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THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
Mad about the Mob
After all these years, Tony Soprano is still struggling to find some answers. And it's still so much fun to watch him search for them.
By Eric Kohanik
Let me tell you about my first face-to-face encounter with Tony Soprano.
I talked about it once before, shortly after it happened. But I have to bring it up again now.
It was on the streets of New York City, way back in September 2000. Little did anyone know then that, a year later, the Big Apple – and the entire world, for that matter – would be turned upside down by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
On this sunny September day, Tony Soprano – er, make that actor James Gandolfini – was making his way from his dressing-room trailer outside the former bakery/warehouse that is now Silvercup Studios.
He was heading to the set to do a scene for HBO’s The Sopranos. Dressed in a light-grey suit, a pink shirt and a silk tie, Gandolfini fixed me with a cold stare that made him every bit as intimidating as the mob boss he plays on TV.
The publicist who was with me warned me ahead of time not to talk to Gandolfini if it looked as if he was in character.
“Hey,” I mumbled meekly as his eyes met mine. “How you doin’?”
He simply nodded and kept going.
Later that day, executive producer David Chase summed up what he thought was at the core of his show’s success.
“It’s because of James Gandolfini,” Chase told me. “I think there’s something about him in this role that is just a lot of things to a lot of people. I think the story of Tony Soprano, as embodied by James Gandolfini, is very touching because he’s struggling and trying to make sense out of life.”
The Sopranos begins its final season on pay TV this weekend, with the first of nine episodes. After watching the first couple of them, it’s clear that Tony is still trying to make sense out of life.
Of course, it’s a different Tony now. Touched by a near-death experience last year, he found a set of questions to ponder then. As this season clicks into gear, he grapples with a few more.
Fearing that age is finally catching up with him, Tony now questions his legacy, the loyalty of those close to him and his line of succession in the “family” business. The issues are exacerbated by the heat being put on him by the cops – and by ill health that has befallen jailed rival mobster Johnny (Sack) Sacramoni (Vincent Curatola).
It’s hard to say where Tony will end up as The Sopranos moves toward its grand finale. I can’t wait to see, though. After all these years, it’s still a joy to watch him.
Coming face to face with Gandolfini on a New York street, it was easy to see why.
“He has eyes that are just a mile deep,” Chase explained then. “There’s so much pain, and love, and joy in his face. And people love watching him.”
That’s as true today as it was back then.