James Gandolfini's Son Has Grown Up To Be His Twin

When James Gandolfini suffered a fatal heart attack in 2013, his family, friends and fans were united in mourning. Fellow Hollywood star Brad Pitt (who played alongside Gandolfini in three films) said he was "gutted by the loss," while Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow (who directed Gandolfini in Zero Dark Thirty) called him an "enormous talent." According to showrunner David Chase, it was Gandolfini's hulking frame, coupled with his ability to appear vulnerable, that made him perfect for the lead role in HBO's The Sopranos (1999-2007) — the show for which he'll forever be remembered.

The Italian-American actor reinvented the gangster with his iconic turn as jaded mobster Tony Soprano, and the show itself kick-started a golden age of television that we're still enjoying today. That's his professional legacy, but Gandolfini left behind a personal legacy, too. At the time of his death, the New Jersey hall of famer had an infant daughter and a teenage son. Michael Gandolfini was just a kid when his dad died at the age of 51, but he's grown up a whole lot since then and is looking more and more like his father every day.

Michael was with his dad when he died

James Gandolfini was vacationing in Rome when he suffered a fatal heart attack. According to the Today show, his official reason for being there was the Taormina Film Festival (He was scheduled to appear as a guest of honor and receive an award), but the Sopranos star wanted the trip to double as a father-son bonding session. Michael Gandolfini had recently graduated from junior high, so his dad thought it would be a good idea to bring him along for the ride. "He was going to combine the two things and they were going to spend some time together there," screenwriter and actor Pat Healy confirmed (via Today).

Sadly, their time together was cut short. According to one witness, the actor and his son were spotted getting a bite to eat at the Sabatini Restaurant in Rome's trendy Trastevere neighborhood. The pair was reportedly in high spirits during the meal. The following night, Michael reportedly found his dad collapsed in the bathroom of their hotel room. The teen immediately called hotel staff for help, but despite repeated attempts to resuscitate him at the hotel and at the hospital, nothing could be done to save the actor.

They were super close

According to TMZ sources, James and Michael were "very tight" and often spotted at hockey games together (They supported the Los Angeles Kings, despite being Jersey boys), but their special bond went much further than a love for sports. In the years since his dad's shock passing, Michael has revealed just how tight the pair was. Speaking at a red carpet event in 2014, the teenager spoke about what he loved and missed about his father. "When I think of my dad, the number one thing I think of is love," he told Us Weekly. "His huge arms. Big hands hugging me. Putting his finger in my ear. He was hilarious. The funniest person I've ever met." 

Michael's feelings have only intensified as he's grown older. Michael regularly posts tributes to his late dad on his Instagram feed, but perhaps the most touching of the lot came on Father's Day 2018. "Happy Father's Day to my best friend," he captioned the post, which contained several super-cute photos of James and baby Michael. "You truly were the funniest and one of the most loving Dad's that's ever set foot on this Earth. I want to celebrate you today, I wish I could give you the biggest bear hug in return for the million that you have [given] me when I needed it."

He didn't watch The Sopranos until later in life

Interest in James Gandolfini's teenage son picked right up after the actor's death, to the point that TMZ reporters were ready to pounce on him the moment he stepped off a flight in September 2014. The bashful youngster (rocking an Los Angeles Kings cap) seemed reluctant to engage at first, but when the reporter asked him if he watched The Sopranos as a kid, Michael started to open up. 

It turns out he wasn't allowed to watch the HBO show as a child (no surprise there, given the graphic content), but he revealed that he'd been catching up on it since losing his dad. "I know how it ends, but I haven't finished it yet," he said at the time, adding that his favorite show at the time was actually Sons of Anarchy. When TMZ shared the brief interview via its YouTube channel, the comments section was quickly peppered by people who just couldn't believe how much Michael looked like his old man. 

Entering the family business

Gandolfini is growing into the spitting image of his famous father, but the two have more than just physical attributes in common. The celebrity scion has chosen to follow in his father's footsteps, deciding that he too wants to be an actor. In fact, he already is. In December 2016, Michael revealed (via Instagram) that he'd been accepted into New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, whose impressive list of alumni includes such names as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Martin Scorsese, and Oliver Stone, to name but a few.

The young Gandolfini is set to graduate in 2021, but he clearly didn't want to wait until then to make a start on his acting career. He'd already written and starred in a short film called Flower when he won his place at NYU, and since then he's managed to bulk up his resume with a small role in Ocean's 8 (He played a bus boy in the female heist flick) as well as a semi-regular role in HBO's The Deuce (He appeared in five episodes as Joey Dwyer, the son of Chris Bauer's Bobby Dwyer.) The HBO show isn't related to The Sopranos in any way, but that didn't stop fans from theorizing about how Joey could actually be a young Tony Soprano.

He's been entrusted with a home in Italy

James Gandolfini's estate was reportedly worth $70 million when he passed, though the actor had to work HBO hard to make sure he was paid fairly for The Sopranos. The show made him a millionaire, but the money he was initially making wasn't in line with how well The Sopranos was doing. "He was being paid the same as supporting players like Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin earned on Frasier," Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr. said. "Here Gandolfini was, the indispensable star of the greatest drama in TV history, having to file lawsuits and scrap to be able to make more than the supporting cast of Frasier."

The actor got what he deserved in the end, and even though a considerable chunk of it ended up in the IRS coffers thanks to a costly tax error on the actor's part, he still left a fortune behind. In addition to money, the Sopranos star left Michael and his younger sister his property in Italy, along with instructions on how to deal with it. "It is my hope and desire that they will continue to own said property and keep it in our family for as long as possible," the will stated (via The Hollywood Reporter). The actor also set up a trust fund for his son, which will have "at least $7 million in it" when Michael turns 21 in 2021 and is old enough to access it, according to the New York Daily News.

He still sees his father's Sopranos co-stars

Fans of The Sopranos will no doubt be happy to hear that James Gandolfini's son has remained in contact with many of his father's former co-stars. Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano), Joe Pantoliano (Ralph "Ralphie" Cifaretto), Dominic Chianese (Junior Soprano), Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccalieri), Aida Turturro (Janice Soprano), Vincent Curatola (Johnny Sack), and Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) were among the Sopranos stars that turned out for Gandolfini's funeral in New York, showing their support for Michael and the rest of his family. For Michael, most of these people were practically family anyway.

Michael was born in 2000 when The Sopranos was still in its early days, and he grew up around the people who created and starred in it. He clearly struck up a rapport with a number of them, including his dad's on-screen kids, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and AJ (Robert Iler). In January 2019, he posted a picture with the pair to Instagram along with a touching caption: "Damn, I'm lucky that I got to grow up around these people," he said. "What a beautiful reunion. Big love all around." He's also stayed close to Aida Turturro (Janice Soprano), who clearly isn't afraid to give him a big smooch on the cheek when she sees him.

Reacting to his dad's last movie

As you would expect, James Gandolfini had a few different projects in the works when he unexpectedly passed away. Charming rom-com Enough Said came out the same year he died and went on to wow the critics, earning an impressive 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. "The performances are wonderful, particularly Gandolfini, who leaves every bit of Tony Soprano behind," one review said. Gandolfini was posthumously nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for his work on the movie, but it only seemed fitting that the actor play some kind of gangster in his final film role, and that's exactly how it played out.

2014's The Drop was also Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (It scored an 89 percent on the Tomatometer), elevated above your typical crime drama by some really strong performances from Gandolfini and his co-star, Tom Hardy. When the movie premiered in New York City, Michael Gandolfini and his mother were the guests of honor. "It was really bittersweet," a 14-year-old Michael told Us Weekly from the red carpet. "It was amazing to see him... The screen comes on, and I see him. I know he was happy — happy acting and happy in that moment... It was the last time he could be happy filming a movie, so it was very hard."

He's got a bromance going with Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy struck up a close friendship with James Gandolfini while the pair worked on The Drop. When he spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the movie in 2014, Hardy opened up about what it was like to be in the presence of a legend such as Gandolfini. "Jimmy had a big heart," the Brit said. "So it wasn't Tony Soprano; it was about an artist... I didn't have any of that [Tony Soprano aura] in my head. The key magnetism came from a kindred spirit of, 'I really give a f*** about the work,' and I know he does too, and I love him. I just wanted to please him with the work."

When he spoke to Us Weekly at the premiere of The Drop, Michael Gandolfini revealed that Hardy and the rest of the cast had been extraordinarily kind to him. "Every single person — Tom, Noomi [Rapace], every single person on this cast — they see me and hug me and my mom," he said. "They've included us so well and treated me with the utmost respect." Since then, Michael's friendship with Hardy appears to have blossomed into a full blown bromance. The aspiring actor called the Mad Max: Fury Road star his "absolute hero" in a September 2018 Instagram post, sharing some of the many photos they've taken together over the years.

He's playing Tony Soprano in a movie prequel

In January 2019, news broke that Michael Gandolfini had been chosen to play the younger version of his father's most iconic character. His resemblance to James Gandolfini obviously worked in his favor, but Sopranos showrunner David Chase (who is behind the prequel movie, titled The Many Saints of Newark) didn't give Michael a free pass. Auditions were held, but Tony Soprano's flesh and blood was the best of the lot, reported Deadline.

"His resemblance to Tony Soprano is uncanny," Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr. said. "The filmmakers engaged in an extensive audition process to find the young Tony before Gandolfini won the role. Insiders said that his screen presence, mastery of Tony's mannerisms, coupled with his resemblance to the elder Gandolfini made him the standout choice for the role because no one there understood the character better."

Michael joins a cast that already includes Alessandro Nivola, Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Billy Magnussen, and Corey Stoll. Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World, Game of Thrones) is directing the prequel, which is set in "the era of the '60s Newark riots, when African Americans and Italians of that city were at each others throats," Fleming said. "The story focuses on Dickie Moltisanti (Nivola), a mentor to young Tony as his own father, Johnny Boy, was grooming his son on a pathway to organized crime prominence."

Enormous shoes to fill

When it was announced that a movie prequel to The Sopranos was in the pipeline, there was a mixed reaction from fans and journalists alike. "A new entry to the Sopranos canon is a simultaneously exhilarating and worrisome prospect," The Independent said. "With The Many Saints of Newark, we will see new brushstrokes added to a masterpiece." The British newspaper called James Gandolfini's turn as Tony Soprano "one of history's greatest acting performances," so there's no shortage of pressure for his son.

When Deadline reached out to Michael Gandolfini for a statement, he didn't seem phased by the high expectations. In fact, the teen said he was overjoyed by the idea of stepping into his father's shadow. "It's a profound honor to continue my dad's legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano," Michael said. "I'm thrilled that I'm going to have the opportunity to work with David Chase and the incredible company of talent he has assembled for The Many Saints of Newark."