James Gandolfini Paid ‘Sopranos’ Castmates $33k Each To End a Contract Dispute and Save the Show

by Chris Haney

Mobsters may have plenty of faults, but they’re often known for taking care of those around them. That was the case on-screen as a fictional mob boss and off it for Tony Soprano actor James Gandolfini once his contract dispute came to an end in the 2000s. After signing a lucrative deal with HBO to continue in the famous role, he generously gifted huge sums of money to each of his The Sopranos castmates.

In a new tell-all book about HBO and its programs, the story of Gandolfini’s generosity has been revealed. James Andrew Miller’s Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers released a few weeks ago on Nov. 23. In it, he writes about James Gandolfini renegotiating his contract with the network multiple times.

The beloved actor originally signed a $5 million per season deal with HBO to portray Tony Soprano. However, it didn’t take long for the series based on an Italian mob boss living in New Jersey to find success and skyrocket in popularity. After the third season, HBO doubled Gandolfini’s salary per season to $10 million. But that wasn’t enough, so the actor’s team repeatedly asked for more.

“Jim was a brilliant actor, but a complicated guy to deal with,” former HBO exec Mike Lombardo said in the book. 

The contract standoff worsened and James Gandolfini’s lawyers filed a breach of contract lawsuit in Los Angeles. HBO responded by countersuing the actor, but the two sides eventually came to an agreement. Production would’ve halted if the two sides didn’t find common ground. Gandolfini didn’t want anyone to end up unemployed on his account, so he agreed to a $13 million per season contract, or $1 million per episode.

After completing the deal, the Tony Soprano actor wrote each co-star a check for $33,000, according to Miller’s book. As a castmate later confirmed, it ended up being 16 checks in total, which equals a whopping $528,000.

James Gandolfini’s Generosity Remembered By Co-Star Steve Schirripa

Sadly, in June 2013, James Gandolfini had a heart attack and passed away at the age of 51. Following his death, his co-star Steve Schirripa who played Bobby Baccalieri on The Sopranos opened up about Gandolfini’s generous $33,000 checks.

“As good of an actor as he was, he was a better guy. A generous guy,” Schirripa said in 2013 while speaking to New York’s WFAN radio station. “The guy gave us $33,000 each — 16 people. In Season 4 he called every one of the regular cast members and gave us a check. He said, ‘Thanks for sticking by me.’ It’s like buying 16 people a car.”

During the same interview, Schirripa recalled how he felt after hearing that his good friend James Gandolfini had passed.

“My legs came out from under me,” Schirripa said of Gandolfini’s death. “I was completely stunned because Jim is the kind of guy who is invincible. He’s like that kind of guy. Nothing could happen to this guy.”