James Gandolfini: a Remembrance
Actor James Gandolfini died last week. While reading the articles, reminiscences and tributes to this fine actor, I was reminded of two encounters that I had with Mr. Gandolfini. While I am sure neither of these events were memorable to him, they certainly were for me.
In addition to writing this column, I work in the film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Simply put, I help films get finished after they have been shot. In 1995 I was riding high, working on two big films that came out a month apart, “Get Shorty” and “Casino.”
On “Get Shorty” we needed to record ADR. ADR stands for automated dialogue replacement, a fancy term for re-recording dialogue. Dialogue may need to be re-recorded for a scene for a number of reasons. It could be that the original dialogue was not recorded clearly, or something in the story needs to be clarified, or alternate, cleaned up lines need to be recorded for the TV version of the movie.
One day I arranged for the actor who played the part of Bear in “Get Shorty” to come in for ADR. At the time James Gandolfini was not particularly well known. This was way before “The Sopranos.” In addition to the lines that Gandolfini had to re-record for “Get Shorty,” I was contacted by the production company for the movie “Crimson Tide,” in which Gandolfini also had a role, to see if he could re-do some lines for that film as well. Since “Crimson Tide” was already playing in theatres, what could they possibly want at this point? It turned out that “Crimson Tide” was about to be released in Japan and Gandolfini’s character, in the film, makes a reference to the bombing of Hiroshima. His original line was something along the lines of, “What? Do you think it was wrong to bomb Japan?” The studio, not wanting to offend Japanese sensibilities, wanted to change the line to “What? You think it’s wrong to drop a bomb?” When I showed I him the replacement line, Gandolfini laughed. “They’re not going to know what I’m talking about?” he said to me.
I watched Gandolfini from outside the window of the sound proof ADR studio in which he recorded the line. There was a second line for him to record – a laugh from the actor sitting next to him in the scene. While this should have been the easier part of the recording, Gandolfini could not make himself laugh. Suddenly he turned in my direction, waved his arm, and yelled, “Seth, get in here!” The next thing I knew, I was standing infront of a microphone, with Gandolfini as my coach. I managed to record a laugh for the scene. After that, we had our picture taken together.
I saw Mr. Gandolfini on two more occasions. One was years later at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square. We were both there, along with many others, to see Norman Mailer speak. By this point Gandolfini was Tony Soprano and, I am sure, had no recollection of our short meeting years before. I went over and re-introduced myself. He was very gracious. He shook my hand and said, “Nice to see you again Seth.” The next time I saw him was at one of his final performances in the play “God of Carnage,” on Broadway.
So, if you should ever see “Crimson Tide” in Japan and hear Gandolfini’s line about dropping a bomb, pay close attention to the laugh coming from the guy next to him. Occasionally I do get to co-star with greatness.