‘The Sopranos’: James Gandolfini’s Secret for Nailing the Part of Tony

The Sopranos was one of those shows that took the country by storm. For its six seasons on HBO, people were rapt, right up to the controversial final episode. One of the elements that made the series so amazing was the character of Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini. Sadly, he’s passed away since the series ended, but fans still appreciate the stellar performance he gave as the Soprano family crime boss. But although Gandolfini was exceptional as Tony, he did reach out for help when it came to one detail on The Sopranos.

‘The Sopranos’ brought new life to an old story

'The Sopranos'
‘The Sopranos’ | HBO/Getty Images

RELATED: ‘The Sopranos’: James Gandolfini Made Tony More Ruthless Than Initially Planned

It could have played like a worn-out stereotype, another show about the life and drama of an Italian-American mob family. However, this show took a different approach that captivated viewers for six intense seasons.

The first season opened with Tony Soprano, mafia boss, starting therapy to help him manage his panic attacks. Right off the bat, this challenged the image of a tough-guy persona you’d expect of someone in his position, and it cracked open people’s perception of him. 

The Sopranos didn’t shy away from the crime and brutality you’d expect from a show about a mob family, but it also managed to show the humanity of the characters. These were people with normal concerns and problems, even if they were living in a very abnormal world. 

And at the heart of it all was Tony.

Tony Soprano was a complex man

Although Tony’s vulnerabilities were shown, that didn’t make him any less intimidating. He may have struggled with anxiety, had a hard time making time for his family, and wondered about the meaning of life, but he was still the head of an organized crime family. And Tony ruled his enterprise with an iron fist. 

Tony could be breathtakingly violent, like the time he was on a trip with his daughter, visiting potential colleges. He spotted a former member of his crime family, who had become an informant for the FBI. This man was in the Witness Protection Program when he had the bad luck to cross Tony’s path. In a chilling reaction, Tony seemed to pivot from having a special family time to being a violent mob boss without flinching, and he killed the snitch by strangling him. 

Sadly, Gandolfini died of a heart attack when he was 51, only seven years after The Sopranos went off the air. But during his time on the series, he helped make Tony into a complex and compelling character. 

James Gandolfini’s secret weapon

James Gandolfini
James Gandolfini | Anthony Neste/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

From the very start, Gandolfini seemed to understand who Tony should be. Originally, Tony wasn’t supposed to be quite so brutal.

But on the first day of filming, Gandolfini read in the script that Tony was supposed to slap someone. Instead, he lunged for the man, grabbed him by the collar, and nearly lifted him off the ground. It was a shocking moment, and just like that, the character of Tony took on a new intensity. 

However, there was one aspect of Tony that Gandolfini needed some help to get right. If you watch the pilot then the second episode it’s clear that Tony’s accent changes. At first, he didn’t have the classic New Jersey accent that he had for the rest of the series.

Two years passed between when the pilot was filmed and the show was picked up by HBO. In the meantime, Gandolfini got some help to make his character more realistic.

To become a more convincing Tony, Gandolfini worked with a dialect coach. This coach, Doug Honorof, helped him develop Tony’s unmistakable voice. By the time the show hit the air, Tony sounded just like he should. 

Tony Soprano made Gandolfini a household name, and it seems that the actor did everything he could to make Tony an unforgettable character.