A bittersweet biography of an intensely private artist.
Unerringly tight-lipped throughout his career, actor James Gandolfini (1961–2013) exists as a kind of burly but amiable cypher who defies close examination. That he somehow managed, despite his media-shy disposition, to convince legions of Sopranos fans that they actually knew what made him tick is testament to his considerable powers as an artist. With little in the way of original source material to draw upon, Star-Ledger art critic Bischoff relies heavily on Gandolfini's impressive collection of work to help define his subject's remarkable life. What he finds, despite Gandolfini's undeniably magnetic presence on screen, is a remarkable actor who nevertheless found the process of acting incredibly taxing—and a genuinely "regular guy" who felt insecure about his craft. "About a week before a production was supposed to start filming, we'd get a letter, copied to the director, in which Jim would give everybody an out, asking them if they were sure they thought he could do the part," says Gandolfini's manager Mark Armstrong. "And he'd always include the names of three actors he thought were available who could do a better job." Bischoff makes sure to include ample insider Sopranos information, largely focusing on ever-increasing sums of money and the ensuing contract battles. However, the author shines in his behind-the-scenes explorations. In trying to divine who this intrinsically "Jersey guy" was, Bischoff reminds readers that Gandolfini passed away while vacationing with his young son and that the women he'd loved at various points in his life found it possible to sit near each other at his funeral. In his case, the absence of chatter surrounding his possible failings speaks volumes about his success as a human being.
Not the last word but an earnest, endearing homage to an outstanding actor.