Gandolfini: The Real Life of the Man Who Made Tony Soprano

Dan Bischoff

Gandolfini: The Real Life of the Man Who Made Tony Soprano
Scribe Publications
23 April 2014

Gandolfini: The Real Life of the Man Who Made Tony Soprano

Dan Bischoff

_Gandolfini _is the first biography of the actor, who died in June 2013 at age 51, and who some think was one of the best–and most defining–actors of his generation. Far from being a cut-and-paste, the book is informed by the fresh interviews Dan Bischoff is conducting with Gandolfini’s family, his fellow “Sopranos” cast members, the star’s acting coach, childhood friends, the sex therapist he went out with in between his two marriages, buddies from his days as a bouncer in New York City and as a popular campus figure at Rutgers, and the director of his last film, “Enough Said,” Nicole Holofcener .


The task attempted by Dan Bischoff in posthumously creating a biography of the actor who embodied Tony Soprano is, to say the least, challenging. Chronicling a man who played the fundamental character in such a pivotal series without focusing on that character’s traits would be laughable. Though this was always going to be a fine line to tread, given the limited access Bischoff had to people close to James Gandolfini, it’s a line he trod rather well.

The backstory to Gandolfini’s rise as an actor introduces readers to a genuinely lovely guy; well-liked at school and college, ‘Jim’ is painted as a caring person with a knack for garnering the affection of those he worked with. But this book is at its best when exploring the line between Gandolfini and Soprano. The distinction (or lack of) between actor and character is fascinating and provides an interesting lens through which to reconsider the body of work Gandolfini left behind. As Bischoff discusses, the mastery of David Chase (the creator of The Sopranos) and Gandolfini was in creating a character that was at once despicable but still loved by viewers who empathised with him instinctively. Gandolfini’s acting prowess was no doubt integral to pulling this off, but the biography also hints that much of Soprano was in Gandolfini himself. Does this diminish him as an actor? Or does it point to his dedication to the craft? It’s this tension that makes Gandolfini – a biography that is to a large extent a piece of long-form journalism – so compelling.

As with any biography, this book will be sought out by those familiar with the subject, and avid Sopranos fans will gain fascinating insight into the inner-workings of the show’s production. While doing this, Bischoff (thankfully) avoids eulogising, allowing the genuine good nature of Gandolfini to engender in readers a real sense of loss following the death of this great craftsman.

Duncan McKimm is a freelance reviewer.

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