In a tragic if fitting twist, James Gandolfini - the actor forever to be associated with his Emmy-winning role on "The Sopranos" - was set to return to the network that first showcased his career-defining character.
It was HBO that delivered Gandolfini’s swaggering, cigar-chomping mafia boss and family man Tony Soprano into viewer’s homes from 1999 to 2007. And it is HBO that had picked up "Criminal Justice," the now final television series to feature Gandolfini. The actor died on June 19 at the age of 51.
Playing a heavy on the wrong side of the law had become a character type for the actor by the time he gained international acclaim for his portrayal of Soprano. Yet his anticipated return in the seven-part series “Criminal Justice” would have seen him working on the other side of the law. Gandolfini played Jack Stone in the drama, a downtrodden, ambulance-chasing New York attorney who gets in over-his-head when he takes on the case of Pakistani national accused of murdering a girl on the Upper West Side, reported Deadline.
HBO filmed a pilot on the project and passed before changing course and greenlighting the drama as a miniseries according to The Hollywood Reporter. No production schedule for the remaining episodes had been set and to date the network has announced no plans to air the pilot or what the future holds for the series.
Though the iconic actor will be remembered foremost as portraying mobsters ("True Romance," "Terminal Velocity," "Get Shorty," "The Juror," "Killing Them Softly"), he turned in equally memorable heart of gold performances in "Welcome to the Rileys," "The Mexican" and "Not Fade Away." He appeared as the Mayor of New York City in the 2009 remake of "The Taking of Pelham 123" and achieved acclaim in “God of Carnage” and "On the Waterfront" on Broadway.
All are testament to the actor's ability to convey deep human frailty as readily, and as convincingly as glowering, barely-tamed menace.
"He was a genius," said "Sopranos" creator David Chase in a statement following the news of Gandolfini's passing. "Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, 'You don't get it. You're like Mozart.'"
Here, some of Gandolfini’s career-defining roles:
One of the most grudgingly beloved characters ever created for television, Gandolfini's Tony Soprano was a dichotomy: first a loving, sometime tender family man enduring the uncomfortable probing of psychotherapy, then a vicious mafia boss capable of beating a man to a bloody pulp. When the series drew to a close after six seasons, it was with an ending as divisive as the lead character himself. An abrupt black screen left audiences to ponder Tony's fate for themselves. A scenario akin to watching and wondering over which version of the antihero would show itself from moment to moment each week.
One of the actor's breakout roles was as the heavy-hitting henchman Virgil in the Tony Scott directed film of 1993. His savage beating of Patricia Arquette is a scene many viewers found upsetting, yet remains a talking point of the film.
"God of Carnage"
Though Gandolfini did not make the leap from the Broadway stage to the cinematic version of this taught comedy concerned with the relationships of two upwardly-mobile Brooklyn couples, his time onstage in “God of Carnage” did earn him a Tony Award nomination in 2009. As Michael, Gandolfini played the often brow-beaten husband to the domineering Veronica (Marcia Gay Harden). Patient and understanding to begin with, Gandolfini as Michael quickly flipped to frustration then anger as the play morphed into a dramedy of aggressive verbal sparring.
Other stage credits inculde "On the Waterfront" and as an understudy in a revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1992 starring Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange.
"Zero Dark Thirty"
The actor brought his brand of quiet intensity to the role of the unnamed CIA director (a character based on Leon Panetta) in the Kathryn Bigelow directed and Oscar best picture nominated docudrama based on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Though his portrayal of a gay mobster turned unwitting hostage taker in the Gore Verbinski directed heist caper starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts could be described as Gandolfini-lite, he was lauded for his turn in the 2001 film. "The gay character that I play is non-stereotypical when one thinks about how many gay men are portrayed in films," Gandolfini told Bay Windows at the time of the film's release. "That is why I took the role. It is one of the best gay roles I have seen in film. His sexuality is not really even brought into the picture until he eyes someone in a bar and Julia Roberts' character asks him point blank if he is gay since he is staring at the guy. When it is brought up, it is done in a very tasteful way."