The Sopranos star Edie Falco reveals that the show once had to stop filming a scene because James Gandolfini had eaten too much ice cream. The HBO series created by David Chase ran from 1999-2007 and became a television landmark, earning a Citizen Kane-esque reputation as the consensus greatest TV show ever made. After years of refusing to revisit the storyworld, Chase co-wrote a prequel film titled The Many Saints of Newark, which released earlier this year.
The central conceit of The Sopranos sees New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, played by Gandolfini, attend therapy after suffering a panic attack, though the show’s narrative and thematic interests often ebbed and flowed away from this premise, exploring an extensive cast of characters. While there are many reasons for The Sopranos‘ level of critical acclaim, among the most cited are the difficult, nuanced performances of this ensemble, and stars Gandolfini and Falco in particular. The two were so believable in their portrayal of married couple Tony and Carmela that the drama of their domestic life was often as engrossing, if not more so, as that of Tony’s criminal profession.
Much of this drama plays out over the show’s numerous food scenes, and in an interview with The Guardian, Falco shares a hilarious story about the consequences of her and Gandolfini’s differing approaches. Falco, who was vegetarian at the time and wouldn’t have eaten what was being served anyway, only made it appear as if she was eating, but Gandolfini always ate for real. Falco says she once noticed him starting to lose focus during a scene that required him to eat ice cream:
We learned tricks so it looked like we were eating, but we weren’t. But Jim ate in every frigging take, and he ate between takes. There was one scene we were shooting, where he was eating a bowl of ice-cream, and in every take he ate and would then re-fill the bowl, and then at one point, I realised he’s not really listening to me – he had gone into a sugar coma! We had to stop and shoot the rest of the scene another day. He was like a five-year-old: ‘The ice-cream is good, I like it!’ I was like, ‘You gotta stop, you’re gonna get sick!’
Meal scenes can often be challenging for actors, because, if they decide to actually eat the food, the need to maintain continuity across multiple takes from different camera angles can mean doing so for several hours straight. Falco’s fake-eating is common practice, but while Gandolfini’s decision to eat in every scene was surely driven by an appreciation for the food on offer, it also served an important thematic purpose. On a recent episode of Hot Ones, actor Rob Lowe explained that actually watching Tony eat makes him inherently more mundane and relatable, which is crucial for the character’s status as a morally complex protagonist.
Falco’s anecdote is truly delightful for fans of The Sopranos to hear, not only for its comedic value, but because the exchange between her and Gandolfini so closely resembles something that Tony and Carmela might’ve said. It’s also somewhat bittersweet, given Gandolfini’s tragic death from a heart attack in 2013, and that only makes the moments between them captured on camera that much more precious. Should HBO Max ever succeed in making a Sopranos prequel series, it will be interesting to see if whoever plays young Tony is as willing to commit to chowing down on screen as his illustrious predecessor.