By Patrick Kevin Day
10:30 AM EDT, June 20, 2013
One of the many reasons James Gandolfini entered into the hearts of TV viewers around the world was the level of depth he brought to what was traditionally viewed as a one-dimensional tough guy on the HBO series "The Sopranos." As mobster Tony Soprano, Gandolfini showed a man who could be tender one moment and a raging ball of fury the next.
HBO and creator David Chase gave Gandolfini 86 hour-long episodes, stretched over nine years, to explore this complex character. And the actor was rewarded in spades -- six Emmy nominations and three wins -- as well as multiple Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations and wins.
While the best way to fully absorb Gandolfini's achievement is to watch all 86 episodes of "The Sopranos," the following clips best illustrate the many levels of nuance the actor brought to the role. (And as a word of warning, the series played on premium cable, and the mobsters were quite free to use the kind of salty language we're not allowed to print.)
The first-season episode "A Hit Is a Hit" gave viewers one of their first chances to see Tony Soprano as a human whose feelings could be bruised as easily as anyone else's. And in ways that a simple hit wouldn't fix. In this case, it was a golf outing with his neighbor, Dr. Bruce Cusamano, in which the well-off golfers are fascinated and a little condescending toward Tony and his status as a mob boss. Later, he shares his feelings with his therapist, Dr. Melfi (played by Lorraine Bracco).
On the other hand, this scene from the fourth-season episode "Whoever Did This" demonstrates Gandolfini's ability to suddenly shift gears and go from sensitive one moment to a homicidal madman the next. In this case, it's Tony finally having it out with one of his crew, Ralph Cifaretto over the fate of a racing horse.
But Gandolfini didn't just handle the mob scenes expertly. He was also convincing as the bewildered father of two, unsure how to handle modern teenagers who are completely unlike the old-world mob guys he spends his days with. In this scene from the second-season episode "D-Girl," young Anthony Soprano Jr. confounds his parents with his newfound discovery of existentialism after reading "The Stranger." Tony can't seem to wrap his head around what his son is saying to him.
This scene from the first-season episode "College" demonstrates just how Tony Soprano handled the ever-delicate question "Are you in the mob?" with his teenage daughter, Meadow (played by Jamie Lyn-Sigler).
Then there's Gandolfini in the much-debated and -discussed final scene of "The Sopranos." Writer and director David Chase was obviously trying to make a statement with this final scene, set in a neighborhood diner, with Tony sharing a quiet dinner with his family. But it's a testament to Gandolfini's skills as an actor that he was able to continue to seem natural and real even as the camera was pointedly being used to construct a final summation of nine years on the air.
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