James Gandolfini Went The Extra Mile For Jamie-Lynn Sigler On The Set Of The Sopranos

James Gandolfini is best known for playing New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano on the hit HBO series "The Sopranos," but his real-life personality couldn't have been more different from the brutal mafioso. Gandolfini shared a few problems with his fictional counterpart, including alcohol abuse and a bad temper, but no one is perfect, and his castmates have shared many stories of his generosity and warmth. 

One of the best and most important episodes in the series, "College," takes place in the first season, and doubles as the perfect introduction to what the series would become. Tony takes his daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) on a tour of colleges in Maine but runs across a former associate who went into witness protection, forcing him to quickly learn to balance his work life and family life in a disturbing new way. Gandolfini was great at bringing a warmth to Tony that's evident in the episode as he discusses his mafia life more honestly with Meadow. But it turns out that he was even more paternal to Sigler behind the scenes. "College" was Sigler's first big chance to shine, and Gandolfini made sure she felt as supported as possible. 

More than a fictional father figure

In the book "Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of the Sopranos," which mostly comes from transcriptions of the podcast hosted by "Sopranos" stars Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, Sigler shared a sweet story about how nervous she was shooting one part of the episode. She called Gandolfini being a huge help to her:

"That was in the scene where the two of us went out to dinner, and Tony's basically opening up about maybe he didn't have a choice as to what he was doing with his life. I remember Jim could feel that I was wanting so badly to do a good job and he said, 'Jamie, just look in my eyes and trust me, just talk to me.' He just gave me such great lessons about being an actress, during that whole episode. "

Some performers can be secretive about their craft, but it sounds like Gandolfini really took Sigler under his wing and helped her gain the confidence to be an even better actor. Just like Tony looked over Meadow, Gandolfini helped take care of Sigler, though hopefully he didn't threaten any of her boyfriends like ole Tone. Both Sigler and Robert Iler, who plays her younger brother A.J., grew as both people and actors as the series progressed, so it's nice to know that their TV dad was imparting good lessons.

Taking care of his co-stars

Not only did Gandolfini help support Sigler and boost her confidence, but he made sure that she felt comfortable making her voice heard, too. Young performers can sometimes be afraid to ask for another take or give their opinion on a scene, but Gandolfini made sure Sigler had room to speak up. Director Allen Coulter wrapped on a take and told Sigler that she was good. Gandolfini paused and asked her if she felt good about the take, or if she wanted to try something else, and it blew her mind.

"I didn't know I could ask that," she recalled. "He gave me a lot of gifts during that time. It was a special bonding time, just being the two of us. He really made me feel confident that I had a place in the show."

Imperioli, who played Tony's nephew Christopher, and Schirripa, who played Tony's brother-in-law Bobby, both immediately spoke up to share their appreciation for Gandolfini on set, with Imperioli noting that it was important to the late actor that everyone felt comfortable, both crew and cast. Schirripa was even more to the point, saying, "He gave a s*** if you were happy."

The man who made Tony a legend

"The Sopranos" was kind of a miracle, combining massive talents both on and off-camera to create one of the greatest shows in television history. The series had a lot of mafia movie royalty in its cast, as well as a real-life gangster and a famous musician, but Gandolfini was the beating heart of the series. His casting changed the whole tone of the show, and he took Tony Soprano from being just another angry, scary mobster to something so much more. He not only gave an incredible, nuanced performance, but he made a positive mark on all those he met. Whether he was helping teach his younger castmates, buying everyone gifts, or keeping co-star Lorraine Bracco laughing through an ongoing prank war, Gandolfini went out of his way to make sure that "The Sopranos" was as great behind-the-scenes as it was onscreen. 

It's almost impossible to imagine what TV would be like today without "The Sopranos," and it's even harder to think about what "The Sopranos" would be like without James Gandolfini. Not only was he perfect as Tony, but he helped the rest of the cast and crew be on their best game, too. That's a special kind of talent that should never be forgotten.