James Gandolfini in His Own Words

As our remembrances of James Gandolfini take shape, there’s a special place for the actor’s own comments about himself and his craft. The Sopranos star was often leery or downright shy of the press — “I just don’t see how I’d have anything interesting to say. Why would anybody care?” he asked Matt Zoller Seitz in 1998 — so Gandolfini’s words are few, but they are indelible.

On acting:
• “Standing in public in other people’s clothes, pretending to be someone else. It’s a strange way for a grown man to make a living.” –Vanity Fair, 2009

• “A large number of actors and musicians are from [New Jersey]. We are overrepresented in the culture. You have a blue-collar, middle-class sensibility right next to one of the greatest cities in the world, which can make for some interesting creative impulses.” –New York Times, 2012

• “I think I feel a lot. I never wanted to do business or anything. People interest me, and the way things affect them. And I also have a big, healthy affinity for the middle class and the blue-collar and I don’t like the way they’re treated and I don’t like the way the government is treating them now … . And I think that if I kept it in, it wouldn’t have been very good. I would have been fired a lot. So I found this silly way of living that allows me to occasionally stand up for them a little bit. And mostly make some good money and act like a silly fool.” –GQ, 2004

• “I dabbled a little bit in acting in high school, and then I forgot about it completely. And then at about 25 I went to a class. I don’t think anybody in my family thought it was an intelligent choice. I don’t think anybody thought I’d succeed, which is understandable. I think they were just happy that I was doing something.” –Vanity Fair, 2012

• ”Moving, to me, is no big deal,” said Mr. Gandolfini, whose calling is the theater but whose living comes mostly from bartending and construction. ”I have a system down. I throw everything in plastic garbage bags and can be situated in my new place in minutes. Without my name on a lease, I’m in and out. I have no responsibilities.” –a 1988 New York Times article about “apartment gypsies”; Gandolfini was 26 and had “never paid more than $400 a month in rent and never lived in one place more than 10 months”

• “Some actors suggest things and they don’t even know why they’re suggesting it. If I started imposing my own ideas, that would be complete pandemonium. … Actors will say, ‘My character wouldn’t say that.’ Who said it was your character?” –New York Times, 2006

On The Sopranos:
• “I read it. I liked it. I thought it was good. But I thought that they would hire some good-looking guy, not George Clooney but some Italian George Clooney, and that would be that. But they called me and they said can I meet David for breakfast at nine A.M. At the time I was younger and I stayed out late a lot, and I was like, Oh, for fuck’s sake. This guy wants to eat breakfast? This guy’s going to be a pain in the ass. So we met and we spent most of the time laughing about our mothers and our families. … The first time I auditioned, I wasn’t doing it right. I stopped halfway through, and I thought I was doing this shitty, and I decided, I’m not doing it anymore. I’ll come back and do it again. So they invited me back and put me on tape; then I went in front of HBO, and I was in this room full of people, auditioning, and then I got the part, which I was totally surprised by.” –Vanity Fair, 2012

• “When I first saw the ending, I said, ‘What the fuck?’ I mean, after all I went through, all this death, and then it’s over like that? But after I had a day to sleep, I just sat there and said, ‘That’s perfect.’” –Vanity Fair, 2012

• “What they say about TV shows is true. You’re really a family. You laugh, you fight, you get close, you know? Movies are shorter. They’re over quicker. You don’t form the same bonds. But that’s about the only thing that I miss about TV. I like the character parts I get now. I don’t need to be the star. I’ve done it. Don’t need to do it again.” –GQ, 2010

On playing Tony Soprano:
• “The character is a good fit. Obviously, I’m not a mobster, and there’s other aspects of the guy I’m not familiar with, like how comfortable he is with violence. But in most of the ways that count, I have to say, yeah — the guy is me.” –Matt Zoller Seitz’s New Jersey Star-Ledger profile, 1999

• “I think some of his flaws are my flaws. And so you try to get away from them, and then you kind of get pulled in a little bit by playing them. … It’s a hard head to get into sometimes. I have a lot of fun at work too, don’t get me wrong. I love the people I work with. But there are some days when you get to work and you’re not angry enough, and you have to kind of get angrier and that’s a little … when I was younger, it was much more accessible.” –GQ, 2004

On anger:
• “I remember one thing [an early acting teacher] did for me that got me to a new level was — I had such anger back then. When you’re young, a lot of people do, everybody does. You’re pissed. And you’re not sure why. … ‘Cause you want to express something and you’re not sure what it is. Something happened, I think [the acting teacher] told a partner to do something to me. And he did it, and I destroyed the place. Y’know, just all that crap they have onstage. And then she said, at the end of it — I remember my hands were bleeding a little bit and stuff, and the guy had left — and she said, ‘See? Everybody’s fine. Nobody’s hurt. This is what you have to do. This is what people pay for. … They don’t wanna see the guy next door. These are the things you need to be able to express, and control, work on the controlling part, and that’s what you need to show.” –Inside the Actors Studio, 2004

• “Violent roles? Yeah. That’s all I got for a while. It’s OK. I’m an angry guy. I’m like a sponge. You wring yourself out and then you have none of that left in you for a while. It can be good thing that way. I’ll do those parts again. It takes a toll though. Definitely takes a toll.” –GQ, 2010

• ”…going around swearing and acting like an idiot is no good for anyone involved. As you get older, you realize that all that wind signifying nothing is silly sometimes.” –GQ, 2004

• “It’s like showing emotion has become a bad thing. Like there’s something wrong with you and you’re really in love or really angry and you show it. Like if you feel those powerful emotions and you express them, instead of keeping them inside or expressing yourself politely, then you must be someone who needs therapy, or Prozac. That’s the world we’re in right now.” –New Jersey Star-Ledger, 1999 (not available online)

His discomfort with celebrity:
• “My father always said a million times, `We’re peasants.’ It’s just a little odd for me, to get that slightly different treatment sometimes. And I’m uncomfortable with it. … I want nothing to do with privilege.” –Rolling Stone, 2001 (not available online)

• “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s an actor getting up on a soapbox,” he says. Then he chuckles and makes a “scratch that” motion. “Hey, forget I said that. If you print me saying that, it’s me getting up on a soapbox.” –New Jersey Star-Ledger, 1999 (not available online)

• “I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s not that I’m afraid to reveal personal stuff. … It’s just that I really, genuinely don’t see why people would find that sort of thing so interesting.” –New Jersey Star-Ledger, 1999 (not available online)

• After being asked about achieving sudden, massive fame: He fell silent. “I’m thinking,” he explained diffidently. Mr. Gandolfini is known to avoid all the trappings of celebrity. “Money is good! So I’m very happy about that,” he announced at last. “All the fuss during The Sopranos really was pretty ridiculous. None of us expected it to last, and it lasted almost ten years. Honestly? I don’t think I’m that different. I’ve lived in the same apartment for years. I’ve kept a lot of the same friends. I’m still grumpy and miserable. … But in a good way!” –Vanity Fair, 2009

His tastes:
• “I like when you go to a movie or turn on a TV show that has people who, in one way or another, look like you, act like you and feel some of the things you feel. I like stories about regular guys, not the cool guys. Cool makes me want to vomit.” –New Jersey Star-Ledger, 1999 (not available online)

• “I watch stupid comedies. Role Models. I love them. The Rocker. I love that. I like idiotic comedies.” –New York Times, 2010

• “It’s fun to do escapism. It’s fun to do light. But the fact of the matter is there’s too much fuckin’ escapism in the world today — the powers that be, they just cram it down your throat. They don’t want you paying attention. I like making people laugh. I love doing theaters, cracking people up, hearing them physically roll in the aisles. But we need to get serious. These are serious times. No joke. No joke.” –GQ, 2010

On family:
• “That generation had the war and the depression. They didn’t expect this whole thing of happiness. I admire that generation a lot but my parents were not a bundle of joy, that’s for sure.” –Time, 2013

• “You know, as a kid, you never think, hey, I bet my father had other dreams, other things he thought of doing besides working at this job and raising a family and going on the vacations that I wanted to go on. That realization comes later, and when it does, I think your relationship changes, and deepens.” –New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2012

• ”There were things I did that drove my father nuts, I know. Lying on the couch and then getting up, and 35 cents would have fallen out of my pocket and just be lying there on the cushions. Drove him crazy. He said it showed I had no respect for money. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I still don’t. Or me taking forever in the shower, leaving water all over the floor. Not turning off the lights when I left the room.” –New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2012

• “I didn’t even mind wallowing in misery occasionally. I found that enjoyable. But when your son comes along, you want to try and show as much of the good stuff that’s out there to him. Because there’s plenty of good stuff.” –GQ, 2004

James Gandolfini in His Own Words