“What the hell is happening now?” James Gandolfini asked, not quite smiling, at the start of an interview last week. Mr. Gandolfini is not big on interviews; journalists who mention his most famous role, playing the mob boss Tony Soprano, get swatted away. “I never think about him, ever,” Mr. Gandolfini, 49, said.
But some projects are worth talking about. For HBO he is an executive producer of “Wartorn: 1861-2010,” a documentary about the history of post-traumatic stress in the military; it makes its premiere on Nov. 11. And in his next film, “Welcome to the Rileys,” a dark indie opening on Friday, Mr. Gandolfini is a businessman with a fractured family who befriends a stripper, played by Kristen Stewart (equally touchy about her star-making turn in the “Twilight” series). The film, the second feature from Jake Scott (son of Ridley), was shot on location in New Orleans, one of Mr. Gandolfini’s favorite cities.
“I like dark places,” he said over lunch in a Midtown Manhattan hotel, spearing at a salade niçoise with such ferocity that the glass-topped table shook. “I’d love to live in New Orleans. I love the freedom of it — for good and for bad.” Mr. Gandolfini spoke with Melena Ryzik about the new projects, his aversion to watching his own movies and his love of stupid comedies. These are excerpts from the conversation.
Q. So, are you a big fan of “Twilight”?
A. Actually I’ve never seen it.
Q. Did you tell Kristen that?
A. Well, she didn’t ask. I don’t think she watched “Sopranos” much.
Q. Do you worry about typecasting? In this role you’re sort of a surprise softie.
A. I read a lot of different stuff. Mostly it’s not a lot of that stuff anymore with shooting and killing and dying and blood. I’m getting a little older, you know. The running and the jumping and killing, it’s a little past me.
Q. So it was only the nonviolent script that attracted you to this?
A. I found out Kristen was going to do it. I saw her in “Into the Wild.” Some people kind of jump off the screen because they’re — actually, it had nothing to do with her beauty. She’s beautiful, but her intelligence seemed to leap off the screen. I thought, this is a smart young girl. And Jake Scott, I know his uncle — Tony [Scott] actually gave me my first big film [“True Romance”]. It was different from something I played before, and I thought the script had some humor in it. I have not seen the movie yet so I don’t know how much humor we kept, but I thought it was good and interesting and had a pretty good point.
Q. Which is?
A. I understand the motivation of the guy, his essential goodness. And I think I’ve seen people like this, girls like this, and you just shake your head and go, how did it happen, so goddamn young, and it’s a bad path already at that age, 17, 18. That struck me. I hear people talk about, well, you know, I would never be in that position, and you’ve just got to do this or you’ve got to do that, and it’s your own fault. I go, no, not always. Some people get kicked in the teeth a lot, and sometimes we look down on that, and I don’t think it’s their fault a lot of the times. That’s what was interesting to me, that struggle of this is where I am now, how do I lift myself out of this and move on. [Grins] We’re getting pretentious.
Q. Why have you not seen the movie?
A. To me the experience of the movie is doing it. I trust the people I worked with and I’m not one to go and change the order of that stuff. Not that anybody would listen to me anyway.
Q. Do you watch much TV?
Q. But you’ve made two documentaries for HBO about combat, “Alive Day Memories” in 2007, and now “Wartorn.” How did you get involved in that?
A. It all started when we were doing “The Sopranos” and I would get letters or feedback from people saying the soldiers [in Iraq], they would go out and patrol and then they’d come back and watch “The Sopranos.” Tony Sirico [who played Paulie Gualtieri], who was a Marine, and I decided to go over there. Sheila Nevins, who was the head of documentaries at HBO, found out about this and decided that it would be interesting to do this documentary. Then I was going to go back to Afghanistan and Iraq with Tony Sirico again just to walk around and say hello to guys — we don’t sing and dance. She wanted to do something about post-traumatic stress from the Civil War on, and I said sure. We talked to a lot of guys, and they were pretty open with us. Gen. Ray Odierno said he would talk to me, which I was reasonably astounded by. He has a lot to do, head of everything in Iraq.
Q. Did the soldiers seem to connect with Tony trying to bridge the worlds of violence and family?
A. [Laughs] Maybe Tony had a little post-traumatic stress.
Q. “Welcome to the Rileys,” the play “God of Carnage” and of course “The Sopranos” are all about these besieged patriarchs. Do you have a particular interest in struggling families?
A. To be honest, I don’t, you know — who’s that guy that blows everything up? — Michael Bay hasn’t been calling too much. I’m fine with doing what I’m doing, these little scripts, I’m lovin’ them.
Q. You’re also an executive producer on a Hemingway movie for HBO. Are you a big Hemingway fan?
A. Actually not that much. I read some of his stuff, but I come from a pretty regular blue-collar background, I kind of like not to do too much research about something until the script’s done, so I can read the script as somebody would see it. Just a regular guy looking at it, saying, wow, that’s what this guy was about?
Q. If you don’t watch your movies, what kind of movies do you like to watch?
A. I watch stupid comedies. “Role Models.” I love them. “The Rocker.” I love that. I like idiotic comedies.
Q. How come we haven’t seen you in one?
A. Nobody’s asked.