We already knew the late, great James Gandolfini, best known for his work on HBO’s The Sopranos, was in the running to join NBC’s The Office when Steve Carell left the show. What we didn’t know, however, was that HBO paid Gandolfini $3 million not to take the part.
In a recent episode of the Talking Sopranos podcast (via The Hollywood Reporter), Sopranos actors Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa shared how Gandolfini was once in the running to head to Scranton, Pennsylvania and Dunder Mifflin.
“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,” Schirripa told podcast guest Ricky Gervais, creator of the original U.K. version of The Office. “That’s a fact.”
In the YouTube video of the Talking Sopranos episode, Gervais’ facial expression when hearing the story suggests he had feelings of incredulity mixed with muted horror at the idea of Gandolfini joining the popular comedy series. When Schirripa ended by saying Gandolfini chose to take the $3 million, Gervais looked visibly relieved. “Well that’s a good decision,” he said.
I can understand Gervais’ hesitancy, though I am sad we never got to see a Gandolfini version of The Office. What would his version of a bumbling office manager have been like?
Keep the Legacy of The Sopranos “Pure?”
So why didn’t Gandolfini take the part? $3 million, I suppose, is reason enough. And according to Schirripa, Gandolfini was considering it at the time, as it had been several years since The Sopranos had ended.
I’m sure walking away from The Office and toward an easy $3 million made things easier. But then that asks another question — why did HBO pay him for that? Gervais had the same question. “They paid him that to keep the legacy of The Sopranos pure?” he asked.
Schirripa didn’t think so. “He also had a deal with them,” Schirripa explained, referencing HBO. “He was doing The Night Of.”
The Night Of was an HBO limited series crime drama, and Gandolfini had shot a pilot episode in 2012 but sadly passed away before production could continue. John Turturro ultimately played the role Gandolfini was supposed to, and the series came out on HBO in 2016.
We’ll sadly never know what Gandolfini would have been like in The Office. He was undoubtedly an amazing actor and while he didn’t have the chance to test his comedic chops much, I bet he would have done a memorable job.
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