Roger Bart: Why I Encouraged James Gandolfini to Pursue Acting

Roger Bart Headshot - P 2013
Getty Images

Roger Bart Headshot - P 2013

The Tony winner tells THR how getting to know the future "Sopranos" star made him realize that "New Jersey needs its own Gene Hackman."

I was working at this restaurant managed by a friend of Jim’s. We would close up the restaurant and Jim would sit at the bar and we just became friends. The more that I got to know Jim, the more I thought, “New Jersey needs its own Gene Hackman.” He has that wonderful face and size. So I asked him whether or not he’d ever considered being an actor. And his response was no. I kind of bugged him about it over the course of that year and a half or so where we were both 22 or 23. I finally left a message for him saying, “You should do this.” And I placed a call to this wonderful teacher, Kathryn Gately, “There’s this really great guy who I think you might want to meet.”

What I really couldn’t fathom was how gifted the guy would be. I knew him when he was sort of a regular guy. We saw each other over the years after that a handful of times and the first thing out of his mouth to me was, “You’re the one to blame.” But I think it’s obvious that he sort of met me at a time where I kind of kicked him in a direction.

Read more tributes to Gandolfini below:

David Chase on the Last Time He Saw James Gandolfini (Q&A)

Jeff Daniels: James Gandolfini Pushed for 'God of Carnage' Raises

Chris Albrecht: James Gandolfini Stood With Cast in 'Sopranos' Contract Dispute

Marcia Gay Harden: James Gandolfini Helped Me Through My Divorce

Vince Gilligan: Without Tony Soprano There Would Be No Walter White

Patricia Arquette: James Gandolfini 'Slept in His Suit to Stay in Character'

Annabella Sciorra: Working With James Gandolfini Was 'Once-in-a-Lifetime' Experience

Drea de Matteo: James Gandolfini Was a 'King Through and Through'

Nicole Holofcener: James Gandolfini Played 'Sexy,' 'Hilarious' Romantic Lead

'Sopranos' Star Dominic Chianese Recalls Parisian Night With James Gandolfini

HBO's Michael Lombardo: James Gandolfini Was 'Ready to Jump' Back Into TV

Edie Falco: Onscreen Love With James Gandolfini 'One of the Greatest I’ve Ever Known'

Jamie-Lynn Sigler: James Gandolfini Made You Feel 'Everything Would Be All Right'

Wounded Warrior Project Co-Founder Remembers James Gandolfini's Charitable Side

'Taxi-22' Producer: James Gandolfini 'Had an Unmatched Detector of Creative Integrity'