AP Television Writer
James Gandolfini would have hated all this fuss.
He was an actor who shrank from attention for anything but the roles he brought to life. No false modesty. He simply did his best to remain a private citizen behind his public characters. These included, of course, Tony Soprano, the fiendish, tormented mobster who the world came to know and revere as a towering dramatic achievement.
In a too-brief career that ended Wednesday at age 51 while he was vacationing in Rome, Gandolfini can be celebrated for performances on TV, on stage and in films that reached beyond the obvious triumph of “The Sopranos” and the unsought celebrity it brought him. Before, during and after “The Sopranos,” he remained defiantly a character actor, by all indications spared a leading man’s ego as he tackled roles that piqued his interest, not roles meant to guarantee the spotlight.
“I’m much more comfortable doing smaller things,” he declared not long ago. And in the past year, his film appearances included supporting roles in several films.
It was all part of an acting career as unlikely to which TV has given rise. Gandolfini made the character monstrous yet sympathetic, a man with a murderously chilling gaze yet a mischievous smile. Thus did Tony Soprano become part of the culture, taking Gandolfini, reluctantly, with him.
Despite his formidable presence in person as on film, there was no confusing him with Tony Soprano. He was his own man, down-to-earth, accommodating — and no-nonsense when it counted. Once glimpsed by a reporter filming a scene on the set of the Soprano family’s plush New Jersey home, he bobbled a line of dialogue, whereupon he let out a growl, not at anyone else but directed unsparingly at himself before the cameras rolled again.
On the other hand, he clearly knew the difference between what was serious as an actor — and what was deadly serious.