A couple of my favorite excerpts. Such incredible humility, for someone with the immense talent that he possessed. At the same time, it's almost saddening to think how self-deprecating he could be. I wonder if he knew just how gifted he was, and just how many people he truly touched with that gift.
I did one of the only one-on-one interviews with him, way back in late 1998, before The Sopranos premiered on HBO.
Two days before our scheduled interview, he called my house. My wife answered the phone.
“Yes?” she said.
Then her jaw dropped. She put her hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “It’s James Gandolfini!”
She loved Gandolfini. She’d had a crush on him ever since she saw him play Geena Davis’ boyfriend in Angie.
Then she held up a silencing finger because Gandolfini was already talking, nervously. Stammering, practically.
“Okay,” she said to him. “All right. Well, OK. Well. Well ... Well, I don’t know about that. Are you sure?”
“It might not be so bad,” she told him. “You never know. You know what? I think this is a conversation that you really should have with Matt. Hold on a second, he’s right here.”
When I picked up the receiver, Gandolfini said, “Hey, listen, I’ve been thinking about it, and I really think it’s better if I don’t do this interview.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“I just don’t see how I’d have anything interesting to say,” he said. “Why would anybody care? I’m just not that interesting. Who cares what some actor has to say about anything? I’ll just come off sounding like an idiot.”
He was silent for an awkward moment.
Then he said, “I don’t want to get you in trouble with your bosses, though. So I thought I should talk to you about it, and ask you if maybe there was some way we could not do this thing. And just … not do it. Without causing a problem for you. Or for me.”
Somehow I managed to talk him into doing the interview anyhow.
Anyway, I thought the whole thing was a really good read.There was no blowout premiere party for season one of The Sopranos because nobody had any idea how big it would become. Season two was a different story. HBO rented out Radio City Music Hall. The cast and crew and executives arrived in limousines, as is customary. James Gandolfini arrived in a yellow cab.
At the after-party, I asked him why.
“My family’s here,” he said. “My friends are here. Guys I grew up with are here. Some of them came by train or by the subway to get here, or they drove three hours in a van or whatever. What are they gonna think if they see me getting out of a limo?”