The character Tony Soprano seems inextricably linked to the legacy of James Gandolfini — so much so that HBO paid the late actor $3 million to keep it that way.
During Monday’s episode of “Talking Sopranos” — a podcast hosted by “The Sopranos” co-stars Michael Imperioli, 55, and Steve Schirripa, 63 — it was revealed that Gandolfini had been offered a role to replace the character Michael Scott as branch manager of Dunder Mifflin on “The Office,” following Steve Carell’s departure from the NBC show in 2011.
The co-hosts spoke to Ricky Gervais, the British actor and comedian who played David Brent in the original BBC series that inspired Carell’s Michael Scott in the American version.
Gervais, 60, was discussing just that when Imperioli, who played Tony’s nephew Christopher Moltisanti, interjected, “You know, they talked about having Gandolfini at one point replace him [Steve Carell] — did you know that?”
Then Schirripa, who played Tony’s brother-in-law Bobby Baccalieri in “The Sopranos,” picked up the story for Imperioli: “I think before James Spader and after [Steve] Carell, they offered Jim, I want to say, $4 million to play him for the season — and HBO paid him $3 million not to do it,” he said, concluding, “That’s a fact.”
“The Sopranos” wrapped after six seasons in 2007 — four years before Carell would depart from his starring role in “The Office,” leaving space for Gandolfini to step in, had HBO not put the kibosh on the idea.
“Well, that’s a good decision,” Gervais said of the move. Schirripa continued: “Jim [Gandolfini] was going do it because he hadn’t worked, and it was a number of years removed from when the show ended.”
“So they paid him that to keep the legacy of ‘The Sopranos’ pure?” Gervais asked.
“I guess that and also he had a deal with them,” Schirripa answered, adding, “ ’The Night Of,’ he was developing that” — referring to the HBO crime thriller that wouldn’t debut until 2016, about three years after Gandolfini’s death.
Despite passing up the “Office” gig, Gandolfini went on to be nominated for a Tony Award for his 2009 role in Broadway’s “God of Carnage,” and in the same year, he voiced the monster Carol in the live-action adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.” He also produced a number of documentaries and features and completed two more films before his death — “Enough Said” (2013), co-starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and “Not Fade Away” (2012) — which were both released posthumously.
The actor died in 2013 at the age of 51 from a massive heart attack while traveling with family in Rome, just before he was due to accept an award at Italy’s Taormina Film Fest.
Meanwhile, the legacy of “The Sopranos” lives on with HBO Max’s upcoming prequel film, “The Many Saints of Newark,” starring Gandolfini’s 22-year-old son, Michael, as a young Tony Soprano.
“It was almost surreal to see Michael in the trailer,” Michael’s stepmother and James’ widow, Deborah Lin, recently told Page Six. “I know it took a lot of courage for him to take this role. It was very emotional. But the whole family is just so proud of him. His father would be very proud.”
“The Many Saints of Newark” will premiere in theaters October 1 and stream on HBO Max that month.