Idris Elba Once Quipped That James Gandolfini Would’ve Been a Bigger Star if He Left ‘The Sopranos’ Early

Actor Idris Elba and the late star James Gandolfini both starred in hit HBO dramas that drew massive critical acclaim. There was a bit of a difference in how their careers turned out, however. Elba would become more of a prominent actor in Hollywood, even getting his own tv show in the BBC series Luther.

Meanwhile, Gandolfini didn’t quite see the same star power that Elba did after The Sopranos. Elba once felt this was because Gandolfini might have stuck around too long for The Sopranos. Meanwhile, he left The Wire at just the right time.

James Gandolfini didn’t want to do Hollywood blockbusters

James Gandolfini smirking while wearing a suit.
James Gandolfini | Evan Agostini/Getty Images

James Gandolfini’s post-Sopranos career might have had more to do with choice than opportunity. Gandolfini made a huge name for himself leading The Sopranos for six seasons, but he wasn’t interested in doing more commercial projects. In a resurfaced interview, the actor revealed what his true ambitions were as an actor.

“I’m much more comfortable doing smaller things. I like them,” he told AP (via Digital Spy). “I like the way they’re shot; they’re shot quickly. It’s all about the scripts – that’s what it is – and I’m getting some interesting little scripts.”

Apart from his preferences, doing smaller films favored the mystery he still wanted to maintain as an actor.

“People don’t know and they shouldn’t know that you work incredibly hard as an actor,” he explained. “It is an odd way to make a living. Putting somebody else’s pants on and pretending to be somebody else is occasionally, as you grow older, horrifying.”

Idris Elba quipped that James Gandolfini might have been a bigger actor if he left ‘The Sorpranos’ earlier

Like Gandolfini, Elba also made a name for himself as Stringer Bell in The Wire. But where he and Gandolfini differ was that Elba left his show after three seasons. Gandolfini, on the other hand, was with The Sopranos until the end. Elba’s early departure from The Wire allowed him to star in films that increased his Hollywood presence and celebrity. Movies like 2009’s Obsessed, for instance, began to give him more international appeal.

“I got chased by TMZ,” he once said in an interview with New York Times. “Latino audiences had never paid attention to me before, and suddenly I have that audience. You become a bit more viable in other markets.”

Elba attributed some of his film success to leaving The Wire, and compared his own career to that of Gandolfini’s.

“I died on that show at a time where people were interested in my character,” Elba continued. “If Tony Soprano had died in the fourth season, James Gandolfini would be a bigger actor than he is now.”

James Gandolfini would’ve been fine if stardom never came his way

The Sopranos was a huge hit for Gandolfini, so much so that his performance is still talked about and praised today. But in the moment, the success of Sopranos didn’t hit the actor until he read an article in the New York Times.

“I think it was when the New York Times said something. Something or other about the pop culture of the last twenty-five years. That was… different. There’s no way to respond to it, really. We’re still doing the show the same way. A few more people hanging around,” Gandolfini once said in an interview with Movie City News.

Before The Sopranos, however, Gandolfini had a very modest acting career. But that was something the star didn’t mind.

“I mean, what do I have to complain about? I was number five or six on the call sheet, I do a couple weeks’ work, get paid nice. Yeah, things were okay. I was trying to steer away then from some of the violent stuff, but then I took 8MM, so… As you get a little older, you want to do [other things],” he said.

In fact, Gandolfini felt he would’ve been alright if his career didn’t take off the way it did.

“It was okay if it never came. I thought, y’know, what I was doing was fine,” he added.

RELATED: ‘The Sopranos’: James Gandolfini’s Personal Demons Had HBO Execs Concerned About Him ‘Staying Alive’