James Gandolfini gifted his co-stars on The Sopranos a total of $500,000 after his dispute with HBO. The late Emmy Award-winning actor is best known for his iconic portrayal of the depressed mobster and angst-ridden father on all 6 seasons of HBO’s cultural touchstone series, The Sopranos. The show’s recurring cast also includes Edie Falco as Tony’s wife, Carmela, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler as their daughter, Meadow, and Robert Iler as their son, AJ. Michael Imperioli stars as Tony’s protégé, Christopher Moltisanti, and Dominic Chianese as his Uncle June. Tony’s two closet associates in the mafia, Silvio and Paulie, are played by Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico.
After season 4 of HBO’s critically acclaimed crime drama, its lead star was famously at odds with the network. Looking for pay commensurate to other television stars at the time, Gandolfini sued HBO and delayed the production of season 5. The actor specifically sued the network for breach of contract with the intent of negotiating for more money, either through settlement or voiding his current contract. At the end of the day, Gandolfini’s contract dispute benefited the entire cast of The Sopranos and set a precedent for other HBO stars as well.
In fact, Gandolfini ended up gifting his Sopranos co-stars $33,000 each after his intense dispute with HBO which saw his salary more than doubled, according to a new book, Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers by James Andrew Miller (via People). Because his contract negotiations delayed the filming of season 5 and left his fellow actors temporarily unemployed, Gandolfini decided to give each of his 16 co-stars on the show a generous $33,000 bonus, which came out to over $500,000 in total.
Before the whole controversy, Gandolfini was originally earning $5 million per season under a 6-year contract, a sizable salary for the time, but not when compared to that of network TV stars. During negotiations, he cited Kelsey Grammar earning over $35 million per season of Frasier (albeit for 24 half-hour episodes) and the entire cast of Friends who made $22 million by season 9. Gandolfini eventually came to an agreement with HBO to make $13 million per season.
Gandolfini passed away in 2013 at the age of 51, though his legacy will always be defined by his masterful portrayal of Tony Soprano, as well as the generosity he displayed to his fellow cast members after his very public contract dispute with HBO. His legacy will also live on through his son, Michael, who portrayed the character in The Many Saints of Newark. Both The Sopranos and its prequel movie are now streaming on HBO Max.