Gandolfini flashed a bit of 'Soprano' in Sandy's wake

Posted: June 21, 2013

ON A BLUSTERY and damp night last year, I connected with James Gandolfini behind a pickup truck in a Jersey Shore town that had nearly been swept out to sea by Superstorm Sandy.

It was a one-sided connection, no doubt, but I felt it nonetheless.

" New York Daily News?" he asked when I introduced myself, "What the hell are you doing up here?" he shot back when I said Philly.

I was in Mantoloking, a town I'd heard was damaged worse than most others along the coast. As soon as I got there, though, I realized I was in a very unfamiliar financial bracket. Even the rain slickers and duck boots everyone had on looked pricey.

The people of Mantoloking were coming back for the first time, en masse, for one night to light up a Christmas tree and have a little potluck. There was a brass band, lots of wine, cheese and craft beers, and then all of a sudden, this huge hulking man in a trench coat.

"Holy s---," I think I said aloud. "That's James Gandolfini."

Gandolfini's sister, Leta, owns a house there. She's a sweet, warm woman, who cried when we talked about the storm that destroyed her home. Outside, when I finally got the nerve to approach her little brother, he was wary. I reached for a handshake and got nothing but rain. He just kept palming the glass of wine in his monstrous mitt, eyeballing me.

But he was nice enough, realizing I was there to document the rising spirits.

"Hey, listen, we'll bounce back," he said to me. "This is New Jersey. We're pretty tough here."

Then one glad-handing local tried to crack a joke: "Hey, James, I think the mayor's worried you're stealing some of his spotlight."

And in an instant, I got one more moment out of Tony Soprano beyond that infamous black screen that ended the series.

"Oh yeah?" he said back, clearly annoyed. "Too f---ing bad."

DN Members Only : Gandolfini wouldn't have liked Tony to go out that way.

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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