Share This Page

Gandolfini remembers his father in 'Not Fade Away'

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

When his “Sopranos” boss David Chase asked James Gandolfini to play another New Jersey Italian for his movie, a working-class dad unhappy with his musician-son's career choice in the swinging '60s, the big man didn't hesitate.

“I knew this guy,” Gandolfini says. “There's a lot of my dad in him.”

Pasquale, his character in “Not Fade Away,” is a gruff mechanic who runs a local Pep Boys auto-repair shop. He's pushing his son (John Magaro) to go to college. He doesn't approve of the kid's music, his long hair, his crazy clothes.

“You look like you just got offa the boat,” Pasquale — he goes by the assimilated name “Pat” — bellows.

“I heard that from my parents,” Gandolfini says, as the child of first-generation Italian immigrants. When he grew up in the 1960s and '70s, “My mother used to say, in her thick Italian accent, ‘You look like Professor COR-ey!' Remember (TV comic) Professor Irwin Corey? With the wild hair all over the place, and the long, baggy coat? I got a lot of that.”

That upbringing informs his father figure in “Not Fade Away,” combative scenes that highlight the generation gap between Depression survivors and kids indulging in the leisure of “finding myself.”

But Gandolfini truly paid tribute to his dad with the film's “You're a man, now” moment that has critics praising the “affecting, subtle strokes” (The Hollywood Reporter) of his performance.

“I remember when I realized my dad was a man, like other men,” Gandolfini says. “He had dreams. He had a life that was completely separate from his family.

“As a son, if you see and feel that, your relationship with your father gets better. You realize that he's not just stopping you from some dream of yours. He's showing you that you have responsibilities.

“So this guy, like my dad, was saying, ‘Get as much of the other stuff in as you can, but life isn't always going to be that way.' That makes you appreciate that this guy gave up stuff for you. It's a pretty big moment in a son's life, I think.”

Gandolfini pauses thoughtfully, remembering James Joseph Gandolfini Sr., a brick mason from Borgotaro, Italy. “He talked about ‘The War' late in life. There was so much I didn't know. You can have a vision of your father, but it can never be complete. He's not just the guy who drove me around when I was a kid, and yelled at me for not doing yardwork.

“That's something I owed to my father, and it was my way of playing him.”

James Gandolfini Jr. is making his mark as a stellar character actor these days, taking on one last mob hitman in the critically acclaimed “Killing Them Softly” — “You put all the mob guys I've played together, that's who this guy is. At the end, the arc of his life is finished.”

And in the hunt-for-Bin Laden thriller “Zero Dark Thirty,” Gandolfini is a testy, results-oriented CIA chief (presumably Leon Panetta).

“It wasn't a big part, but I wanted to be a part of an important movie. I liked the way it portrayed the military.”

But “Not Fade Away,” a Jersey tale with music, is closest to this Jersey guy's heart. Well, except for the music part.

“I remember when I was a kid my friend Ira Berman playing Bruce Springsteen for me, and I said, ‘That sucks. I can't understand a word he's saying!'

“Lo and behold, after listening to the album a few times, I got it. But boy, good thing I didn't work for Rolling Stone.”

Roger Moore is a movie critic for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.