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How James Gandolfini helped make Tony Soprano more ruthless

It was James Gandolfini who made Tony Soprano more dangerous, ruthless and not one to shy away from violence, says creator David Chase.

Tony Soprano

Tony Soprano spent six seasons trying to find a balance between being a family man and a crime boss, and was helped in this by his loyal therapist Dr Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) of course. It was his complicated nature that made The Sopranos one of the best TV series of all time. But while creator David Chase was keen to emphasise Tony’s loving nature, it was James Gandolfini who realised that the show couldn’t downplay the fact that violence was also a core part of the character.


In a conversation in 2007, via Mental Floss, Chase said that “Jim (Gandolfini) showed me early on how much of a prick that guy would have to be. The first day we shot, there was a scene where Christopher (Michael Imperioli) said he was going to sell his story to Hollywood.”

“In the script, it said something like, ‘Tony slaps him.’ But when we shot it, all of a sudden Jim was out of his seat. He picked Michael Imperioli up by the neck, by the collar, had him almost off the ground and said, ‘What?! Are you crazy?'”

Chase concluded; “And I thought, Of course, that man’s a motherf***er. That guy is surviving the mob. He’s really a dangerous person. He’s not a fun guy.”

The Sopranos is one of the older shows that saw a resurgence in popularity since the pandemic began, with people having more time to catch up on TV. A prequel movie, starring Gandolfini’s son as a young Tony, was released on HBO to mixed reactions from fans of the series. And a whole prequel series could potentially be on the way.

The ending of The Sopranos remains much discussed and divisive to this day. It’s still widely considered one of the best television series of all time, with shows like Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Ozark and Peaky Blinders owing it a huge debt.

If you’re a fan of The Sopranos, check out our guide to the best drama series.