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'Sopranos' family feud escalates

HBO says lawsuit brought by star James Gandolfini is 'like someone declaring war.' Actor threatens not to show up for filming.

March 10, 2003|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

HBO has lashed back at "The Sopranos" star James Gandolfini, saying the actor's lawsuit seeking a release from his contract was like "someone declaring war."

Chris Albrecht, chairman of the cable network, said he was upset by the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court at the end of last week by Gandolfini, a two-time Emmy Award winner for his role as the burly patriarch of an organized crime family in the popular HBO drama.

Gandolfini alleged in the suit that HBO violated a clause in his contract when it failed to notify him of a $20-million deal it stuck with the show's creator, David Chase. The actor has threatened not to report to work March 24 when production begins on the drama's fifth season.

"We are more than certain that James Gandolfini has a binding contract for the fifth and sixth season of 'The Sopranos,' " Albrecht said, adding, "This is like someone declaring war. And we will have to act as if we are being attacked by hostile parties."

Calling the lawsuit "frivolous and demonstrably without a hint of merit," HBO attorney Bert Fields said the network was caught off guard by Gandolfini's action since it was in the midst of renegotiating his contract.

Fields said that the network had made a "very generous offer" that would have doubled his current salary, reported by Daily Variety to be about $400,000 per episode. "But they wanted double that double. It's an ill-advised move by him."

Marty Singer, Gandolfini's attorney, maintained that the actor "legally does not have an obligation to perform his services this coming season."

"We haven't said emphatically that he will not return to work. We will evaluate our options before March 24. But legally, he doesn't have to return. We respectfully disagree with their characterization," Singer said.

Other sources close to the negotiations claimed that HBO broke off contract talks, prompting Gandolfini to file the lawsuit. They added that several cast members had called Gandolfini to register their support for him.

HBO executives said the claim that they broke off talks with Gandolfini "is just totally false."

Insiders on both sides expressed optimism that the dispute would be worked out.

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