I already was missing Tony Soprano, and now that he’s gone I have to miss the fine actor James Gandolfini too. The first time I saw James Gandolfini playing the part that turned him from a character actor into a star, I happened to be in England. I had resisted watching a show about New Jersey gangsters, plus I didn’t have HBO anyway at the time. But there the show was, on the screen of the little TV in my hotel room. I was in Winchcombe, visiting Sudely–a house where Queen Elizabeth I once lived, in the days of turmoil following the death of her father, King Henry VIII. Elizabeth could very well have ended up executed instead of sitting on the throne of England. The Sopranos explored similar power struggles in a completely different age and place. Characters and locations change, but life’s dangers and challenges remain the same.
I don’t remember which episode of The Sopranos I happened to catch, but I was hooked. I never did like the violence of the show. (I don’t like the violence of the series The Tudors either, but I’ve watched it compulsively. Good thing we have fast-forward). To me, the genius of The Sopranos was in its humanity. Over the six seasons, there was a Shakespearean sweep to it–every aspect of the many characters’ lives was explored as they made their way through a chaotic world, always trying to impose some kind of order.
I’ve been thinking about historic dream homes like Tyntesfield. I suppose each of us has a different dream of domestic bliss. Tony Soprano’s dream home actually exists–people go to the house in New Jersey to have their pictures taken in the driveway, where Tony appeared in his bathrobe every morning to pick up his paper. Tony loved his pool, his pool house, and his kitchen, where he was forever grabbing snacks on his way out to do who knows what.
The house was almost another character on the show. The writers used it to make points about the characters. I remember one scene where a designer tried to interest Carmela Soprano in some antiques for her house. “But my home is TRADITIONAL,” she said, with that innocent blank-eyed stare she used to such great effect. The writers said so much with those few words. Carmela had no notion of where “traditional” style might have come from. What tradition? Whose tradition? The less-than-tasteful aspects of the house rarely received any comment in the scripts, but the house always spoke volumes about the characters, their backgrounds, and their aspirations.
I remember a great episode where Tony’s daughter Meadow, in rebellion, was living with her boyfriend in a miserable city apartment with no air conditioning. At the end of a long exhausting night of bitter arguing about where they would spend the summer, the boyfriend wearily said, “Well, we could get married.” Meadow had learned lessons in manipulation from the best–her own family. She immediately brightened and called her parents to announce the great news, not only getting what she wanted but setting in motion a new family drama.
I looked forward to seeing James Gandolfini in whatever part he took. He could be funny, sad, menacing, self-mocking–he had a really endless range as an actor. Now he is gone. I hope he’s found a peaceful home.