Everyone, it seems, felt a connection to actor James Gandolfini (inset), who died unexpectedly Wednesday in Italy at just 51. His portrayal of anxiety-ridden mob boss Tony Soprano on HBO’s “The Sopranos” made a deep and lasting impression on people.
Others, though, had a more explicit connection to him. Kingston actress-writer Marianne Leone Cooper and her Oscar-winning husband, Chris Cooper, both had the pleasure of working with Gandolfini. Marianne played Joanne Moltisanti, mother of Michael Imperioli’s character, Christopher, on “The Sopranos,” and Chris costarred with Gandolfini in director Spike Jonze’s 2009 adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”
While they didn’t socialize with Gandolfini, the couple had a great relationship with him on set.
“We have the utmost respect for him as an actor. He was always a sweet, humble, wisecracking guy,” Leone Cooper told us Thursday.
She had another interesting link to Gandolfini. In the early 1990s, when she and Chris were living in Hoboken, N.J., long before Tony Soprano became a household name, they rented a place from Gandolfini’s father. Marianne said she mentioned to James Sr. that her husband was an actor, and he responded by saying that his son was also in the business but wasn’t sure anything would come of it. Years later, she ran into Gandolfini’s father and teased him about the remark.
Meanwhile, Boston rapper-actor Slaine, who worked with Gandolfini on the 2012 crime film, “Killing Them Softly,” said the actor was smart and generous and kind.
“A really genuine, nice, funny dude. A larger-than-life guy,” said Slaine, reached in California. “He was like a hero of mine. He wasn’t particularly handsome. He just had a real charismatic quality and he gave me some words of encouragement.”
And former Globe reporter Anthony Flint had his own brush with Gandolfini. In 2009, Flint published a book about Robert Moses, “Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City,” and not long after, HBO optioned it with the aim of having Gandolfini star in the movie.
“I know he looked at several versions of the script,” said Flint, who now works at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “He was fascinated by Robert Moses, finding the power broker to be quite compelling. He believed, rightly so, that Moses had amassed incredible power and was very influential.”
HBO renewed the option a couple of times but it has since lapsed.