Another morning spent not preparing for pressing projects, and instead watching “Inside the Actor’s Studio” with James Gandolfini. Poor guy. Such an untimely passing in Rome at just 51. As you can imagine, the violence levels of his breadth of film and television work has deterred me from really having perspective on his talent. But after sitting with him and James Lipton, I can appreciate his process. “The Sopranos” is what he will be remembered for, alongside a variety of ‘tough-guy’ supporting roles in movies like “The Mexican” and “True Romance”.
“The Sopranos” is just one of those shows that I truly believe you when you say it’s excellent, but I’m probably not going to be able to hack it. I have such an extremely low tolerance for violence, and this show really seemed to have the market cornered on bloodshed. Of course, being a faithful cinephile, I’m aware of the character dynamics, the general premise, and the impact of the program on popular culture. My friend Jenna saw the series through, and one morning, too hung-over to go anywhere, I watched a few episodes, including “Employee of the Month”, when Dr Melfi is brutally raped in the stairwell of a parking garage. This was probably not the greatest introduction to the show, being sick and sleepless after a big night out. Otherwise, I’ve caught a few episodes and scenes here and there, but never braved the whole series.
After the earthquakes in Christchurch, my mother-in-law faced many sleepless nights. She remedied her insomnia with the entire series, which I found so peculiar. The show’s violent intensity would surely counteract with an already present stress level. Personally I’d have taken all ten seasons of “Friends” over “The Sopranos”, (look at them splashing around in that fountain, and that Ross is such a hoot. But she said that the program was so well-made, well written, that she was engrossed in the story, which took her far from the shaky ground she walked on. And a program like “Friends” doesn’t have that kind of transformative power.
Don’t you just want to know what’s happening in this picture? I’ve always felt such a reluctant interest in this series. The acting and writing is meant to be excellent. And I’ve read about the show over the years. I’d happily read the scripts, but then you’d miss out on the performances. And yes, it is just ‘make-believe’, nobody actually dismembers bodies, fires shots on a whim or I don’t know..beats a pregnant woman to death, but great lengths are taken to ensure it’s authenticity, and that’s just not my jam.
Nevertheless, I feel for the loss of Gandolfini. I highly recommend watching “Inside the Actors Studio”, he was humble, gentle and vulnerable. He came from a working class family, and sought to bring dignity to blue collar characters. He also touches on the emotional impact of playing those violent characters, especially when the violence was directed towards women. He references episodes like “University”, where a stripper is raped, and a pregnant woman is beaten to death with a metal railing–in a 22 second long scene–which would feel like a slim slice of eternity, having to watch that. The IMDB parent guide itemizes the violence and profanity, and concludes: “The violence against women in this episode is frequent and intense. Not for the faint hearted”. That’s me, faint of heart. That’s the kind of thing you’d make me watch if you were trying to punish me. But it sounded like Gandolfini struggled with those portrayals, that they are not easy things to enact, or to watch. But it’s a crucial part of this narrative–that it’s meant to be set as an example of how far on the spectrum these people can go. That’s their reality. But imagine having to play that? Gandolfini spoke about the lengths he went to get to that place of anger to play those scenes convincingly: excessive amounts of coffee, banging his head into a wall, forgoing sleep, a sharp rock in a shoe. That is a lot of energy being given to a character, a character that is in a sense immortal. But the ramifications of that kind of work takes a toll on the mortal vessel, and sometimes this big heart, so full of other people’s struggles, burdens and emotions, can’t tick another second, and just gives out from holding on to too much.
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7 thoughts on “Faint of Heart”
I have long hankered for The Sopranos Lite: all the drama, less violence. But I may give it another try.
I know right? Because I am so interested in the characters and story lines, but couldn’t hack the violence. I think this show will be revisited by many more now x
We hear more often about actresses suffering the yoke of the roles they have played (I think of Rita Hayworth saying once, “they go to bed with Gilda, they wake up with me”), but with cinema becoming so notoriously violent, bloodied actors like Gandolfini can’t help but have a strained reality coming back from those badlands. The mask doesn’t fully come loose.
Mmm, ‘the mask doesn’t fully come loose” thanks for that. I thought afterwards about his interview with Lipton, that ‘when he was young he was angry, and that acting gave his anger a place to go’–but then does it come back full circle of feeling anger naturally, and finding ways to create anger so it can all go back to that same place? That sounds exhausting.
I’d wonder if there was a border between acting as a place for anger to go and the place where anger is manufactured for a role: Does it ossify there, become some mineral deposit of rage you can’t shake? Who knows. But as a leading screen bully of the age, how can you not pay a price? Like it or not, David Chase has got to carry the cross.
On another level, he spoke about how necessary it was for Tony Soprano to be overweight, that there was a certain ‘feeling’ he had that he connected to that character in the weight he carried. There must have been many factors at work there
If Chase directed his lead actor into the role of a conflicted family man who overate and overindulged and overreached and was over-the-top in his fury–he bears the weight of that direction watching that leading man crumble under the burden of it. Artists are too easily let of the hook for the creative violence they wield against loved ones and their fellows in the name of art, which is “only play.” Picasso may have been sublimely gifted – and deserved the license he took – yet his cruelty was unforgivable. Just the opinion of one who carries his own burden of sins in the name of creative license.