james-gandolfini-the-sopranos-HBO.jpgIn the wake of actor James Gandolfini‘s sudden passing, GQ has
revealed a piece set to run in its July issue titled “The Night Tony
Soprano Disappeared,” which details how much Gandolfini and “The
changed the television landscape but also the struggles the
actor had during the run of the show.

Brett Martin writes
for GQ, “It is not too much of a stretch to say that if Gandolfini had
not gotten the role of Tony Soprano — as, by all rights of all
television rules ever written, he shouldn’t have — and attacked it with
such gusto, television would not be what it is today.”

an actor capable of finding Tony’s melancholy, his soulfulness, his
absurdity and his rage, the era of TV antiheroes may never have found
its foothold. In interviews, which he did his very best to avoid, the
actor would often fall back on some version of ‘I’m just a dumb, fat guy
from Jersey.’ ‘That’s bulls***,’ David Chase once told me, with an
affectionate chuckle. ‘Jim knows damned well what he’s doing. He

But the article also talks about Gandolfini’s struggle
with becoming so famous and how it took its toll on set and on the actor, to the point
where he eventually disappeared for four days:

did not help that the naturally shy Gandolfini was suddenly one of the
most recognizable men in America — especially in New York and New Jersey,
where the show filmed and where the sight of him walking down the street
with, say, a cigar was guaranteed to seed confusion in those already
inclined to shout the names of fictional characters at real human
beings. … All of which had begun to take its toll.

the winter of 2002, Gandolfini’s sudden refusals to work had become a
semiregular occurrence. His fits were passive-�aggressive: He would
claim to be sick, refuse to leave his TriBeCa apartment, or simply not
show up. The next day, inevitably, he would feel so wretched about his
behavior and the massive logistic disruptions it had caused — akin to
turning an aircraft carrier on a dime — that he would treat cast and
crew to extravagant gifts.

“All of a sudden
there’d be a sushi chef at lunch,” one crew member remembered. “Or we’d
all get massages.” It had come to be understood by all involved as part
of the price of doing business, the trade-off for getting the remarkably
intense, fully inhabited Tony Soprano that Gandolfini offered.

when the actor failed to show up for a 6 p.m. call at Westchester
County Airport to shoot the final appearance of the character Furio
Giunta, a night shoot involving a helicopter, few panicked. “Nobody was
particularly sad to go home at nine thirty on a Friday night,” says
Terence Winter, the writer-producer on set that evening. “You know,
‘It’s just money.’ I mean, it was a ton of money–we shut down a f***ing

Over the next twelve hours, it would become clear that this time was different. This time, Gandolfini was just gone.

production team had already performed all the acrobatics it could,
shooting those few scenes that could be done without its star. The whole
operation had been nervously treading water for days; many began to
expect the worst — that the pressure, the substances, and the emotional
turmoil had pushed Gandolfini over the edge.

Winter, driving into work, heard a newscaster report, “Sad news from
Hollywood today…,” and his heart stopped. “It was some drummer for a
band,” Winter says. “But I thought, ‘Holy shit! He’s dead.’ “

or later, the press, hungry for The Sopranos gossip at the best of
times, would get hold of the story, and the upper echelon of producers
at Silvercup and at HBO began to prepare a damage-control strategy.

on day four, the main number in the show’s production office rang. It
was Gandolfini calling, from a beauty salon in Brooklyn. To the surprise
of the owner, the actor had wandered in off the street, asking to use
the phone. He called the only number he could remember, and he asked the
production assistant who answered to put someone on who could send a
car to take him home.

Read the full article at GQ, or pick up the July issue, which hits newsstands June 25

Posted by:Andrea Reiher

TV critic by way of law school, Andrea Reiher enjoys everything from highbrow drama to clever comedy to the best reality TV has to offer. Her TV heroes include CJ Cregg, Spencer Hastings, Diane Lockhart, Juliet O'Hara and Buffy Summers. TV words to live by: "I'm a slayer, ask me how."