James Gandolfini’s alcohol and drug binges were so extreme that HBO executives worried he might die during filming of The Sopranos, according to a new book.
Gandolfini, who played the intense and charismatic star of the show throughout its entire 1999-2007 run, had battled alcohol and substance abuse issues before, and died of a heart attack in 2013 aged just 51.
And when he was cast as mobster Tony Soprano, his demons resurfaced, sources told author James Andrew Miller for his book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers, published on November 16.
‘We were concerned about Gandolfini staying alive,’ said Jeff Bewkes, CEO of HBO from 1995 until 2002.
‘Occasionally he would go on a bender or a coke binge.
‘We had to stop production.’
James Gandolfini is seen playing Tony Soprano in the hit HBO series, that ran from 1999 to 2007
Gandolfini is seen with his Soprano costars on set. At times the actor would fail to show up, messing up the schedule and costing HBO millions, but he was then so contrite he managed to get away with it
Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of HBO, said he was worried about Gandolfini ‘staying alive’
Miller writes: ‘Tony Soprano’s struggles onscreen not only often mirrored his own but at times amplified them.
‘So there was a part of Gandolfini that wanted to leave the show because he understood, as he told a friend, that in order to ‘become’ Tony, he had to connect with his darkest side.
Miller has written a book about the success of HBO, and told of the struggles to see The Sopranos through to the finale
‘In essence, the cost of him playing Tony went beyond just being an actor. He lamented several times, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing to me.”
Gandolfini once explained: ‘When I was 20 or 18, it started, and it progressed through the years.’
He was arrested for DUI in 1997, he said.
Bewkes said that Gandolfini sometimes failed to turn up on set, which ‘was hard on the other actors’ schedules.’
Bewkes added that he ‘didn’t pressure’ the then-chairman of HBO, Chris Albrecht, about Gandolfini because he ‘thought Jimmy was embarrassed.’
Bewkes said he worried about him enabling Gandolfini.
When Bewkes complained about the quality of the wine at the Golden Globes, Gandolfini then brought up bottles of Italian wine he had brought in with him and stashed under the table, to the delight of everyone.
‘Like he would be embarrassed if I knew he was drinking at the table,’ Bewkes continued.
‘I drank with him thinking it would calm him down. I guess I was stupid.’
James Gandolfini is seen in January 2005, at a pre Golden Globes party hosted by HBO’s chairman Chris Albrecht at the Chateau Marmont hotel in LA. The following night he was supposed to host, but was too drunk before the show
Michael Imperioli is seen at the Golden Globes, presenting an award alongside Patricia Arquette because James Gandolfini was too drunk to do it
Another Golden Globes, in 2005, was altogether more problematic.
Gandolfini was supposed to present an award, but the crew were unable to find him.
He was eventually found outside the venue, the Beverly Hilton, ‘making snow angels on the lawn, so inebriated that he didn’t seem to notice the absence of snow.’
Gandolfini’s co-star Michael Imperioli, who played Tony’s nephew Christopher Moltisanti, took over at the last minute.
Gandolfini is seen playing Tony Soprano in the hit HBO series
The Sopranos team had attempted an intervention.
Gandolfini was invited to Albrecht’s apartment in Museum Tower near the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan in May 2003 – believing he was going to have a casual dinner.
‘I don’t remember us being worried he was going to die, but it became a real problem with shooting the show,’ Albrecht told Miller.
‘It became a lack of respect for the other actors as well, so there were sort of problems that bubbled up.’
When Gandolfini arrived, he found about a dozen people there, including series creator David Chase and family members.
The assembled friends, family and colleagues had spent two days rehearsing scenarios, Miller writes, and even had a private jet on standby to take Gandolfini to rehab.
‘The entire intervention lasted ten seconds,’ Miller writes.
‘Gandolfini walked into the apartment, saw everyone, sized up the situation in a snap, and immediately barked, “Oh, f*** this. F*** 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 Jimmy was having none of that.’
The casket of Gandolfini is escorted into the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine for funeral services in New York on June 27, 2013
Gandolfini’s death saddened the world, and caused ripples throughout Hollywood.
At the time of his death he was married to his second wife, actress Deborah Lin, with whom he had a daughter Liliane, now aged nine.
His son Michael, who was 14 when he found his father dead in a Rome hotel room, played a young Tony Soprano in the HBO prequel film Many Saints of Newark, released in October.
Michael, now 22, is the son of Gandolfini and his first wife, film producer Marcy Wudarski.