Do you sometimes feel like the once level playing field beneath you has turned into a shifting pool of quick sand? Do you worry that what was important or seemed important a year ago now has no value to anyone? Do you sometimes feel that a little anger — at the right time, the right place, aimed at the right person, of course — can be justified?
If so then you might appreciate the HBO show, the Sopranos, returning to the cable network this Sunday, March 7, for its fifth season. It is one of those television shows that entertains us by taking us someplace we have never been before (an extended New Jersey mob family) and then portraying the characters in a way that resonates with at least some of us. The boss, Tony Soprano, laments that up-and-coming soldiers don’t have the same work ethic as his generation. A lieutenant worries about the breakdown of order in the mob business: “What’s wrong with this thing of ours,” he snarls. “We’re breaking more rules than the Catholic church.”
And through it all there is the persistent din of regular, ordinary suburban drama. Tony and Carmela are attempting to discipline their indolent teenage son, and he dismisses them by quoting Kierkegaard. “Where do they get this crap from?” Tony asks. And then, answering his own question, he continues, “That f – – – – -’ Internet.”
But unlike a lot of network television shows, the Sopranos rarely tries to end every episode with a resounding answer — even as it presents an engraved invitation to next week’s intriguing question. As Sopranos creator and producer David Chase explained in an interview for the February 29 New York Times, “network television is all talk. I think there should be . . . some sense of mystery to it, connections that don’t add up . . . dreams and music and dead air and stuff that goes nowhere. There should be, God forgive me, a little bit of poetry.”
It is a strange time. We not only turn to movies and TV shows for the answers, but also to the actors who appear in those movies and shows. The media covering “The Passion of Christ” seriously considers the idle comments of Mel Gibson as well as Gibson’s 85-year-old father regarding the Holocaust. Does either one of them have any more knowledge and insight about the Holocaust than AJ Soprano has about existentialism? I doubt it. That f – – – – -’ Internet.
So when I saw the swaggering figure of James Gandolfini, the actor who plays Tony Soprano, on the cover of this month’s issue of New Jersey Monthly, I wondered if the actor would do what the show itself refuses to do — make some grand pronouncements about the parallels between life as the godfather and life as the suburban father, for example.
Mullica Hill-based freelance writer Rebecca Brill Moody does indeed extract some entertaining information about Gandolfini in this rare interview. A 1979 graduate of Park Ridge High School, where he played basketball and was voted Class Flirt (documented by photos gleaned from the high school yearbook), Gandolfini majored in English and communications and “chased girls” at Rutgers and “didn’t have a clue” about a career until he had worked as a night club manager in Manhattan and got a role in a Broadway play through friends who knew a casting director.
When the subject is acting or his own family, Gandolfini opens up to the freelancer. “Film acting is concentration in little snippets all throughout the day,” he says. “After a day of film you’re exhausted; at the end of two hours of stage, you’re energized from the interaction with the audience. That is why after a play, everyone goes out to eat or do something. After a film, everybody goes home.”
As for the family, Gandolfini admits to “normal kid memories. My father coached a baseball team and wouldn’t play me. He told me I stunk. Now he tells me we all stunk.”
But no, the actor does not allow himself to play that game — what does the Sopranos phenomenon all mean, anyhow?
“The only thing I’m really ever trying to say about anything is about the average guy — the average guy who has to deal with all this crap from the government, rich people, and everything else. It’s the only reason I like doing this. Sometimes you get to tell a story about someone. I don’t really want to say anything about me. That’s why I don’t do a lot of interviews, particularly on television. I come from a very blue collar family, people who work hard and are honest. A lot of young actors get interviews and go on television, and it makes them start to think that they are important. And we’re not, not anymore than anybody else.”
The mystery remains, along with the question of how a freelance writer from south Jersey got to interview the man who otherwise turns down the greatest lights of celebrity journalism. A call is placed to the editor of New Jersey Monthly. It is not returned. Stay tuned.