The late James Gandolfini voiced his support for a Sopranos actor who was blindsided by a nude scene. The Sopranos remains one of the most iconic and well-reviewed series of all time, in large part due to Gandolfini’s memorable performance in the lead role. The series follows New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano as he balances personal and professional issues and seeks psychiatric counseling.
The show premiered in 1999 and ran for six seasons before coming to an end in 2007. The Sopranos is renowned for its shocking violence and sudden character deaths. Although beloved for its six-season run, the infamous series finale continues to divide critics and fans alike. Although the series has been off the air for nearly 15 years, public interest in the show remains high, and a prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark, was released earlier this fall. In addition, an oral history of the series titled Woke Up This Morning was released earlier this year.
A new article from Insider (via Woke Up This Morning) revealed that Gandolfini helped a fellow actor who was caught by surprise after finding out that he would have a nude scene. Peter Riegert, who guest-starred in seasons three and four as Ronald Zellman, explains that he showed up the table read for one particular episode in season 4 and discovered that a scene involved Tony stripping Zellman’s pants and underwear off before beating him with a belt. According to Riegert, Gandolfini immediately recognized that Riegert was uncomfortable and convinced creator David Chase to edit the scene. Check out Riegert’s full comment below:
“I show up at the [table] read and find out what I was going to be doing. The scene was Tony beating the living sh** out of me with a belt, but in the scene description, it’s written that he pulls my underwear off. I was going to be naked. As far as I’m concerned, I would have liked a heads-up on that.
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.”
The scene in question was eventually edited, albeit reluctantly on Chase’s part, so Riegert got to keep his underwear on while Tony beat him. Ultimately, the essence of the scene was preserved, says Riegert, because, after finding out that the prop belt was made of Styrofoam, Riegert instructed Gandolfini to “whale away,” which meant Zellman was still humiliated when all was said and done. Riegert praises Gandolfini for recognizing that he was worried about the scene, saying: “The thing was, at that table read, I didn’t realize that Jim recognized, on my face, that there was an actor in trouble. And he made it, so it was my choice.”
As the series lead, Gandolfini held a significant amount of power on The Sopranos. As evidenced by Riegert’s story, he wasn’t afraid to wield it to make sure actors were comfortable on set. Finding out about an upcoming nude scene through a cast table read doesn’t sound like an ideal situation, and it speaks to Gandolfini’s professional attitude and sensibilities that he so quickly recognized the need to intervene. The Sopranos is currently available to stream in its entirety on Hulu.