Tony Soprano once deemed “remember when” the lowest form of conversation. So he would have detested the 20th-anniversary festivities for The Sopranos that took place in Manhattan on Wednesday, which kicked off a six-day film festival at IFC Center commemorating the HBO series. But the crowd assembled last night at SVA Theater couldn’t have been happier as the cast and crew of the landmark gangster drama looked back on The Sopranos and shared their favorite stories of their late cast member James Gandolfini.
“I remember, when the second season was picked up, he said, ‘I don’t know what the hell we did, but we gotta do it again.’ He never felt like he knew what I was doing, and I never did either,” recalled Edie Falco, who won three Emmys playing Tony’s long-suffering wife Carmela. “We never talked about the characters or their backstories. We didn’t hang out, we weren’t particularly close even. We were just this pretend couple, but it felt as real as it possibly could.”
Gandolfini, who died in 2013, exerted a palpable presence in the room even from beyond the veil, prompting what moderator and Vulture TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz called a “lovefest” for the actor. The stacked panel — which, alongside Falco, included creator David Chase, his wards in production Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner, executive producer Ilene S. Landress, and actors Lorraine Bracco, Dominic Chianese, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Tony Sirico, and Steven Van Zandt, plus a crowd well-stocked with tertiary Sopranos players — shared memory after memory of their co-star.
Weiner recalled an instance in which Gandolfini had a bit of fun on the former’s first day as a writer: “The first episode I worked on, they were in a diner, and Jim said, ‘I’d like to sing at the top of the scene.’ And I’m like, That’s gonna cost money, and it’ll be my head. He said it had to be something like Frankie Valli, whatever was playing at the diner. I finally called David [Chase] and they all laughed at me, because they knew I’d go running right back to daddy.”
Bracco, who played the inscrutable psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, added yet another dimension with her remembrances of Tony’s make-believe therapy sessions. She observed Gandolfini’s process a bit more closely than most, sharing in his habit of stuffing script pages in between the cushions of the overstuffed chairs in Melfi’s office. She had a front-row seat to his rich physicality, too: “Jim is a big guy, and he’d get himself in the chair, and rock and roll a little bit into that chair. I’ll always remember that — his heavy breathing.”