There is no other actor who made me think about the importance of breathing -- as an actual tool for the actor -- more than James Gandolfini. I loved that the directors who worked with him let him breathe -- sometimes with great labor from his ribs as he worked a scene with urgency and physicality. They didn't clean it all up in post. They let him breathe.
It was the realism of his breathing -- the air trying to move through the arrangement of his nose, possibly the rearrangement having taken a knock or two --that made him undeniably his character. In the quieter scenes -- and in the Sopranos, the violent scenes could be so incredibly quiet -- it was his breathing through a line, a held breath, a sigh that set him apart for me.
He had, of course, a powerfully expressive face. I once heard Ben Kingsley define the greatest currency of an actor -- silence and stillness. For Gandolfini, I would add breathing, breath moving through his body. When on screen, I never felt I was simply watching a face -- I was watching an entire human being, a whole person.
Of course, he was a big man. His breathing was labored. He wasn't as healthy as he could have been. But still he knew how to use all of this in his work. He brought his entire self to bear.
I used to say, "I'd pay just to listen to him breathe on screen." I meant that he was just that good. To those who knew him well and loved him, I send my deepest respects. He will be missed.