What Family Meant to James Gandolfini

In a November 2012 interview with TIME, the actor reflected on his parents and how he dealt with his own kids

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The role that brought fame to the door of James Gandolfini, who died on June 19, 2013, was all about meeting the obligations of his two families: the mob and his blood relatives. In an interview with TIME — conducted in late 2012, just after the birth of his daughter Liliana — the actor reflected on how his family life was very different from that of his parents, who were both raised in Italy, though his mother was born in the U.S. He had a clear sense of how lucky he’d been.

“My parents were not a bundle of joy, that’s for sure,” he said. “You know that generation had the war, and they had the Depression. My mother came over from Italy after the war. They didn’t expect, you know, this whole thing of happiness. When they did laugh, it was really a beautiful thing. It didn’t happen that often, and it wasn’t always everybody going around smiling and all that, and I think some of this happiness stuff that we put on ourselves ends up not serving us well.”

Gandolfini will, alas, not be able to participate much in the life of Liliana, but he apparently decided to be more involved in his kids’ lives than his dad was in his. “We communicate with our children,” he said during the interview. “We try to communicate with our children — ad nauseam, probably. Basically, we just constantly try to gauge how they feel. ‘Are you all right?’ and ‘What’s going on?’ I don’t think my father ever came to my school, not that I remember, to chat with my teachers.”

And he was evidently an influence in the life of Michael, his 13-year-old son with his first wife Marcy Wudarski. Father and son were reportedly on a boys’ trip together when Gandolfini died. Music was an interest they shared. “My son is very funny, because he’ll put on his radio stations and I’ll listen, you know,” he said. “And I’ll hear a few good songs, and then he’ll listen to the stuff that I play. And he really loves it. You can see how it still speaks to him.”

Gandolfini did not live as long as we all would have hoped, but he knew that he’d fulfilled his dreams in his short life in a way that his father may not have. In one of his last movies, Not Fade Away, he played a character he based on his father. “One of the things that struck me about the movie, was I remember the time when I realized my father was a human being with goals and desires and things that he wanted out of life. That perhaps he didn’t get because he had to raise and take care of a family and do all the things he was supposed to do and the jobs he had to do and things he gave up,” he said. “And I remember just sitting there going, ‘Holy shit. Wow.” You know, it really struck me how selfish I’d been.”