Three-time Emmy winner James Gandolfini portrayed Tony Soprano in the hit HBO series The Sopranos for six seasons, for which he was also honored with a Golden Globe Award and multiple SAG awards.
He’s now back on HBO with their new movie Cinema Verite, in which he stars as Craig Gilbert, the innovative filmmaker who in 1971 filmed the Loud family for seven months, which resulted in the 12-part series on PBS, An American Family. This was essentially the first reality program, which generated a backlash of controversy and criticism from the public.
You look completely different in this film from anything else you’ve done. Were you trying to hide your appearance as well as your voice that became so familiar with The Sopranos?
No. What appealed to me was the script and the subject matter and how it was such an intellectual exercise in the beginning, and it turned into such shit essentially, reality TV, and that was what interested me, how it started and what were the consequences and where it ended up. And I just thought it was good subject material that I’d never read about, and I was surprised.
When I say good intentions had turned to shit, I meant that An American Family had good intentions. It started with somebody who wanted to document a family in the ‘70s. It was an intellectual experience and it was exceptional. We see where it started out, what the consequences were, and how, years later, it has sadly morphed into today’s reality TV. I think An American Family was an extraordinary thing.
Have you watched any reality shows?
I’ve seen Housewives of Atlanta. That was extraordinary, it really was. That’s pretty much all I can say about it!
What insight did you gain into the filmmakers’ perspective on putting together a reality show?
When you are the producer of anything, I think you are responsible for getting it done, and I think that it’s a very difficult thing, and there’s a lot to deal with, and once it starts it’s a bit of a runaway train, and you have to deal with everything that comes to you. I’m not sure that answered your question, but maybe it did.
So in the context of when their marriage starts breaking apart and Craig’s pushing, ‘This is the best stuff, you have to be in there,’ did you get some insight into why that might be important from his perspective, if he had a point about the social relevance of it?
I think he might have had. I’m not going to talk for Craig Gilbert and what he wanted, and if he wanted to push something or if he had an end result in mind. I don’t think he did, but I think you’d have to ask him that.
You prize you privacy so much. Working on this, did it bring up some of the difficulties of being a public figure, of dividing your private life from your public life?
Not really. I don’t think it’s so bad anymore. I mean, it’s part of what we do, and, no, I didn’t really get anything from the show in terms of that.
Have you changed your opinion about journalists?
No, I think it’s our responsibility not to answer them. It might be your responsibility to ask questions, and I don’t get many stupid questions, unless it’s a certain venue.
I know you met with the Louds, can you tell us about that?
What I found fascinating is when I started talking to these people [about something that happened] 40 years ago, how pissed off they still are, and how strongly they feel about this show. You’ll see basically what went on, but something exceptional happened. And they remember a lot. [Okay], pissed off is a strong word, but [they were] very intense.