This Story About James Gandolfini And A ‘Sopranos’ Nude Scene Is Your Reminder He Was A King

"Jim recognised, on my face, that there was an actor in trouble."

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

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James Gandolfini is one of the finest actors to ever grace the small or big screen, an endlessly entertaining presence who brought life and humanity to any role that he played.

Of course, his role as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos is his best-known turn. But he applied the same grace and intelligence to all of his jobs, even when taking on roles as thankless as his supporting part in the not-very-good Brad Pitt vehicle The Mexican. The man simply couldn’t stop his own natural, light-bringing empathy; every word he spoke on film comes from a deep wellspring of care for his fellow human beings.

As it turns out, that care also extended beyond the screen and into the way he carried himself on sets. Need proof? Then take this remarkable anecdote, shared on the Sopranos podcast Woke Up This Morning.

According to Peter Reigert, who played Assemblyman Zellman in The Sopranos, Gandolfini came to the actor’s aid when he was being pressured into a nude scene. In the scene, Reigert was to be beaten by Tony Soprano, and in the original draft of the script, Reigert was to be nude. Following the table read of the scene, Gandolfini came over to ask Reigert how he felt about it all.

“[Gandolfini] said, ‘How are you with this?’” Reigert explains. “I said, ‘I’m not happy about this, man. I don’t think you have to humiliate an actor in order to humiliate a character, and I’m a little upset.”

Reigert eventually took his complaint up to the show’s lead creative voice, David Chase, but was quickly disappointed.

“David said, ‘Well, that’s the way I wrote the scene,’” Reigert continues. “I said, ‘David, I think I can act the shit out of this part and I promise you, the audience will be horrified by what they see, but you don’t have to humiliate me to get this across.’ David said, ‘Well, okay,’ and he left.

“I didn’t know whether I was going to get fired or not, but Jimmy [Gandolfini] said to me, ‘Whatever you decide to do, I promise you I will have your back.’”

Later, a relieved Reigert went up to James Gandolfini to thank him for sticking his neck out. “I said to [Gandolfini], ‘Do you know the word “mensch?”‘ He said, ‘Yes, I think I know what it means.’ I said, ‘It means “human.”‘ That’s what it really means. It’s as great a compliment as you can give. I said, ‘You are a mensch’ because he really did something.

“At that table read, I didn’t realize that Jim recognised, on my face, that there was an actor in trouble. And he made it so it was my choice. And I know this was not the only time he did so.”

There you have it: truly the man was a king.