R.I.P. Gandolfini

From ‘The Sopranos’ to ‘Not Fade Away,’ the Late James Gandolfini’s Finest Roles

An appreciation of the finest performances of acting giant James Gandolfini, who has passed away at 51.

Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty

Acting giant James Gandolfini has died at age 51, reports Variety. HBO, the network that broadcast his hit show The Sopranos, has confirmed the news and added he was on vacation in Italy at the time. In addition to his wife, Deborah Lin, their baby daughter, and his son, Gandolfini has left behind a legacy of fantastic film and television roles. Here are his most iconic performances.

True Romance (1993)

James Gandolfini first gained notice with his menacing portrayal of Virgil, the Mafia henchman of Christopher Walken’s Vincenzo Coccotti, in the late Tony Scott’s film True Romance. The magnetic performance established Gandolfini as both a first-rate character actor and a go-to choice for terrifying screen villains, and the fight sequence between Virgil and Alabama Worley, played by Patricia Arquette, is one of the greatest throw-downs in the history of cinema.

Crimson Tide (1995)

Gandolfini reteamed with the late filmmaker Tony Scott for the 1995 submarine drama Crimson Tide. In the film, nominated for three Oscars, he played Lt. Bobby Dougherty, the morally ambiguous ally of Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), who squares off against Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) when the two disagree about launching a nuclear attack against Russia. Gandolfini, again, stole every scene he was in as the imposing henchman who had no problem doing Captain Ramsey’s dirty work.

Get Shorty (1995)

In Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, Gandolfini flexed his physical comedy chops—with hilarious results—as Bear, a stuntman-cum-debt collector who is after Chili Palmer (John Travolta) and slime ball producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, again), on behalf of crime boss Bo Catlett, played by Delroy Lindo.

The Sopranos (1999–2007)

As the gentle but terrifying mob boss and family man Tony Soprano, Gandolfini created one of the most iconic and complex characters in the history of television. Tony was petulant, loving, unpredictable, scary, and gregarious—simultaneously. It was an amazing acting feat that catapulted him from gifted character actor to A-list leading man. Gandolfini was nominated for four Golden Globes—with one win—for the role, as well as six Emmys (with three wins). And The Sopranos remains one of the greatest television shows ever, thanks in large part to Gandolfini’s layered turn.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

Soon after The Sopranos debuted, A-list filmmakers came calling, including the Coen Brothers. In this highly (highly, highly) underrated neo-noir, Gandolfini played “Big Dave” Brewster—a loud, volatile department-store owner who, when he’s not having an affair with his bookkeeper, Doris, played by Frances McDormand, is on the warpath after being blackmailed. As a ticking time bomb with a dark past, Gandolfini elevated a supporting role into something great.

In the Loop (2009)

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As Lieutenant General Miller, senior military assistant to the U.S. secretary of Defense, Gandolfini once again showed off his comedy chops, engaging in several jaw-droppingly hilarious mile-a-minute verbal tussles with various politicians in Armando Iannucci’s ingenious film satire. When he calls the expletive-happy Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), director of communications for the prime minister of England, a “squeezed dick,” it’s eerie, witty, and damn funny.

God of Carnage (2009)

OK, this is not a screen performance, but I had the pleasure of seeing Gandolfini perform the role of an angry, overbearing parent engaged in a battle of wits in the Tony Award–winning play God of Carnage on Broadway, and he was nothing short of brilliant. In my opinion, a big reason why Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of the play, Carnage, fell flat was because Gandolfini’s towering turn could not be replicated.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

In Spike Jonze’s CGI live-action adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s celebrated children’s book, Gandolfini played Carol, the impulsive Wild Thing who serves as a gentle-giant mentor to the lonely 9-year-old Max (Max Records). Even though the only thing evident was Gandolfini’s voice—since it was accomplished through motion-capture CGI—he still managed to make the character be both terrifying and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Not Fade Away (2012)

Gandolfini reunited with Sopranos creator David Chase for the latter’s feature-film directorial debut, Not Fade Away. While the film, about a group of young kids who try to form a rock band in ’60s Jersey, has its share of problems, Gandolfini delivers a fantastic turn as Pat, the strict father of lead singer Douglas (John Magaro) who wants his son to abandon his rock-star fantasies in favor of college, so that his son can have the education and opportunities he didn’t.