The Sopranos alum Steve Buscemi saluted his close friend and frequent collaborator James Gandolfini with a sincere and slightly tearful speech at the Gotham Film Awards in New York on Monday night.
Gandolfini, who died in June of a heart attack at the age of 51, was honored in downtown Manhattan just across the river from New Jersey, where he played the role that made him famous, mob boss Tony Soprano. The Emmy winner’s sisters Johanna and Leta, his wife Debra, his son Michael, Michael’s mother Marcy, and his manager Mark Armstrong were all in attendance. Debra gave a brief speech after a reel of Gandolfini’s career played.
Buscemi, who both directed and starred alongside Gandolfini in the HBO hit, gave a short speech (above) that hit on the late actor’s intensity as a performer and his generosity as a human.
“Jimmy was very gracious and patient with me, and the more I worked with him, the more relaxed we both became,” Buscemi remembered. “To be accepted by Jimmy as a director was the best feeling in the world, because I respected his talent so much and I marveled at his process. Tony Soprano did not come easy to him; he couldn’t just turn it on and off, and he would sometimes resist going to the places he knew he needed to go, but when he got there, it was incredible.
“It could be scary, disturbing, uncomfortable, exhilarating, shocking, oftentimes heartbreaking,” Buscemi continued. “I couldn’t imagine any other actor out there who could make us care so much about a man who inflicted so much of his own pain onto those around him. And that’s a real testament to Jimmy as an actor, and also, as a human being. Anyone who knew Jim knew how generous and big hearted he could be, how compassionate and understanding. I feel that all of Tony’s best qualities were enhanced by Jimmy’s own character, his own pain, his heart, and of course, his own mischievous and wicked sense of humor. And that’s why we loved him.”