In his upcoming book Difficult Men, author Brett Martin relates an episode from 2002 when James Gandolfini vanished from the set of The Sopranos in the middle of filming the show's third season. At first, after the actor missed a 6 a.m. call, producers simply worked around his absence, shooting other scenes. Gandolfini was famous for his eccentricities. But after a few days without word, people got nervous.
For a murderous thug who made his living through extortion, theft and corruption, Tony Soprano was a remarkably easy guy to sympathize with. We felt the pain of his unhappy upbringing, of his frustrations with his coworkers, of the continual pressure to keep earning enough to afford the affluent suburban lifestyle to which his family had become accustomed. We were touched by his affection for the wild ducks that congregated in his swimming pool. When he went to a psychiatrist in the pilot episode and was forced to confront his struggle with depression, it felt painfully real to us.
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