Like many people, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo director Gregg Dancho was saddened to hear of the death of iconic actor James Gandolfini, who died Wednesday in Italy at age 51. But Dancho had a special connection to the actor who shot a memorable scene for his acclaimed HBO mafia drama “The Sopranos” at the Bridgeport zoo in December of 2000.
The sequence, which is supposed to take place at the Bronx Zoo, involves Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano having a little afternoon delight with girlfriend Gloria (Annabella Sciorra) in the reptile enclosure. The love scene was shot in Beardsley’s rainforest building and raised some eyebrows among Connecticut residents when it aired. But Dancho said he still recalls the shoot fondly and particularly enjoyed meeting Gandolfini. Dancho said he showed the actor around the zoo and the two chatted pleasantly.
“He was happy to be in Bridgeport and he was happy to be at the zoo,” Dancho said.
However, when it came time to shoot his scenes, Dancho was told to stand clear of Gandolfini as he transformed into brutal mob boss Tony. “I was told ‘Don’t look at him,'” Dancho said. “There was this switch that he turned when he went into acting mode. It was really interesting.”
The “Sopranos” crew weren’t the only guests at the zoo that day, Dancho reacalled. “We also had a Franciscan order of nuns walking around the zoo that day,” he said, laughing.
He said he’s long considered putting a plaque commemorating the shoot up in the rainforest building. “We may still do it, now that (Gandolfini has) passed,” Dancho said.
Gandolfini was remembered by many of his fellow “Sopranos” actors on Twitter Wednesday night including, presumably, his Beardsley scene partner Sciorra who simply tweeted “no words. just sadness.”