The flawed character of Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini’s wickedly untimely death this week has me thinking about character. Of course, the whole world is talking about how this talented actor made Tony Soprano not just a TV character but a person who will live in the world’s hearts and minds indefinitely, long after Italian mobs as we know them today are extinct. Gandolfini recognized, though, that it wasn’t a one-sided success story.

I read a piece of an interview where he was asked about the most important thing in acting. His reply: “Six words: The writing, the writing, the writing.” So true here. Without that talent on both ends, the role could’ve been cliched and unappealing even to the most faithful mobster fans.

There were so many fascinating pieces of both the show and the man, but what stands out for me was something apparent in the very first episode – Tony’s fondness for animals. (Are any of you surprised this is what would move me?) When we met him, he was in his backyard admiring the ducks camped out in his pool, on the verge of a panic attack. Those ducks became a symbol throughout the show. That this man, clearly a killer, would take so much pleasure in and care so much about these ducks set the stage for the flawed man who was Tony Soprano.

After I read the news Wednesday, someone posted the video clip from the Ralphie Cifaretto murder episode. For those of you familiar with the show, Tony killed Ralphie in season four after learning he was involved with a stable fire that killed Tony’s racehorse. Tony loved that horse. And he loved her enough to kill one of his crew members in cold blood on her behalf. (Don’t watch if violence and bad language isn’t your thing.)

Twisted, sure, but it forever endeared Tony to me. Scary as it was to think about, I could identify with the dark place that sent Tony to Ralphie’s house that morning. And that’s what Gandolfini did so well. He was a master at getting uncomfortably under the skin of people who never would otherwise identify with lowlife mobsters, letting them recognize pieces of themselves. Not in every action or decision, surely. But enough that their own flaws, dark places and potential limits boiled to the surface for examining, even if it was simply that one hour every week.

Were you a Sopranos fan? What’s your favorite Tony moment?

7 Thoughts

  1. Tony and the ducks. 🙂 Anyway, my favorite Tony with an animal clip is up on The Horsey Set Net. I was so pleased to find the clip on YouTube because it’s absolutely my favorite Tony moment, when he spent part of a rainy night in the stall with his racing filly Pie-O-My.

    1. Rhonda, I remember – that’s probably the one I should’ve added to the blog 🙂

  2. Like a lot of people, I find myself strangely affected by James Gandolfini’s death. I am a huge Sopranos fan and a Gandolfini fan. I think these beautifully written series–from HBO to PBS to AMC–are the natural successors to Dickens.

    Anyway, my favorite scene is the one in which Tony becomes convinced that Olivia’s doctor is neglecting her. (Olivia is by the way one of the great monster mothers of literature.) Tony chases the doctor down on the golf course and scares the crap out of him, demanding he communicate clearly with Olivia and a series of other demands. I love the scene because how many of us have wished at one time or another we could do that? It’s the dichotomy Liz writes about. Tony can terrorize the doctor because Tony’s a mobster, but he does it out of love for his sick and absolutely awful mother.

    My favorite episode is the one in which Tony takes his daughter Meadow to New England to look at colleges, discovers a mob snitch hiding out and kills him. Again, that dichotomy.

  3. I confess, I’ve never watched the show. We didn’t have HBO and did have our young daughter at home. But I realized its broad appeal when visiting my in-laws in their small Idaho town. They sat in front of the TV, holding hands, glued to The Sopranos. I hope it is on Netflix!

      1. Oh, boy, Sherry! I’ll tell you what – I didn’t watch the first season when it aired, then I had to catch up. When I started watching, it was Christmas Eve morning and I had the whole season in front of me. Well, I almost missed Christmas – I couldn’t tear myself away! Amazing show.

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