I remember the first year that the Sopranos came out was the year that I wrote my first screenplay. It was an adaptation and I wrote it out, longhand, on a yellow pad. Nothing ever came of it, but I did it. I was so inspired by that show because it seemed like the first time I ever saw a character on TV who was so many things at once. David Chase wrote Tony Soprano as a person who was burdened and dark and unhealthy in almost every possible way, but it was because of James that we loved him. He could shoot someone in the back of the head and stand alone in his yard watching ducks. How was it possible that this mob guy from New Jersey was vulnerable and inflexible, honest and deceitful, physically imperfect (!) and one of the sexiest guys on TV, ever. I have read that James did not want people to think of him as Tony, and I get it, he was more than that; but I know that I always looked for that same complicated and surprising quality in everything else I watched him in, and it was always there.
Here's a quote from Neil Strauss, a writer who worked with him on a TV show called Roadies:
In no particular order, here are some my favorite lessons he
taught me on writing for television:
*The less direct communication, the better.
*Have the characters lie about things, even if it's just
about being late; have conversations that don't go anywhere;
have people who don't say anything and just take things in.
*Never explain anything: the audience should always be
catching up with you.
*Keep it in reality: stick to a straight narrative. Avoid
things like montages over music and voiceovers when possible.
*And his best piece of advice, which I should have heeded
more closely: "Don't let the network push us around or take us
off track or threaten the realness and creativity. Make the show
what we want--interesting, funny, and smart--and if no one likes
it, we make another one. But no matter what, it should be the
show we want and believe in."
And that's another thing I admired about him: His incredible
integrity. He always felt that his acting success was an
accident, yet was ridiculously talented and steadfastly
dedicated to television and film as a medium of art making
a statement on life, religion, politics, society, and the
inner and outer struggles of living in this world today. (He
was intensely critical of television shows that he felt
were light and shallow, which was just about everything
on the air.)
In several of the scenes Gandolfini suggested for the show,
there was always a common theme: Finding a larger peace amidst
the everyday chaos of working to survive.
"Let's put in a scene," he said at one of our last meetings,
"where everyone wakes up and the bus is stopped. And the roadies
are standing outside and looking at the sunset in the Mojave
Desert." He paused and went there in his mind, and a half-
smile spread across his face. "Sometimes people just need quiet
and space--and the feeling of being free."
So wherever he is now, I take solace in the fact that he is