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'Sopranos' Star Is Expected to Stay On

March 19, 2003|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

Even before his recent, highly publicized contract dispute with HBO, "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini had indicated that he would not be interested in doing the series without the show's creator and key driving force, David Chase, who has said he would step away from the drama after its upcoming fifth season.

But after the reported settlement this week of the bitter legal wrangling between Gandolfini and AOL Time Warner Inc.'s HBO regarding his salary, the actor reportedly is ready to stay with the show beyond the fifth season, which is scheduled to begin production March 31.

The speculation comes just a few days after Gandolfini, who had sued HBO to get out of his contract, agreed to drop his lawsuit against the cable network and go back to work.

HBO, in turn, was expected to drop its countersuit against the actor.

However, it may be too early to declare the confrontation over.

HBO was cautious Tuesday about the future of "The Sopranos," insisting that there was no new deal with the actor and that there would be no further discussion until the network received formal notification that his suit had been withdrawn. That had not happened by the end of the day Tuesday.

HBO added that the actor had to agree to return to work under his existing agreement before further talks about a salary increase could take place. Gandolfini, a two-time Emmy winner for his portrayal of Tony Soprano, the head of an organized crime family, had been making about $300,000 an episode, sources said.

An insider close to the negotiations said Gandolfini had agreed to a raise about midway between the $16 million a year he was seeking and the $11 million that HBO had offered.

Gandolfini has asked that the 300 people involved in the show's production be paid retroactively for the missed week, sources said.

If and when the two parties do get back together, it probably would be announced in a joint news statement, not a public reconciliation.

"James is much more different in life than he is on TV," said one associate of the actor. "There is none of that bravado that Tony Soprano has. He detests the limelight."

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