The drama from many high-profile TV shows tends to manifests behind the scenes, which was the case for The Sopranos, where James Gandolfini and show creator David Chase notably stopped getting along. Regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time, HBO’s The Sopranos was an enthralling portrait of modern gangster life through the eyes of mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). The series, which ran from 1999-2007, remains a cultural phenomenon – even after The Sopranos’ controversial cut-to-black finale.
After 14 years, Chase returned to The Sopranos with the prequel film The Many Saints of Newark, which revealed the early years of Tony Soprano. The Many Saints of Newark, which starred the late James Gandolfini’s son Michael Gandolfini as young Tony, was a major success on HBO Max but didn’t perform very well at the box office. The anticipation for the prequel movie revamped interest in The Sopranos, introducing a new generation to the series’ dynamic characters while also restimulating conversations on the tumultuous relationship between David Chase and James Gandolfini during the original show’s production.
The two men clearly patched up their differences before James Gandolfini passed away in 2013, as they made a movie together post-Sopranos and Gandolfini’s son starred in the prequel, but the years of making the original series were mired in antagonistic tension between them. This friction started brewing as early as James Gandolfini’s Sopranos audition, a difficult process that involved the actor walking out and having to be convinced by the casting people to finish reading for the role. By The Sopranos season 6, David Chase and James Gandolfini barely spoke, and the actor would jokingly refer to the creator as “Satan” on set. The arguments between Chase and Gandolfini underscored the family feuds on and off the show, but it’s often forgotten why the two eventually couldn’t stand each other in the first place. Here’s an overview of the behind-the-scenes Sopranos feud and what really happened between the creator and star.
Tony Soprano Took A Personal Toll On James Gandolfini
It was well-documented by The Sopranos crew that Gandolfini wasn’t always the most easygoing guy on set, occasionally manifesting his mob boss mentality offscreen as well. At the same time, Chase noted that the last seasons of The Sopranos were tough on Gandolfini, particularly due to the cruelty and brutality of his character. This made it hard for Gandolfini to still be excited about playing Tony, so his antagonism was a product of him really being done with the show. Chase recalled on The Originals podcast that Gandolfini had blamed his hostility on the character, saying, “Playing Tony Soprano is what makes me an a**hole.” By the accounts of those who personally knew him and worked closely with him, Gandolfini was a nice and great guy; the role just got to him. At one point, Gandolfini outright refused to come into work, which was clearly frustrating for the rest of the cast and crew. Moreover, Gandolfini and HBO’s contract disputes certainly didn’t help the actor’s relationship with Chase.
Combined with his issues with the network, the pressures of being Tony Soprano wore Gandolfini out, and it led to a party lifestyle that was rumored to have also negatively affected his work on set. On one occasion, Gandolfini and Christopher actor Michael Imperioli got so drunk between takes in a Sopranos season 4 episode that they had to chain themselves to a tree because they thought they would fall off a cliff (via Deadline). When struggling to remember his lines on set, Gandolfini would erupt in angry and violent outbursts in which he would “berate himself in disgust, curse, smack the back of his own head” (via GQ) in self-directed rage. Gandolfini’s difficulty on set was more inward, with Chase recalling how hard the actor was on himself while filming, all the while struggling with the intense fame he gained from the series and focus in the press. Notably, the list of Sopranos actors with real gangster connections doesn’t include James Gandolfini. He was just excellent at pretending to be part of this world – a process that clearly took its toll on the actor and how he dealt with David Chase.
Gandolfini & Chase’s Sopranos Disagreements Explained
There’s no single moment that pins down where the Tony Soprano actor and Chase’s feud began; it appeared to more commonly be microaggressions and annoyances that grew over the years. Gandolfini began to resent the pressures of the character and the levels of brutality he had to achieve to make it work onscreen, and his attitude toward the show reflected this. Indeed, the series is well-known for pushing the crime genre beyond its then limits, such as how the Sopranos adapted a Goodfellas story but made it much darker. At one point, Gandolfini even began calling Chase and The Sopranos writers “vampires” because they would steal personal events from the actors’ lives and write them into the show without approval (via Happy Sad Confused podcast). Chase has said that they were both very angry men, so they would fight and have disagreements, but it never became a screaming match or something that would end a friendship.
One moment, in particular, has stuck with David Chase for why he briefly hated Gandolfini, recalling a slight to his wife made at The Sopranos cast and crew’s final hurrah at the 2007 Emmys. This happened only several months after everything came together to give Chase the opportunity to end the show on his own terms, which is the main reason why The Sopranos was canceled. At the Emmys, Chase’s wife said hello and waved over Gandolfini to sit with them, and Gandolfini apparently ignored her and sat elsewhere. The Sopranos creator was deeply offended by this act for his wife, recalling that he “really hated that motherf***er. That’s what it had come to.” This seemed to be the final straw between the men’s passive aggression over the past couple of years, which led to even less communication following The Sopranos. Chase recalled that part of the reason the men had very little communication was because of how intense and stressful The Sopranos was, so with how difficult the series was on Gandolfini, nobody really wanted to “rehash anything or talk about it” (via THR). The feud between the men was more or less a matter of exhaustion rather than a real fight.
How Gandolfini & Chase Made Amends After The Sopranos
Curiously, when James Gandolfini and David Chase reunited in 2012 to make the movie Not Fade Away, it became clear that the feud was over. According to Chase, there was no real discussion between the men after The Sopranos on patching things up; it just sort of happened. Chase revealed (via The Guardian) his relationship with Gandolfini was more like being brothers, people who fight and don’t get always get along but understand each other at the end of the day. Chase shared that the two men hardly spoke following The Sopranos, but after a few meetings and conversations here and there, decided to reconnect for Chase’s 2012 movie.
This time around, Chase recalled getting along with Gandolfini really well, even propositioning him about a possible Sopranos movie. In contrast to when David Chase struggled to make The Sopranos, Gandolfini reacted more positively to the idea of becoming Tony Soprano again, saying that he would “need to see a script first” – implying it was a possibility. James Gandolfini sadly passed away before he could reprise his infamous role, but Chase cleverly decided to recruit the late actor’s son Michael to play The Sopranos’ young mobster for the prequel movie.
David Chase Described James Gandolfini As His Soulmate
Sopranos creator David Chase was interviewed weeks after James Gandolfini’s death, where he revealed how deeply connected they truly were despite their feud, which was essentially just a symptom of the demands of television production in the early 2000s. Chase explained that he understood why Gandolfini became difficult on set – no one on the show had to work harder than the lead actor, and this dedication translated to their shared pivotal legacy in the antihero crime genre. Moreover, as seen in how Many Saints of Newark reinvigorated The Sopranos‘ legacy and opened it to new generations of viewers, it’s clear that James Gandolfini’s performance continued to influence David Chase’s work well after the actor’s death. As Chase told The Guardian, “We were soulmates. We were close in the beginning and the more it became a huge battleship, a corporation, and a huge undertaking, the less time we actually saw each other, the less time we spent together discussing creative things.”
Indeed, the success of The Sopranos‘ was largely hinged on the creative partnership between Chase and Gandolfini. Ironically, it was the show’s massive success that also drove a wedge between the two. Thankfully, Chase and Gandolfini reconciled before the latter died. Chase even appeared in James Gandolfini: Tribute to a Friend where he spoke more about his complex relationship with his brother/soulmate.