As for everyone who loved fine acting and great, great dramatic television – most of the people I follow on Twitter by the look of it – news of James ‘Soprano’ Gandolfini’s death came as a huge, horribly sad shock. Here’s a beautiful little vignette about the respect and joy he inspired, from Armando Iannucci’s account of filming In The Loop, in which Gandolfini starred.
We start off with the UK government, and then we see a whole new cast of American politicos at the US State Department, and follow their own office politics. So I had to bring in a whole new team of actors I hadn’t worked with before. James Gandolfini was someone I’d spoken to several times about an HBO project I’m working on, and he mentioned how much he enjoyed and “got” The Thick of It. When we wrote the part of a Pentagon general who sounds like he can talk the talk but never really manages to walk the walk, I instantly thought of him, simply because it was casting a little bit against type. I liked the idea of him being authoritative but pointless. And, it turned out in rehearsal and the shoot, James is very, very good at slapstick. He’s a natural comic performer, with a deep love of WC Fields. For many on set, though, he was their hero from The Sopranos and I’ll never forget the look on people’s faces when James turned up in the middle of the wet north London car park where we were all stationed, with a basketball, asking if anyone wanted to shoot some hoops with him. Suddenly, even the most unsporty nerd within a mile had developed a passion for the art of basketball and queued up to play. It was great to see excitement detonate so instantly over that wide a radius.