Three years after his death, James Gandolfini’s passion project premiered, and it’s thriving.
“The Night Of” is an eight-part miniseries that airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. It currently has a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
The series was previously titled “Criminal Justice” and is based on a BBC series of that same name. It follows Naz (Riz Ahmed), a straight-laced Pakistani-American student who finds himself in the middle of a murder case after his one-night fling with a strange woman ends in her brutal death.
Gandolfini was in an unaired pilot of the show in 2013. He played Jack Stone, the lawyer who represents Naz. Around May 2013, HBO gave the series the greenlight, according to The New York Times. But the actor’s life was cut short when he died of a sudden heart attack in a Rome hotel in June 2013. He was 51.
Robert De Niro had signed on to replace Gandolfini but backed out due to scheduling conflicts, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Then John Turturro was offered the starring role. Turturro knew Gandolfini, who starred in his passion project, 2005’s “Romance & Cigarettes.” (Watch the “Sopranos” star sing “A Man Without Love” in the film.)
“I was friends with him,” Turturro told The New York Times. “I went to his wedding. I went to his funeral.”
After Turturro wrote to Gandolfini’s widow, he signed on, reassured that Gandolfini had only a minor appearance in the unaired pilot so there wasn’t much to “erase,” Turturro told The Times.
“[Gandolfini] very much wanted to do it and I wanted him to do it,” Steven Zaillian, who is a cocreator of the series, told The Hollywood Reporter. “But as much as I would have loved to have done it with Jim, this has really become [Turturro’s] part. They’re both great actors.”
While Turturro has gotten rave reviews of his performance, Gandolfini’s name is still in the credits, listed as an executive producer.
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