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The Sopranos: Mob Rule

The wiseguys of HBO's "The Sopranos" take a shot at another season of the award-winning show.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

(continued from page 2)

And Tony sees the quote, Gandolfini says, and he is sitting there realizing the awful price he pays for everything he does.

Tony, Gandolfini says, is a reasonably sensitive guy. He feels for other people and he tries to do the right thing -- and when it goes wrong he gets very angry. And then he gets very violent. The violence is an outlet for his feelings -- doing something violent makes him feel better.

The violence, Gandolfini says, is also a result of Tony's famously dysfunctional childhood family and of Livia, his larger-than-life mother, the mother to end all mothers, who despite his best intentions can find nothing right with him. It's very evident that Tony grew up in a family that did not have a lot of love, did not show any love or caring, Gandolfini says. The only way he can react much of the time is with violence or nastiness, because that's what he saw in his parents when he was a child. Carmela tries to teach him otherwise.

Gandolfini's own childhood is something he does not like to talk about. But only because, it's really quite boring. He was born on September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey, and grew up in northern New Jersey as one of three children -- he has two sisters -- in what he calls a nice Italian family.

My father was born in Italy, he says. My mother grew up in Italy. My mother was going to be a doctor in Italy, but World War II stopped her education, so when she came over here she ended up being a head lunch lady in a Catholic high school. My father worked as head custodian at a Catholic high school in New Jersey. I went to public school. My parents worked hard. They sacrificed a great deal to put three kids through college. And they've seen their three children become successful. They started from nothing when they came over here, so they have to be very proud.

He graduated from Rutgers University, studied at the Actors Studio and made his film debut in 1992 in A Stranger Among Us, a mystery starring Melanie Griffith. Before taking up acting full time he worked as a bouncer, a bartender and a nightclub manager in Manhattan and as a truck driver for a company called Gimme Seltzer.

Gandolfini found his early days of acting lessons frightening -- and he got angry that he was frightened, so he stuck with it. A friend took me to an acting class, he recalls. I was about 25. It actually made me very nervous to be there, and that really pissed me off. I said, ?Well, I want to figure this out, so I'll stay here.'

He made his Broadway debut in 1992 opposite Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin in A Streetcar Named Desire. His other film credits include Crimson Tide with Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington in 1995, in which he played a Navy lieutenant; 8mm with Nicolas Cage in 1999, in which he portrayed a small-time pornographer; and the forthcoming comedy The Mexican with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, in which he portrays a hit man. But his name was not on anyone's lips until after he met David Chase.

I had read the script for the ['Sopranos'] pilot, the one about the ducks in Tony's swimming pool, and I thought it was wonderful, Gandolfini says. I went through a few auditions, and then I met David one morning for breakfast. He wanted to have a meeting at 7:30 in the morning. He could have picked any other time, but he picked 7:30. And I said to myself that I'm not going to like this guy. But I met him, and we shared a few good laughs. We talked about our similar backgrounds, growing up in New Jersey with a bunch of Italians -- our mothers and fathers and uncles and aunts. And it all went from there.

In the first season, Gandolfini says, Chase worked with him frequently on the details and nuances of portraying Tony. But that doesn't happen as much anymore, he says. I think he'll let my instincts go. Unless he sees something he doesn't like. In the beginning there was much more of a learning process. Now the character is pretty well defined.

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