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James Gandolfini's surprising film career

June 19, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik

Though he'll forever be known as Carmella's husband, Junior's nephew and a thorn in the side of every two-bit stoodge who tried to cross him, James Gandolfini had a pretty robust acting career outside his Tony Soprano role, particularly in film.

The actor, who died Wednesday at 51, was on the big screen as far back as the early 1990's in small but memorable tough-guy parts--in Tony Scott's "True Romance," or opposite Geena Davis in the Brooklyn neighborhood tale "Angie."

But his character-acting career took off after the screen went black on "The Sopranos" in 2007.
Gandolfini played a blustery general in the political satire "In the Loop," thrusting and parrying, in decidedly R-rated language, with Peter Capaldi's blunt spinmeister. (A good example here.)

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He was a convincingly closed-minded immigrant father in David Chase's "Not Fade Away" and a tough-talking Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," both last year. He also voiced a furry forest character in Spike Jonze's dark fairy-tale "Where The Wild Things Are" and played a politician in another Tony Scott movie, a remake of "The Taking Pelham 1 2 3."

There are future Gandolfini movies in the can -- more on those in a separate post -- but his work in many of these titles was unquestionably distinct. In each of those movies there's at least one scene I remembered long after I left the theater: an interchange with Jessica Chastain's Maya in "Zero Dark";  his "you look like you just got off the boat" in "Not Fade Away"; numerous "In the Loop" takes, his Papa Bear demeanor belying his sharp-tongued quips.

He also, eerily, had a supporting role opposite Saiorse Ronan in Geoffrey Fletcher's recent quirky indie "Violet and Daisy," playing a depressive on the verge of suicide.

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And he was in a similarly dark if far more hedonistic place holed up with a prostitute in a hotel room in a standout scene in Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly" last year.

One actor who starred opposite Gandolfini recently described the actor as an intense but collaborative presence while the cameras were rolling, asking his co-star whether he was willing to go  with it while he tried wildly different takes. The actor noted he might think twice about directing Gandolfini. But he was deeply thrilled  about the chance to perform with him.


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