The late James Gandolfini proved himself to be a generous costar when he paid a total of more than half a million dollars to his cast mates on The Sopranos.
In James Andrew Miller’s new history of HBO, Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers, he reveals that Gandolfini paid out $33,000 each to the main cast members of the acclaimed series following a protracted battle of his contract.
The late actor, who died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 51, tried to make up for the threat of a work stoppage due to his increasingly large salary demands, according to the New York Post.
James Gandolfini, who died in 2013 at age 51, wrote a check for $33K to each of his Sopranos costars after waging a fierce contract negotiation battle with HBO after the show’s fourth season, according to
Miller writes that Gandolfini initially had a cozy contract giving him $5 million for the first two seasons of the hit organized crime series, which began airing in 1999.
Starting with season three, the Killing Them Softly actor negotiated an even better rate that earned him $10 million per season.
But Gandolfini and his representatives weren’t satisfied, and they pushed for even greater compensations for later seasons of the series, which was on the air for six seasons before concluding in 2007.
He wasn’t afraid to play hardball with the network, and he filed a breach of contract lawsuit in Los Angeles against HBO, in which he requested that his contract be terminated.
HBO countersued for $100 million in damages.
Rising rate: In James Andrew Miller’s Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers, he writes that Gandolfini earned $5 million for the first two Sopranos seasons and $10 million for the next two; seen with (L–R) Robert Iler, Jamie Lynn Sigler and Edie Falco on The Sopranos
‘Jim was a brilliant actor but a complicated guy to deal with,’ former HBO President of Programming Mike Lombardo told Miller in an interview.
After Gandolfini stopped coming to set amid his stalled contract negotiations, Chris Albrecht, the former Chairman and CEO of HBO, responded by punishing the rest of the Sopranos cast in hopes of getting Gandolfini to relent.
Miller writes that Albrecht announced that he would be shutting down the production, which would mean that everyone on the series would effectively be fired, and he blamed Gandolfini’s salary demands in his statement.
The actor wasn’t willing to jeopardize his costars careers for his initial request of $20 million per season, even though he was able to cite other actors, including Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer and the main cast of Friends, who were making more than his requested sum.
He accepted a final offer of $13 million per season, which would amount to $1 million per episode.
Hardball: But Gandolfini wanted $20 million per season from then on. HBO refused and the two sides went to court, before the network threatened to fire everyone on the show if he didn’t relent; seen with Steve Schirripa (L) on The Sopranos
‘I’m very happy that The Sopranos will be back,’ Gandolfini said in a statement at the time. ‘It’s a show that I love doing, with people that I love working with.’
Although it was HBO that threatened his cast mates in order to make him give up his higher demands, Gandolfini wrote a check for $33,000 to each of the main cast members to make up for the potential upheaval.
Gandolfini’s costar Steve Schirripa described his friend’s kind deed in a 2013 interview with New York’s WFAN station.
‘As good of an actor as he was, he was a better guy. A generous guy. The guy gave us $33,000 each — 16 people,’ he revealed. ‘In Season 4 he called every one of the regular cast members and gave us a check. He said, “Thanks for sticking by me.” It’s like buying 16 people a car.’
Giving back: Gandolfini accepted $13 million per season ($1 million per episode) and paid his 16 cast mates $33K each to make up for the threat to their livelihoods from the network; pictured with (L–R) Michael Imperioli and Steven Van Zandt on The sopranos
Albrecht added in his interview that the Enough Said actor’s contract denied his request for ‘back-end’ payments, or a share of the network’s profits on The Sopranos, though creator David Chase was able to get back-end profits in his contract.
‘We do not give any actors back-end because once you give one actor back-end, you have to give that to all of them,’ Albrecht admitted.
Shortly after negotiations ended, Gandolfini was given a ‘garish diamond-encrusted wristwatch’ worth more than $50,000, which he was allowed to keep on the condition that he wear it onstage if he won an Emmy for The Sopranos, and he kept his end of the bargain when he won.
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