The Hustle Never Ends
18 September 1961 - 19 June 2013
by JACK BEETLESTONE
Thursday 27 June 2013
Millions of tributes flooded in, thousands of songs were dedicated and hundreds of scenes were played on repeat remembering the man behind TV’s greatest ever character: Tony Soprano. The unforeseen death of James Gandolfini shocked millions and left a feeling of a fallen brother around the world. The man who was Tony Soprano. The pair were interminably linked together, which arguably became a hindrance to Gandolfini in his later acting career. However, the fact that these two were so strongly affiliated with each other is testament to Gandolfini’s acting talents.
Many actors have played gangsters but few have brought such substance and depth to this archetypal criminal character. Tony Soprano ticked all the gangster boxes. He was violent when needed and sometimes when not needed, his marriage was unstable, and he loved women and drink. Sound familiar? However there was much more to this character than the usual stereotype. Tony was prone to panic attacks, he regularly went to therapy and he was a family man at heart. Gandolfini made his criminal mob boss an extremely likable guy. He showed the audience that this man was not so different from them. His bear-like stature, along with those sad, weathered eyes, created a solid bond between viewer, Soprano and Gandolfini.
Fans who watched The Sopranos (1999-2007) felt as if they knew Tony personally. Gandolfini brought such life and realism to an unorthodox hero. Tony Soprano was not the usual screen hero; an overweight, violent, balding man with many flaws who is yet somehow played with such innocence. He is like a child who knows no better, or at least pretends not to. Many Hollywood anti- heroes have some sort of redemption or compromise at least but this never arrives for Tony. He is the ultimate anti-hero which is often evident through his actions and the apology that never comes for them. Tony Montana got his comeuppance, Jimmy Conway and the rest of the Goodfellas were put away and Al Capone was eventually caught on tax evasion. We rarely see Tony Soprano receive any form of punishment and even when he does he walks out bigger and stronger.
As for what happened to Tony in that now-infamous final scene, the debate will go on. But the fact that we do not see the mob boss finally get “whacked” shows the distinct difference between The Sopranos and other TV programmes. The cut to black allows the audience to make up their own mind about Tony’s future. The icon is left sitting proudly with his family as the threat of an assassination looms over him. Gandolfini’s defining role is still alive in many people’s minds. Now the actor has passed away this seems even more fitting as Tony Soprano can still live on in the minds of those who believe that he survived beyond that final scene.
Gandolfini struggled to shake the label of being Tony Soprano. For many he was Tony Soprano. The actor’s stature and larger-than-life persona often saw him cast in similar roles to Tony. He played men of power: a director, lieutenant, mayor, hit-man and even voiced the big bear-like Carol in Where the Wild Things Are (2009). Although he struggled to find roles that didn’t remind viewers of their favourite mob boss, Gandolfini starred in some very successful films right up until his death, including Killing Them Softly (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and acclaimed British comedy In The Loop (2009). It seemed that Gandolfini was only just beginning to get started in his life after Soprano.
It can’t have been easy making a cheating, cunning, ruthless, Italian-American criminal the well loved icon that he became. TV owes a lot to Gandolfini and The Sopranos. They showed us how TV can be on par with, and often surpass film. Gandolfini led the charge in this sense and each new show with each new protagonist can only try to create another character as memorable as Tony Soprano. As Tony, Silvio, Christopher, Paulie and all the others would say, “Salute!” to James Gandolfini.