James Gandolfini is responsible for one of the most iconic characters in the history of television. His Tony Soprano helped usher in the golden age of television that we’re still reaping the benefits of, and the actor was a force to be reckoned with. His quotes are timeless. Surely, had he not tragically passed a few years ago, we’d be marveling over other roles he elevated with the wide range that belied his imposing physical presence.
It turns out we don’t need to bemoan the future roles he could have taken, we can also be sad about roles he almost had when he was alive.
Don’t get it twisted; Gandolfini was never going to play Michael Scott. But after Scott’s character departed, and before the show settled on James Spader as the new boss, apparently Gandolfini was offered the role. On a recent episode of the Talking Sopranos podcast, hosted by Michael Imperioli (Christopher) and Steven Schirripa (Bobby Bacala) informing their guest, original Office creator Ricky Gervais, that fictional mob boss Gandolfini almost became a fictional paper boss too.
Until HBO told him not to. Or, more accurately, paid him not to.
“You know, they talked about having Gandolfini at one point replace him,” Gandolfini told Gervais. “Did you know that?”
Schirripa added, “I think before James Spader and after [Steve] Carell, they offered [Gandolfini], 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.”
Now that would have been something to see, Tony Soprano showing Dwight Schrute what’s what. Of course, we have no idea who Gandolfini would have played, or how he would have played him. The odds of him just doing Tony over again probably wouldn’t have been that appealing, though it would have been hilarious to see! It certainly would have made the last few seasons of The Office more interesting.
For whatever reason, HBO put the kibosh on Gandolfini joining Dunder Mifflin – they probably didn’t want their star to spoof his most famous character and potentially tarnish their show’s image, which seems silly and shortsighted. Sadly, we’ll never know what might have been, either on The Office or elsewhere.
But we’ll always have Tony Sopranos, and soon we’ll be able to watch Gandolfini’s son play the younger version in the upcoming prequel movie.