James Andrew Miller’s upcoming book “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers” arrives November 23, and a lengthy excerpt published by Vulture this week gives television fans a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes HBO drama they can expect to learn about in the 1,024-page book. The excerpt is devoted to how James Gandolfini landed the iconic role of Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos” and the ensuing highs and lows of the casting decision. According to Miller, there was “fitful bouts of disruptive incredulousness” between Gandolfini and the show’s creative team over certain scripts.
As Miller writes: “Gandolfini, who once remarked that after a day of shooting, he often had to take a shower because he felt ‘dirty’ playing the role, would sometimes balk at a particular scene and instead of asking Chase, ‘Do I have to do this?’ he would wonder out loud, ‘What the fuck is this?’ and then declare flatly, ‘I’m not doing it.'”
“Gandolfini’s longest and strongest tantrum erupted over a script that called for Tony to dash into a gas-station bathroom and masturbate during a period when Tony was having an affair with feisty Realtor Julianna Skiff, played forcefully by Julianna Margulies,” the book continues. “But even that time, despite his earlier protests, Gandolfini relented and played the scene as written. As it turned out, the gas-station sequence was shot but then edited out of the finished episode. To his credit, Gandolfini never complained to Chase that the difficult scene ended up on the cutting-room floor.”
Miller’s book also details Gandolfini’s “disruptive disappearances” from “The Sopranos” set that cost HBO “several million dollars” due to a halt in production. Gandolfini struggled with alcohol and drug addiction prior to the show, and the series’ popularity only heightened his battles. As the book reads: “One day filming was halted while a search party looked high and low for their star, eventually locating him in a Brooklyn nail salon. In the wake of such episodes, Gandolfini appeared at times embarrassed to be around those who knew of his ‘issues,’ and, ever the good soul, would express his contrition by spreading gifts among all those affected. Nevertheless, Gandolfini misdemeanors mounted.”
Chris Albrecht, HBO’s then-CEO, organized an intervention for Gandolfini at Manhattan’s Museum Towers under the guise of a casual get together. The HBO executive was joined by Gandolfini’s “close friends, family, and key individuals involved in ‘The Sopranos,'” including creator David Chase. The series was in its fourth season at the time. The group practiced the intervention and its various potential outcomes ahead of time and even had “a private plane standing by to take [Gandolfini] directly to rehab.”
The book reads: “As it turned out, none of that preparation proved helpful. The entire intervention lasted 10 seconds. Gandolfini walked into the apartment, saw everyone, sized up the situation in a snap, and immediately barked, ‘Oh, fuck this. Fuck all of you.’ Glowering at Albrecht, Gandolfini dared him with ‘Fire me,’ then stormed out. While the others sat stunned, one of Gandolfini’s sisters chased her brother down the hall and begged him to come back. But [he] was having none of that.”
Visit Vulture’s website to read the full excerpt from Miller’s book.