R.I.P. James Gandolfini

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I wrote a more traditional tribute to James Gandolfini, the star of the seminal HBO series The Sopranos, who passed away last week. You can read it by clicking here. But after turning in the article I remembered I once almost worked with James Gandolfini. Maybe.

The year was 2004. I had gotten myself into a private soiree at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I sat at the same table as a pretty girl when a big 50 year old guy in an expensive suit sat between us with a plate of food. He stuck his hand out to introduce himself, “Bob Moss” he said. I introduced myself. He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a writer.

“Really? You write movies? I’m a producer. Tell me what you got.”

I told him about my script for Deadbeat about a private investigator hired to find the son he abandoned 20 years earlier.

“That’s good,” he said. “Isn’t that good, honey?”

“It sounds great, Daddy.” I was glad their relationship was cleared up. The night continued and after many a drink Bob expressed great interest in my script. He interspersed this interest with details about himself. He was a businessman based in New York and his real name was Antonio Mozzarella. “Why did I change my name, honey?”

“Because it sounds more professional, Daddy.”

As the night wore down I went to my car and handed him one of the scripts I used to keep in the back seat for just such an occasion. A couple days later I got a call from Bob.

“What are you doing, right now?”

“Talking on the phone with you.”

“Good. I read your script.”

“Did you like it?”

“Like it? I loved it. I want you to come by the W hotel in Westwood. Do you know where that is? We’re going to go to a party and I’m going to introduce you to… I’m not even going to tell you who’s going to be there. It’s so exciting I want it to be a surprise.”

Since I knew the area Bob had me drive his rented BMW.  Bob was wearing a jumpsuit with the logo of every NBA team plastered all over it. Bob’s daughter came along and so did his 20 year old son who liked to do Zoolander imitations. The party, wasn’t really a party, more of a family get together at a two bedroom apartment in Beverly Hills. The guy Bob wanted me to meet was a middle aged guy whose father wrote the Frank Sinatra  Ocean’s 11 movie. He was a nice enough guy, but as he spoke about his stamp collection and his job at a UCLA library I couldn’t help but to feel I wasted a Saturday night.

Bob proceeded to drink the night away and around midnight I drove him and his kids back to the hotel. Bob was rambling, “Is that guy going to get your movie made?”

I explained, “He’s not really in that business.”

Bob continued talking about how he was connected. Not just mob connected, but connected connected. “Big things are going to happen for you.” he told me. I don’t know if I rolled my eyes, but he sensed I wasn’t taking him seriously. “Kids, I want you to go up to the room. I got to talk to him alone.” His kids went upstairs. When we were alone he asked me. “How are you doing with money?”

“Good, I got a job with a steady pay check.”

“I’m going to make a big success out of you. I’m connected.”

“You told me. But not mob connected.”

“No, I’m mob connected too. Take this.” There was a bill in his hand.

“I told you. I’m doing OK with money.”

“Take it.” It was a hundred dollar bill.  “Go get yourself a night cap. On Monday I want you to call me. I’m going to have my money guy wire $5,000 into your bank account.”

I drove away unsure if I would call him back. I didn’t mind taking the hundred. I figured I earned it for him wasting my Saturday night, but for the $5,000 he would expect something in return. Maybe I’d have to hold a package for him or hide a body.

A few days later a phone call woke me up. Back on East Coast time Bob put the money guy on the phone with me. “Bob, needs me to get your bank account number, so I can wire you some money.” I told him I needed time to find it.

Bob got on the phone. “My guys read your script. We’re going to put money into it. You know who we’re going to get the lead? James Gandolfini. Tony Soprano. What do you think about that?”

“That sounds great.”

“I told you I was connected.”

I wanted to believe Bob, but it was pretty unbelievable. That didn’t stop me from thinking about it. James Gandolfini would be pretty awesome. He’d bring a gravitas to the role I hadn’t intended.

Bob called me a lot over the next few weeks. Telling me how he was getting his ducks in a row.  How Jimmy was excited to play the part during his hiatus from the Sopranos. Eventually the calls stopped coming.

When I was hungry for money later I kicked myself for not taking the five grand. I have no idea what Bob’s motivation was. Maybe he just liked to play the big shot and when he went on a date he’d tell women he was a movie producer. When they didn’t believe him he’d say let me put you on the phone with my writer in LA. (Two different times he called me and asked me to say hello to two different women.) But I’d like to think Bob did get the script to James Gandalfini. That Jimmy read it and liked it and when he found the time he’d take the part.

But now sadly, that time is up.

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