"To all actors who struggle… things can change at any moment, at any time. So hang in there and enjoy it because things can get pretty weird." James Gandolfini on accepting his SAG award
American actor James Gandolfini established himself as a legitimate star and unlikely sex symbol while portraying the mob wise guy, Tony Soprano, in the hit TV show The Sopranos (1999-2006). His spectacular performance handed him such awards as three Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, a Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming Award and an AFI TV Award. On the big screen, Gandolfini gained phrase for playing gay assassin Winston Baldry in director Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican (2001, starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts), in which he nabbed a 2002 L.A Outfest Award. His film credits include the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance (1992), Angie (1994, starring with Geena Davis), She's So Lovely (1997), Joel Schumacher's 8MM (1999), Cannes Film Festival award winner The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), The Last Castle (2001), the comedy Surviving Christmas (2004) and the comedy-romance Romance & Cigarettes (2005), among others.
One of E!'s “Top 20 Entertainers of 2001,” James Gandolfini married Marcella in March 1999. However, the couple filed for divorced three years later in March 2002 and eventually divorced in December that same year. After the separation, Gandolfini began a new relationship with Lora Somoza, a woman whom he met while on the production of The Mexican. He proposed to his girlfriend in January 2004 and a month later they announced their engagement. Unfortunately, their romance reportedly ended in February 2005.
Childhood and Family:
Of Italian-American heritage, James Gandolfini was born on September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey, but grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey. As a child, acting was far from James’ mind.
Young James was educated at Park Ridge High School and graduated in 1979. Once named "Best-Looking" in high school, he attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications four years later. To earn a living, he landed a series of jobs, including working as a Manhattan bartender, nightclub manager and truck driver, before turning his attention to acting. In the late 1980s, James made his way to New York where he studied drama at New York’s The Actors Studio.
James Gandolfini, whose nickname is Jim, married Marcella Wudarski in March 1999. In December 18, 2002, however, he divorced his wife of three years, with whom he shares a son named Michael Gandolfini.
Taken by a friend to a drama class in the late 1980s, James Gandolfini began a career as a stage actor with the New York Theater. He made his stage debut in the production of "Big El's Best Friend" and went on to appear on numerous off-Broadway plays. His major break arrived in 1992 when he was cast as Steve Hubbell in his Broadway debut, the revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire," opposite Jessica Lange and Alex Baldwin. Gandolfini’s New York stage credits include "On the Waterfront," "One Day Wonder" with the Actor's Studio and "Tarantulas Dancing" at the Samuel Beckett Theatre. Also in 1992, Gandolfini had his first taste in front of the camera as Tony Baldessari in Sidney Lumet's A Stranger Among Us, but his breakthrough screen role came a year later as Virgil, the philosophizing hit man, in Tony Scott's True Romance, starring Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater.
More roles in films followed throughout the 1990s, including portraying John Cusack's brother in Money for Nothing (1993), the title character’s plumber beau in Angie (1994, starring with Geena Davis), trustworthy Navy deputy Lt. Bobby Dougherty in Tony Scott's Crimson Tide (1995), stuntman Bear in Get Shorty (1995, with John Travolta), Eddie in The Juror (1996, starring Demi Moore and Alex Baldwin), Walter in Gun (1997) and Joey Allegretto in Lumet’s legal drama Night Falls on Manhattan (1997). In She's So Lovely (1997), Gandolfini gave a memorable performance as drunkenly insulting neighbor Kiefer, opposite Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn and John Travolta. He then made his television movie debut as Juror Number 6 in the Showtime remake of 12 Angry Men (1997). From 1998-1999, Gandolfini was visible in such movies as Fallen (1998), The Mighty (1998), Steve Zaillian's A Civil Action (1998, rejoined Travolta), A Whole New Day (1999) and Joel Schumacher's 8MM (1999, costarring with Nicolas Cage and Joaquin Phoenix).
"You go into these TV things always worrying about the kind of egos you're going to encounter, but he just doesn't have one." Sopranos costar Edie Falco on Gandolfini
With more than a dozen films in his pocket, Gandolfini eventually delivered a big breakthrough in 1999 when he was cast in the starring role of the mafia boss and family man, Tony Soprano, in the multi-award-winning drama series The Sopranos. Through his acclaimed role, Gandolfini netted several awards like three Screen Actor Guilds (in 1999 and in 2000) for Male Actor in a Televison Drama Series, Ensemble in a Television Drama Series, and Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, two Golden Globes (in 1999 and in 2000) for Best Actor in a Television Series (Drama), a Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming, an AFI TV for AFI Actor of the Year as well as three Emmy (in 2000, 2001 and 2003) for Outstanding Lead Actor. His triumph subsequently launched the actor as a bona fide star.
During the series break, Gandolfini continued to pursue his film career. In 2001, he turned the heads of critics once again with his work in The Mexican, starring Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt. Scripted by J.H. Wyman and helmed by Gore Verbinski, his scene stealing portrait of gay hit man Winston Baldry garnered him a Screen Idol for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role at the L.A. Outfest in 2002. He earned further recognition for portraying the minor role of deceitful husband “Big Dave” in the Coen brothers' Cannes Film Festival award winner The Man Who Wasn't There (2001). That same year, Gandolfini also played malevolent Army Colonel Winter in the prison thriller The Last Castle (2001, opposite Robert Redford).
Taking three years hiatus from the silver screen, Gandolfini returned in 2004 to star as Tom Valco, opposite Ben Affleck, in the Dream Works' comedy Surviving Christmas. He next appeared as Vincent in director Deborra-Lee Furness/ William Garcia drama Stories of Lost Souls (2005) and shared top billing with Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in the comedy Romance & Cigarettes (2005) for director/writer John Turturro. Additionally, the 45-year-old actor will soon play the small part of Tiny Duffy in Steven Zaillian’s upcoming drama All the King's Men (2005) and will rejoin Travolta in Todd Robinson’s Crime-thriller Lonely Hearts (2006). Gandolfini is also scheduled to star with Robin Wright Penn in the Untitled Ernest Hemingway Project in 2006. The project is being scripted by Barbara Turner.