LITTLE-KNOWN FACT THAT SHOULD NOT BE LITTLE-KNOWN
Before “The Sopranos,” James Gandolfi didn’t have a particularly notable career in film or television. One likely wouldn’t have remembered much about him with roles such as Juror No. 6 in a 1997 television adaptation of the classic Sidney Lumet film “12 Angry Men” or as Bear in “Get Shorty.”
So, who is to credit with this abrubt change of direction? Gandolfini went from a man who had been a bit player in every Italian goomba gangster flick from the early ’90s on and suddenly landed in 1999 the most ambitious, complex and brilliant character created in television history (if not one of the greatest characters in the history of drama).
Well, a couple of people are responsible, but one man is particularly responsible.
The first script Tarantino sold when he was living on the outskirts of Los Angeles, struggling to make it as a screenwriter, was “True Romance” (1993) directed by Tony Scott. He sold it for something like $30,000. Scott turned it into a movie and Gandolfini got casted as a gopher for Vincenzo Coccotti, a big-time, Italian Detroit gangster played by Christopher Walken.
Cut to about seven years later. HBO is casting “The Sopranos,” and the casting directors are searching for an actor to play Tony Soprano. The casting directors were Sheila Jaffe and her partner Georgianne Walken, none other than Christopher Walken’s wife. Perhaps because she had seen the movie because her husband was in it, Gandolfini was invited to audition for the role based on the following scene.
Some context: Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater have absconded with a briefcase full of Mafia cocaine to California. Gandolfini, who represents the gangsters, is there to take it back. Hence, he breaks in Arquette and Slater’s motel room and waits for one of them to return.
It turns out to be Arquette. It’s a pretty harrowing scene, and Gandolfini is fantastic in it. He plays a character named Virgil, written by Tarantino.
If the pacing feels a little off it’s because the scene cuts back and forth between what Slater’s character is doing. Those shots have been removed from the YouTube clip.
So, yeah, basically, I suppose you could claim The Walkens have more of a claim to Gandolfini’s career, but I think it’s more fun to say Tarantino does.
But that’s some little-known shit, ain’t it.