James Gandolfini first came to prominence as a violent enforcer in True Romance, where he had a memorable (albeit brutal and bloody) encounter with Patricia Arquette. Given his size (6’1”), it would be easy to typecast him as the heavy. But his acting ability and charm won him a variety of roles: a kind-hearted Hollywood stuntman (Get Shorty opposite fellow NJ’er John Travolta), a gruff working-class stiff babysitting a spoiled ad exec (Surviving Christmas), and even the Mayor of New York (The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3).
James Gandolfini isn’t the only successful Jersey-born actor (Abbott and Costello, Ed Harris, Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson), but he was the first to fully embrace his roots as well as his fame and keep a balance on both. He rooted for the Scarlet Knights and would appear on the sidelines. He produced the documentaries Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq in which he interviewed 10 injured Iraq War veterans and Wartorn. He was also a fixture in the Tri-State area, appearing at dinners, lectures, and other public functions, all the while smiling and keeping his feet planted on the ground. And despite the credit that was showered upon Jersey Shore for revitalizing New Jersey, especially Seaside Heights, The Sopranos was really responsible for putting the Garden State back on the map, using locals in Kearny, Wayne, North Caldwell, and most notably Lodi (the strip club on the series Bada Bing! is actually Satin Dolls). Even after the show’s finale in 2007, fans from all parts of the globe can still see the actual shooting locations and other points of interest via The Sopranos Sites Tour (http://onlocationtours.com/tour/sopranos/), an four-hour bus tour.