James Gandolfini had, understandably, sought to move past his Tony Soprano role in the six years since he left the show and moved on to film full time.
But his last big-screen part may have more than a little more in common with his iconic HBO character.
In “Animal Rescue,” a Dennis Lehane-penned movie he finished shooting just two months before his death, Gandolfini plays a fallen crime boss named Marv, according to people familiar with the production who were not authorized to talk about the movie publicly.
A bar owner who once controlled his own crime fiefdom, Marv acts and talks like Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. Unlike Tony, however, he has lost his power to a Chechen crime family and for much of the movie is struggling to get it back. He’s a sort-of broken Tony Soprano.
(Incidentally, fans of “The Sopranos” will remember Tony ran into some trouble of his own in Brooklyn, when at the start of Season 6 Phil Leotardo protégé Gerry Torciano roughed up Tony adviser Hesh because of extortions in the borough.)
An actor’s posthumous screen appearance can sometimes take on too much meaning. Just because someone made the movie last doesn’t mean it should endure more than the others.
But in this case “Animal Rescue,” which Fox Searchlight will release next year, is starting to feel like a fitting homage. Gandolfini worked for more than two weeks shooting the movie, developing a rapport with lead Tom Hardy, who plays Gandolfini’s cousin and with whom Gandolfini shares many scenes.
The late actor was generous to many off the Brooklyn set. When the movie finished shooting, Gandolfini couldn’t make a post-wrap dinner, but he quietly bought several bottles of fine wine and had them and a card waiting for cast members when they arrived at the restaurant.
On set, Gandolfini exhibited some of his trademark perfectionism, getting intense as he tried wildly different takes and growing annoyed with himself when a line didn’t come out exactly as he’d hoped. He had already played the part of a working-class crime kingpin perhaps better than anyone in history. But for Gandolfini, even playing the same archetype was a chance to do something different, an opportunity to top himself.
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