We often write about the current “golden age” of highly crafted, thematically layered, tonally varied television drama, especially its well-known recent high water marks in series like The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. But if you believe many television critics, this long and captivating wave first rose back in 1999 with David Chase’s ultramodern mob show The Sopranos. Nothing onscreen drove its six seasons quite so dynamically as the starring performance from James Gandolfini as put-upon mafia boss Tony Soprano. The actor’s sudden passing yesterday will surely prompt countless Sopranos fans to watch the entire series again, and as many soon-to-be Sopranos fans to finally catch up with the television masterpiece they’d missed. Before you launch into either of those extended viewing sessions, though (or their nine-minute compression), consider watching Gandolfini’s 2004 appearance on Inside the Actors Studio at the top of the post (with Spanish subtitles).
Gandolfini’s conversation with host James Lipton covers his Italian family, his early work on the stage, his first turn as a mobster in True Romance (which included an appearance in what Lipton calls the most violent scene Quentin Tarantino ever wrote), which other big star’s father his own father bought tires from, the praise Roger Ebert gave him, how he sees point of view as central to the craft of acting, and how Tony Soprano first entered his life. Lipton asks Gandolfini what he saw in the character that he felt he could play. “It’s a man in struggle,” the actor replies. “He doesn’t have a religion. He doesn’t believe in the government. He doesn’t believe in anything except his code of honor, and his code of honor’s all going to shit. He has nothing left, so he’s looking around — that searching I think a lot of America does half the time.” Just above, you can watch one of many intense moments in the life of Tony Soprano, this one a domestic one-on-one with his wife Carmela, played by the also-acclaimed Edie Falco.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.