Acting advice and wisdom from James Gandolfini

Acting advice and wisdom from James Gandolfini_550
Photo Credit: Vectorportal via cc
In 2013 the acting world lost an incredible talent when the wonderful James Galdofini tragically died at the age of 51.
Gandolfini portrayed the career defining role of Tony Soprano in The Sopranos from 1999 to 2007 and won countless awards such as 3 Screen Actors Guild Awards, 3 Emmys and a Golden Globe. He also had notable roles in , The Mexican, True Romance, Get Shorty and as Carol, a Wild Thing, in Where The Wild Things Are.
He was a man of few, but powerful words and he shared his wisdom about acting, working with directors, choosing a role, and portraying a violent man with James Lipton on Inside The Actor’s Studio in 2009. Here is a look inside the mind of a wonderful and much missed artist.

Starting Out

He talked about how in his mid twenties he went along to an acting class with his friend Roger Bart from his alma mater:
I talked about taking acting classes, but it wasn’t really something anyone in my family ever did. And he kept pestering me to go to this class. And I went to this class — it was a Meisner technique class. I went in an I was scared to death. I was shaking.
His acting teacher Kathryn Gately helped him to understand and control his emotions:
I remember one thing she did for me that got me to a new level was — I had such anger back then. When you’re young a lot of people do. Everybody does. You’re pissed — and you’re not sure why — because you want to express something, but you don’t know what it is. She kept telling me to go ahead, but I never wanted to. I think she told a partner to do something to me and he did it, and I destroyed the place — and then at the end of it — I remember my hands were bleeding a little bit — and she goes, “See, everybody’s fine. Nobody’s hurt. This is what you have to do. This is what people pay for. If you don’t want to do it, get off — these are the things you need to express and be able to control.”


In his career James Gandolfini worked with many directors both in television and on film, including Joel Coen, Gore Verbinski, and Kathryn Bigelow. Lipton asked Gandolfini what he wanted from a director:
I think the director is an eye, and if you trust the guy’s eye you can do a lot of stuff. A lot of times when you say to a director, “Oh, what if I try this or what if I do this,” they’ll go, “No.” I think you have to show them. They’re an eye that’s looking at it, and they’ll know where it fits — A good film director will know where things fit.
And also what he doesn’t want from a director:
To bug me too much — especially in the beginning, if we’re rehearsing. Just let me get there. I’ll get there. They have to trust that you’re gong to get to where you need to be. A lot of times some directors will have everything already blocked out. I personally don’t like that. I find the best directors are willing — because they know that if you’re doing something you’ll do it with more conviction — you know why you did it.

Choosing Roles

When asked what it is which draws him to a role or project, what are the most important factors:
The writing. The writing. The writing. The writing. The writing. The writing. The writing. If it’s a good script — I think this is important with acting: you need to have a point of view. I think good actors have a point of view about things. They have a point of view about who they are and what they want and what they want to say in a character. You try to find something about what you want to say.

Developing Characters

Whatever role Gandolfini played he brought it to life in a completely unique way. What was it which made him perform his roles so well:
Some scripts you do this (small hand gesture) much backstory. Some scripts, to support things, you need to do this (big hand gesture) much backstory to get everything in. But, you need it, I think. You need it. And the times I don’t do it and I think I don’t need it are the times when I get on there and the camera goes on and I’m standing there and I feel like I don’t got any pants on — because I didn’t do my work.

Favourite Curse Word

One of the final questions on Inside The Actors Studio and always a favourite with the audience is when James Lipton asks his guest “What is your favourite curse word?”. Here is how Gandolfini answered:
It’s a Jersey one. F*cking douchebag.
James Gandolfini was an immense talent. In the role of Tony Soprano he demonstrated the rage and selfishness of Tony the mob boss whilst never losing the vulnerability and insecurity of Tony the human being. He always brought depth and dimension to his roles showing the full range and complexity or a character. He turned character’s into human beings.
He was a gifted actor, a kind man, and an artist – and I will sorely miss him.
James Galdofini 1961 – 2013
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