James Gandolfini’s Personal Struggles on ‘The Sopranos’ Set Detailed in New Book
A new book lays bare James Gandolfini’s erratic behavior and substance abuse issues during the final seasons of The Sopranos. Author Mark Kamine worked as a locations manager on David Chase’s HBO juggernaut throughout its six seasons. His book, On Locations: Lessons Learned from My Life On Set with ‘The Sopranos’ and in the Film Industry, is out today.
Kamine writes that Gandolfini held it together until season five, when his addiction issues and “apparent discomfort with fame” began to feed into one another. The Tony Soprano actor became “increasingly unreliable” and provoked frequent “disgust” from co-star Edie Falco, who played his on-screen wife, Carmela.
Gandolfini’s problems came to the fore during a shoot for the season five episode “Pie-O-My,” in which Tony develops a penchant for horse betting. Some scenes were shot at a real horse track, and after work, Gandolfini would retire with the crew to bet on horses or visit nearby Atlantic City. One night, Kamine was invited to join.
“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 recalled. “The next morning I’m not surprised when Jim cannot be roused.”
Gandolfini showed up four hours later “cursing his way through his half-learned lines, doing take after take, drinking coffees and bottles of water,” Kamine wrote. That day, Gandolfini was “alternatively sheepish and churlish, the way he always is when he f–ks up,” the author continued.
Another shocking alleged incident occurred while the crew was shooting scenes at the Soprano home, a private residence rented for the production. When the homeowner greeted Gandolfini and began asking him conversational questions, the actor couldn’t remember who he was speaking to.
“This is five seasons in,” Kamine wrote. “Jim has been to the house dozens of times [and] had many conversations with the man standing in front of him…Jim interrupts him to say, with more than a little regret, ‘I’m really sorry but my memory’s kinda shot and I don’t remember, who are you?’
“To have no clue who the owner of the Soprano house is [gave] me a glimpse into the extent of his personal struggles,” Kamine said.
As Kamine tells it, the crew began tiring of Gandolfini’s erratic behavior. It was hardest on Falco, who led the show along with the actor and served as his frequent scene partner. According to Kamine, Gandolfini was flustered by Falco always being “fully prepared, always amazingly and instantly in character. She [was] nothing but an admirable on-set presence throughout the entire run of the show.
“Jim seems in awe of it and frustrated by her ready access to convincing emotion,” he continued. “He often gets to set not quite in character, cursing himself mid-scene, calling on the script supervisor to feed him lines.”
However, both the crew and the network continued to tolerate the behavior to an extent, because without Gandolfini there was no show. “Because Gandolfini more than anyone other than David [Chase] makes the show [what] it is, his expressive features and rich readings and menacing, restrained gesturing delivering great and consistent impact.”
HBO eventually “[added] a clause making him responsible for shoot-day costs if he misses work due to excesses of consumption.”
Gandolfini’s on-set troubles have been well-documented in the past. According to James Andrew Miller’s 2021 book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers, an excerpt of which was published in Vulture, the actor engaged in “disruptive disappearances that resulted in halted production, costing HBO several million dollars” in total.
That book details an instance in which Gandolfini went missing right before he was to appear on a live Golden Globes telecast to present an award alongside Patricia Arquette. He was found on the lawn in front of the venue, “making snow angels on the lawn, so inebriated that he didn’t seem to notice the absence of snow,” Miller wrote.
In 2013, after Gandolfini died of a heart attack at age 51, GQ wrote an extensive piece entitled “The Night Tony Soprano Disappeared.” It chronicled a number of days in 2002 during which Gandolfini failed to turn up to work and couldn’t be reached. The production eventually had to pause, having shot all the scenes they could without their star.
Several days into his disappearance, one of the show’s writers, Terence Winter, heard the beginning of an obituary on the radio and assumed it would be Gandolfini. “It was some drummer for a band,” Winter said. “But I thought, ’Holy shit! He’s dead.’”
During this time, Gandolfini’s private life was also in shambles. The GQ article reads: “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.”
Nearly all accounts of Gandolfini’s on-set struggles note that the actor was entirely consumed with playing Tony Soprano. “In essence,” Miller wrote in Tinderbox, “the cost of him playing Tony went beyond just being an actor. He lamented several times, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing to me.'”
On Locations: Lessons Learned from My Life On Set with The Sopranos and in the Film Industry is available now. You can purchase copies here.