Tony Soprano was one of the most recognizable television characters of the last decade, yet the man who breathed life into him, actor James Gandolfini, says, “I never think about him, ever.”
He may not, but audiences do. It’s difficult to see the burly actor in any other role without thinking about the troubled gangster he played on 86 episodes of The Sopranos.
This weekend, he plays a foul-mouthed hitman in Killing Them Softly, opposite Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta. Despite his powerful presence, the role likely won’t do much to erase memories of Soprano.
The New-Jersey-born actor first earned notice playing — you guessed it — a hitman in Tony Scott’s True Romance. Similar roles in movies like Get Shorty followed, but Gandolfini says he is nothing like the tough guy characters he so frequently plays.
Even though he once earned a living as a bouncer (he also delivered seltzer for a company called Gimme Seltzer) and has repeatedly unlocked a wellspring of rage on screen, he says, “I’m a neurotic mess. I’m really basically just like a 260-pound Woody Allen.”
Perhaps that’s what he tapped into when he voiced Carol, the impulsive creature in Where the Wild Things Are.
It’s a sensitive performance that shows off Gandolfini’s softer side. He does go on a “wild ruckus,” but at least he doesn’t shoot anybody.
In fact, we may soon see less and less of his badass side. “I’m getting a little older, you know,” he says. “The running and the jumping and killing, it’s a little past me.”
In the dark indie Welcome to the Rileys (directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley) he’s unarmed, playing a troubled businessman whose life unravels when he befriends a stripper, played by Kristen Stewart.
In the Loop, a wild satire of British politics, saw Gandolfini take a detour into comedy, but his strangest movie came in 2010. Mint Julep was made in 1995 after Gandolfini had appeared in Terminal Velocity and Crimson Tide, but because of money issues it wasn’t released until after The Sopranos was off the air. Noticeably thinner, and with more hair, he plays a perverted landlord opposite David Morse.
Yet another side of the actor can be seen in Alive Day: Home from Iraq, a documentary in which he interviews injured Iraq War veterans about the physical and emotional costs of war.