Today we mourn the loss of James Gandofini, who died suddenly to day at age 51 while he was vacationing in Italy with his family. He will always be remembered for his iconic role as Tony Soprano, the mob guy who was in therapy, in the ground-breaking HBO series “The Sopranos.” His portrayal of the complex man who was often at war with the world and with himself was mesmerizing. But he was also magnificent in a wide range of other roles. I especially loved him as Bear, the doting father, sometime stunt man, and occasional enforcer in “Get Shorty” and as the general in “In the Loop.” Last year he was outstanding as the head of the CIA in “Zero Dark Thirty” and as the father of a music-obsessed teenager in “Not Fade Away.” He was an actor of endless power and sensitivity, able to handle a lead role but an ensemble player who made everyone better.
Here he is telling Zoe on Sesame Street about what to do when you’re scared.
“In the Loop” is a scathingly funny satire about politics and politicians. While it names no names of individuals or countries or conflicts, it is inspired by the British and American government in the run-up to the Iraq war. But it is perpetually timely for its take on the pettiness and thuggery of complex organizations. Think “Dr. Strangelove” meets “The Office.”
I spoke to actor David Rasche and director Armando Iannucci, who also co-wrote, when they came to Washington DC for a screening and question and answer session.
Rasche has shown a skill for deadpan comedy as the title detective character in “Sledge Hammer!” But this is not his first political role — he played a CIA staffer in “Burn After Reading” and the President of the United States in “DAG” and “The Sentinel.” He is a confirmed political junkie and was really looking forward to seeing the movie with a Washington D.C. audience.
What do you think will be special about showing this film in Washington?
Various cities have various characters but I’ve found my group here. My wife can’t wait to go to the screening and see Washington look at itself in the mirror.
How did you prepare for this role of a State Department official who is both hawkish and bureaocratic?
I’ve been preparing for this role for eight years, five hours a day watching CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. So I brought all of my ammunition to that character, and made him arrogant, self-serving, condescending and belittling and supercilious. If that reminds you of Rove, Rumsfeld, or Addington, well….
Mimi Kennedy is also very, very political, and she also spent five hours a night watching the news. She was very familiar with the terrain not just through watching the news but through her own work with Truth in Voting.
The script gave us an adversarial relationship. It told me a lot of what I thought about her. And we drew some of our performance from Washington itself. This place is fierce! People will talk to you as long as they are interested. And everyone is always like “My take on this is smarter than yours is,” or “Bob told me, he didn’t tell you??” Every moment is a contest. As they say, Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.
This is a British film that shows the contrasts — and similarities — between the UK and the US. Is there a difference in audiences or styles of humor?
There’s no difference in humor. This is a British film but it has the same two strains of DNA as in American comedy, the verbal wit and the situational.
Your character seems to believe that facts would only distract him from the truth.
I think there’s some Illinois in that. My dad was a little like that. You’d say, “Want to try this new kind of curry?” And he’s say “Nope! Nope! Nope!” I think that is just what Rumsfeld felt. He already had everything he needed. I’m from Illinois, too! I can sing the state song!
You cannot talk about this movie without discussing the astonishingly inventive invective, the avalanche of profanity and insult.
The funny thing about it is that it is volcanic but somehow innocent because of the sheer magnitude. There’s so much of it, it’s silly. This is ornate, it’s oriental, it’s unbelievable, embroidered. In London, if you have less than three c-words in a movie it’s 13 and under. One of the writers specialized in this and when they needed some sort of over-the-top rant they would ask him for it.