James Gandolfini starred a range of great films including 8mm, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, The Mexican and Where the Wild Things Are. By far his most famous role, the one you picture instantly if his name means anything to you at all, is Tony Soprano. It is this extraordinary performance that makes Gandolfini our Big Man of the Month.
HBO's The Sopranos ran on television from 1999 to 2007, and followed the life of a New Jersey mob boss. It balanced violent crime drama with interpersonal relationships and an in-depth look at the psyche of a man struggling with the world he'd made for himself. We won't bore you by going on about how good the show was - we'll let its 21 Emmys, five Golden Globes and various other awards speak for themselves.
The Sopranos is important not only for the cultural capital the show holds on its own terms, but the influence it has had on television that's come after it. Engaging, challenging dramas like The Wire, Deadwood, Fargo or Breaking Bad owe the show for establishing the possibilities for serious long-form television, and The Sopranos writers themselves went on to work for series like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.
Gandolfini's star performance
As much as The Sopranos has inspired a generation of television, Tony Soprano inspired a generation of nuanced, conflicted characters. Brett Martin wrote for GQ after Gandolfini's death:
"Without an actor capable of finding Tony's melancholy, his soulfulness, his absurdity and his rage, the era of TV antiheroes may never have found its foothold."
But what makes Gandolfini so important to us is that he was a big man playing a big character, in a way we rarely see on television.
What makes James Gandolfini our featured Big Man?
Gandolfini as Tony Soprano was a perfect example that it's not just what you wear, but how you wear it.
What sets Gandolfini's Soprano apart was that he never relies on the 'large guy on TV' tropes we've seen so many times. He isn't just the chubby comic relief or the threatening goon (although the character incorporates aspects of both). He is a fully-realised, complex character. As Tony Soprano, Gandolfini portrays a man who is charming, sexy, sinister, relatable, funny, tragic and utterly compelling. He's all those things, and he looks like us.
In The Sopranos, big men weren't a joke, and they weren't something to be reviled. They were complex, they were relatable and they were human. Tony Soprano wasn't always a character to aspire to be, but that wasn't the point. He was real, and he was big. It was important for the world to see that.
The look of the man
On top of all that, he even looks good in a suit. As far as big men's fashions go, Gandolfini as Tony Soprano was a perfect example of the adage that it's not just what you wear, but how you wear it. As Esquire put it:
"Tony's clothes all looked like they came from The Men's Wearhouse, but they fit him well, and he looked good in them. He took an oblivious pride in the way he looked; I certainly can't think of another character, fat or thin, who routinely dressed up to go to therapy."
Gandolfini died in 2013, leaving behind two children and a body of work that redefined the roles big men can play in fiction. We appreciate his genius, the bravery of his performance, and the impact his legacy has had on the world.