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‘Sopranos’ star James Gandolfini struggled on set from ‘excesses of consumption’: book

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James Gandolfini became “increasingly unreliable” several seasons into “The Sopranos” as his drinking became harder for the actor to hide while filming, a new book claims.

Mark Kamine, author of “On Locations: Lessons Learned from My Life On Set with The Sopranos and in the Film Industry,” scouted locations for “The Sopranos” during its six-season run. In his book, he writes about an incident well into the series when the actor stayed out all night in Atlantic City and showed up to work late and unprepared.

Kamine says that while shooting the season four “Pie-O-My” episode, Gandolfini and several others went out one night in the gambling hotspot.

“I am at the hotel bar when the crew member closest to Jim asks if I want to go down to Atlantic City with Jim and a few others. It’s over an hour away. I decline,” he wrote in the book. “The next morning I’m not surprised when Jim cannot be roused.”

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James Gandolfini’s substance abuse caused more and more issues on set as “The Sopranos” got into later seasons, author says. (Anthony Neste/Getty Images)

Kamine said Gandolfini finally arrived about four hours late to the set.

“We get through the day with an extra hour and a half of shooting but without falling behind, Jim cursing his way through his half-learned lines, doing take after take, drinking coffees and bottles of water, alternately sheepish and churlish, the way he always is when he f–ks up,” Kamine wrote.

He added, “Jim becomes increasingly giving as his fame and his apparent discomfort with it grow. He also becomes increasingly unreliable, so that in his new deal HBO reportedly adds a clause making him responsible for shoot-day costs if he misses work due to excesses of consumption.”

Gandolfini died in June 2013 at 51 years old.

A GQ article published around the time of Gandolfini’s death detailed the effects the “punishing role” of playing a sociopathic mobster had on the actor.

Playing “Tony Soprano would always require to some extent being Tony Soprano,” the author claimed, adding that “In papers related to a divorce filing at the end of 2002, Gandolfini’s wife described increasingly serious issues with drugs and alcohol, as well as arguments during which the actor would repeatedly punch himself in the face out of frustration. To anybody who had witnessed the actor’s self-directed rage as he struggled to remember lines in front of the camera — he would berate himself in disgust, curse, smack the back of his own head — it was a plausible scenario.”

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James Gandolfini with Edie Falco

James Gandolfini was “frustrated” by and “in awe” of Edie Falco’s professionalism, a new book claims. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Tony Awards)

Kamine wrote that Gandolfini was “frustrated” by castmate Edie Falco’s (his onscreen wife) professionalism. 

“Jim seems in awe of it and frustrated by her ready access to convincing emotion,” he wrote. “He often gets to set not quite in character, cursing himself mid-scene, calling on the script supervisor to feed him lines.”

He continued, “But it’s worth the wait, worth making up the occasional missed day, because he more than anyone other than Brie Stimson David [Chase] makes the show what it is, his expressive features and rich readings and menacing, restrained gesturing delivering great and consistent impact.” 

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Last fall, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who played Gandolfini’s daughter on the show, revealed he would often “question himself” on set.

“Every time I worked with him, I felt like his sole purpose was… ‘I’m going to help you give your best f–king take, Jamie,’” the 42-year-old actress said on the “Inside of You” podcast.

She continued, “It had nothing to do with his confidence, ’cause [he] was actually not [confident]. He would question himself. There would be moments where he’d be like, ‘I f–king suck,’ but I appreciated that because I’ve had those thoughts, but I didn’t say them out loud because I don’t want anybody to know that I think I suck. He was confident enough to say it out loud.”

An excerpt of James Andrew Miller’s book, “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers,” that was published in Vice in 2021, claimed that Gandolfini said several times during the show’s run: “You don’t understand what this is doing to me.”

Jamie Lynn Sigler with James Gandolfini

Jamie-Lynn Sigler said James Gandolfini would “question himself” on set. (Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)

He continued, “The more audiences watched and praised Gandolfini as Tony, the more his personal journey became problematic. Jimmy had suffered from alcohol and drug abuse — those twin consoling companions of both success and failure — for years, and the stress of occupying the lead role in a smash hit was formidable. Of his substance abuse, Gandolfini said: ‘When I was 20 or 18, it started … and it progressed through the years.’ In 1997, he was arrested for DUI and adopted antics befitting a living legend, which at the time he had yet to become.”

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But, despite his struggles, Miller wrote that Gandolfini was so talented he “transcended mere ‘acting.’”

“His complex, nuanced, and inspired performance demonstrated remarkable range, not just over the course of the series, or any one episode, but often within a scene, a confrontation, even a single moment, that seemed to transcend mere ‘acting,’” he said.

Gandolfini was also loved by his castmates. 

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“I guess there was a confidence there, but I think it came more from him deeply caring,” Sigler said on the podcast last year. “Deeply, deeply caring. He was an exceptional human being.”

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