There was TV before The Sopranos, and there was TV after The Sopranos. David Chase’s Mafia saga kicked off the current Golden Age of TV, put HBO on the map, and made a star out of a bearlike character actor named James Gandolfini with a role most actors would strangle a degenerate gambler to get. (Not for nothing did our TV critic Rob Sheffield name it the single greatest TV show of all time in our current cover story.) In a new video interview exclusive to Rolling Stone, two of his costars on The Sopranos look back on the legacy the late, great star left behind.
“There has never been a more giving or generous actor than James Gandolfini,” says Vincent Pastore, who portrayed Tony’s soldier-turned-informant Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. “When Jimmy would shoot a scene with me, and David [Chase] would say ‘Okay, let’s move on,’ Jimmy would say, ‘No, wait a second.’ And he’d look at me and say, ‘Are you comfortable with that? Do you wanna use that?'”
“James was a big, big panda,” says Frank Vincent, a.k.a. Phil Leotardo, Tony’s Mafia foe in later seasons. “He loved everybody, he treated everybody good. He was generous, just one of the guys.”
One of the series most gut-churning moments came at the close of the second season, when Tony and Big Pussy’s long-simmering distrust came to an explosive head. “I’ll never forget the scene that I was doing when I was in the boat, admitting that I was a rat,” Pastore says. “We did one take, and Jimmy came over and talked me through that scene. He was telling me how to play the scene. We did one more take and that was it.”
It hasn’t even been a full decade since The Sopranos unceremoniously cut to black and left viewers dumbfounded, and already its place in the TV history books has been cemented. “I think it was a pioneer show, sure,” Vincent says. “Actors that never wanted to do television, because it was beneath them to do television, would do these kinds of shows.”
“The Sopranos definitely changed my career,” Pastore added, “and it changed the whole life of James Gandolfini.”