In an alternate timeline, James Gandolfini might have starred on The Office if HBO bosses didn't step in to prevent The Sopranos star from being cast. In an episode of Talking Sopranos this week, Blue Bloods star Steve Schirripa claimed HBO executives paid Gandolfini $3 million not to star on The Office. NBC was considering casting Gandolfini as Steve Carell's replacement. Even though The Sopranos had been off the air for almost four years by the time Carell left The Office, HBO allegedly thought Gandolfini could taint the show's legacy by joining the sitcom.
The subject came up when Schirripa and Michael Imperioli, who played Bobby Baccalieri and Christopher Moltisandi respectively, invited The Office co-creator Ricky Gervais onto Talking Sopranos, their weekly podcast. "I think before James Spader and after Carell, they offered Jim, 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," Schirripa told Gervais, who played David Brent on the U.K. Office.
Schirripa said Gandolfini seriously considered starring on The Office because he "hadn't worked" after The Sopranos ended, reports Entertainment Weekly. "So they paid him that to keep the legacy of The Sopranos pure?" a perplexed Gervais asked. "I guess that and also he had a deal with him," Schirripa said. Gandolfini was working with HBO to develop The Night Of, but he died before it could be filmed. Gandolfini received a posthumous executive producer credit when the limited series was finally released in 2016.
After The Sopranos ended in 2007, the beloved actor focused on smaller character roles in all kinds of movies, ranging from serious dramas like Zero Dark Thirty to the Carell-starring The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. In 2013, he also gave an acclaimed performance in Enough Said with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Gandolfini died of a heart attack while visiting Italy for a film festival. He was 51.
While HBO may have worried about harming The Sopranos' legacy in 2011, the network isn't that concerned today. Warner Bros. will release the prequel film The Many Saints of Newark on Oct. 1. The film was co-written by The Sopranos creator David Chase and directed by Alan Taylor. Gandolfini's son, Michael Gandolfini, stars as the young Tony Soprano in the movie, alongside Vera Farmiga as Tony's mother Livia. Billy Magnussen, Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, and Ray Liotta also star.