Tony Soprano is a near appendage of HBO, so much so that HBO paid James Gandolfini to take a knee when NBC offered him the chance to replace Steve Carell in The Office. On the latest episode of the Talking Sopranos podcast, Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa shared details of the $3 million deal with the creator of The Office, Ricky Gervais.
The star of the original U.K. Office series offered praise and appreciation for Steve Carell. who he said "put his life on hold for seven years," when Imperioli interjected. "You know, they talked about having Gandolfini at one point replace him (Steve Carell), did you know that?" he asked.
Ricky Gervais hadn't heard the story, so Schirripa then relayed the info while revealing why he says it ultimately didn't happen. "I think before James Spader and after 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. That's a fact."
Gervais deemed it a "good decision" before Schirripa continued, explaining Gandolfini was considering it, "Because he hadn't worked and it was a number of years removed from when the show ended."
While Gervais jokingly asked about whether HBO had paid Gandolfini, "to keep the legacy of The Sopranos pure," Schirripa spoke of a pre-existing contract the actor still had with the studio. "I guess that and also he had a deal with them. He was doing The Night Of, developing that," Schirripa concluded.
Andy Greene's book 'The Office (The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History)' describes writers and producers including Brent Forrester, Daniel Chun and Teri Weinberg were among those who spoke about Gandolfini's potential casting following Carell's departure from the show after season 7.
Forrester said that The Sopranos star "was really the one that we were excited about." Chun, Paul Feig and B.J. Novak had also met with the actor to talk about the role. "I remember him being really, really complimentary, but he wasn't super familiar with the show," Chun said. "He had watched a few episodes and was really unsure about comedy. He was like, 'I don't one hundred percent know how to play this.'"
The team was starting the development stages with the potential character, and Forrester remembers the actor saying yes - with it coming down to the Sopranos star and James Spader. But ultimately, Gandolfini turned it down, though Forrester said, "it was really, really close to (Gandolfini) being the boss."
"I don't think that we stopped talking to him," Weinberg said. "I mean, that conversation went on for some time but he had other shows that he was developing for himself and that was just part of what his focus was, so I don't think he was necessarily ready to just jump into this role."
The legacy of Tony Soprano and James Gandolfini will live on in the new film The Many Saints of Newark, which focuses on the formative years of Tony Soprano. Tony Soprano will live on as James Gandolfini's son, Michael Gandolfini will portray the young Tony Soprano. The prequel premieres Oct. 1 on HBO Max and in theaters.