Saturday, June 22, 2013

TRIBUTE TO A MEMBER OF THE FAMILY: JAMES GANDOLFINI 1961-2013 by Nick "NJ" Holden

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Our feature writer Nick "NJ" Holden pays respect to Jersey icon 
James Gandolfini a.k. Tony Soprano
Governor Chris Christie called James Gandolfini, who died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 51, “a true Jersey guy”, and while the governor has made some questionable statements and decisions as the head of the state, he really hit the nail on the head. Not only was Gandolfini a true New Jerseyan (born in Westwood, raised in Park Ridge, and graduate of Rutgers University), he took a murdering, lying, cheating, neurotic gangster named Tony Soprano and have him a soul on the HBO show The Sopranos. But he was much more than a gangster on television, for he was a true character actor capable of roles on Broadway and on the big screen.

James Gandolfini first came to prominence as a violent enforcer in True Romance, where he had a memorable (albeit brutal and bloody) encounter with Patricia Arquette. Given his size (6’1”), it would be easy to typecast him as the heavy. But his acting ability and charm won him a variety of roles: a kind-hearted Hollywood stuntman (Get Shorty opposite fellow NJ’er John Travolta), a gruff working-class stiff babysitting a spoiled ad exec (Surviving Christmas), and even the Mayor of New York (The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3). 
I remember watching Zero Dark Thirty in a packed AMC Theater at the Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall, totally immersed in the action, when about mid-way through the movie, Gandolfini pops up. The audience was stunned, whispering in hushed tones “It’s Tony Soprano!”, but stopped once he began speaking. Gone was the heavy bravado and Italian accent made famous every Sunday night and on-screen was a strict but open-minded CIA director inquiring about a compound that may or may not house the most wanted man on the face of the earth. A personal favorite of mine is his role as Woody Dumas, a tough DEA agent with a lisp and unfortunate habit of getting hit by cars in the little-seen horror/action/romance/comedy Perdita Durango, also known as Dance with the Devil from Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia. Acting alongside Rosie Perez and a then-unknown Javier Bardem, Gandolfini manages to steal every scene he’s in while keeping his tongue firmly in cheek among the madness.

James Gandolfini isn’t the only successful Jersey-born actor (Abbott and Costello, Ed Harris, Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson), but he was the first to fully embrace his roots as well as his fame and keep a balance on both. He rooted for the Scarlet Knights and would appear on the sidelines. He produced the documentaries Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq in which he interviewed 10 injured Iraq War veterans and Wartorn. He was also a fixture in the Tri-State area, appearing at dinners, lectures, and other public functions, all the while smiling and keeping his feet planted on the ground. And despite the credit that was showered upon Jersey Shore for revitalizing New Jersey, especially Seaside Heights, The Sopranos was really responsible for putting the Garden State back on the map, using locals in Kearny, Wayne, North Caldwell, and most notably Lodi (the strip club on the series Bada Bing! is actually Satin Dolls). Even after the show’s finale in 2007, fans from all parts of the globe can still see the actual shooting locations and other points of interest via The Sopranos Sites Tour (http://onlocationtours.com/tour/sopranos/), an four-hour bus tour. 
So with a heavy heart, the Sexy Armpit and I bid James Gandolfini a fond farewell and extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and co-stars.

1 comment:

Miss M said...

This was a very nice tribute. My dad has taken this really hard as he was a huge fan of James Gandolfini. It is so weird that I won't see him in anymore movies. He was just that kind of actor. He may have been really well known for The Sopranoes, but he was in so many movies and it was always nice to see him on screen. This is just so sad.

I hope you have been doing well.

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