Let me tell ya something. Nowadays, everybody’s gotta go to shrinks, and counselors, and go on “Sally Jessy Raphael” and talk about their problems. What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do. See, what they didn’t know was once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings that they wouldn’t be able to shut him up! And then it’s dysfunction this, and dysfunction that, and dysfunction vaffancul!
It’s hard to remember now a time before The Sopranos. Before HBO aired the series, who would have imagined the graphic sex, violence, and language that would become a staple of cable television dramas? But from the opening scene with Lorraine Bracco and James Gandolfini and the discussion of “coffee” with Mahaffey, it was something completely different than anything before on television. The Sopranos would become the greatest drama series on television.
The key to the series was the performances by Gandolfini as the lead character, New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. Soprano’s depression would manifest in rage, sadness, and even passing out, often in quick succession. Soprano’s panic attacks lead him to seek psychiatric help and Prozac, and the viewers were brought into the psyche of a sociopath.
It was a character of contrasts. Gandolfini’s character lived by a code of sorts, but he broke every moral code that the rest of us would recognize. He had two families, the Mafia and his home life, and the interaction and friction between those two worlds often pushed Soprano over the edge.
On Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton asked Gandolfini, “What did you see in Tony that you could identify with and felt you could play?”
“It says a lot about a lot of people. It’s a man in struggle. He doesn’t have a religion. He doesn’t have – he doesn’t believe in the government. He doesn’t believe in… anything except his code of honor, and his code of honor is all going to s—t. So he has nothing left. He’s got nothing left. And he’s looking around, and it was that searching that a lot of Americans does half the time. You know you could go buy things, you could do whatever, but it was that he had no center left. And I really identified with that. And plus it was, you know, then you got to be funny on top of it. You got to say these wonderful words that these people write. That they’re so smart.”
Gandolfini helped create and portrayed one of the most quotable and interesting fictional characters. There are few actors so identified with a single role that has such significance in American pop culture. Tony Soprano was a role Gandolfini was never meant to escape.
Shakespeare had William Kempe for the creation of Jack Falstaff, David Chase had James Gandolfini for the creation of Tony Soprano. Unlike Falstaff, the final fate of Tony Soprano was left unknown to us when creator David Chase cut the series to black in an infamous final episode.
However, we unfortunately know the fate of the actor who played the role. Gandolfini died before he found another role as big as Tony Soprano, truly the role of a lifetime. News reports indicate he died of a heart attack while in Rome. Dead at 51. Rest in peace.
Meadow Soprano: I just don’t think sex should be a punishable offense.
Tony Soprano: You know honey, that’s where I agree with you. I don’t think sex should be a punishable offense either. But I do think talking about sex at the breakfast table is a punishable offense. So no more sex talk, OK?
Meadow Soprano: It’s the 90s. Parents are supposed to discuss sex with their children.
Tony Soprano: Yeah, but that’s where you’re wrong. You see out there it’s the 1990s but in this house it’s 1954.
[points to the window]
Tony Soprano: 1990s.
[points to the floor]
Tony Soprano: 1954. So now and forever, I don’t want to hear any more sex talk, OK?