James Gandolfini's Most Human Moments

"Poppers and weird sex."

As Seen In: The Sopranos, "All Happy Families..." (Season 5, Episode 4)

Gandolfini was famous for his heft, a trait that allowed him to infuse Tony Soprano with an appropriate aura of menace. But it was his face that made him a great actor.

When confronted with a son who's blown off curfew and returned home with his eyebrows shaved off, Gandolfini's Tony automatically assumes the worst, as filtered through his own supremely out-of-touch context: amyl nitrate and kinky sex.

The scene shows Tony to be a bad father of spectacular proportions: absent (so absent he doesn't immediately recognize that his son's eyebrows are missing), yet not entirely so, so that he's a schizophrenic presence in his family's life, entirely unpredictable. In the course of two minutes, Tony goes from pinning his son to the wall to completely undermining Carmen's parental authority. They're all the things that are wrong with Tony as a parent-jumping to conclusions and then backing down when faced with the dirty work of discipline-which ultimately means that they're all the things that are real about Tony as a parent, and it's all revealed in Gandolfini's face, particularly the eyes. The clenched jaw doesn't relax much, there's too much stress in Tony's life for that. But the eyes change as he realizes that true parental responsibility will involve more effort than he's will to expend. They turn from menacing to conspiratorial, as he gives A.J. an out, like he'd feed an underling a cover story: "You had a couple beers." Bad parenting is as human as human nature can get, and Gandolfini pulls it off brilliantly here. —JE

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