is one of the best and most deeply realized gangster movies ever.
All of it – the writing, the great supporting cast, the intelligent directing and design – all of it ultimately centered around and was embodied in James Gandolfini. It’s very sad to see him go.