HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins makes a living telling compelling stories. When Business Insider recently interviewed Nevins at her office in Manhattan, we got to hear a few good tales from her illustrious career, including a never-been-told story about the late James Gandolfini.
Nevins once accompanied Gandolfini as he visited injured military staying at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. At the time, “The Sopranos” actor had recently starred in and produced the HBO documentary about soldiers returning home from war, “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq.”
“His heart was in the suffering of guys coming home,” Nevins said of Gandolfini. “I don't know why, I never got a chance to ask him why because we were too busy doing shows, but he truly cared about these guys.”
Nevins and Gandolfini were prepping another PTSD-related project at the time when they visited Walter Reed. Inevitably, the project would get scrapped due to the 2007 scandal at the medical center regarding the neglect of patients by the staff, which occurred soon after their visit.
However, the experience would be one Nevins would never forget.
Here’s her recollection of Gandolfini visiting patients on the traumatic brain injury ward:“Jim came down to Washington and we went on a tour of the floor. We went in and out of rooms. He was a real celebrity, he signed stuff, he was a very good sport about it. And then we went into a room where there was a guy who had half a head and his mother was reading the Bible and sitting there and she said, ‘Oh, my son loves you, he thinks you're the best, he just loves everything you do.’ She said, ‘Talk to him, tell him to get better.’ It was clear this kid was not going to get better. He wasn't there. And Jim talked and said ‘You get better, your mother is really reading to you and loves you and you're a great hero,’ and she said, ‘No, not that way, really talk like you are.’ Meaning Tony Soprano. So he said, ‘Listen you mother f-----g piece of s--t, you get your f-----g act together. You don't let your mother suffer after all she gave you, you piece of s--t.’ And the mother said, ‘Oh thank you, thank you.’”
“And Jim signs the Bible, or whatever she was reading, and he walks out of the room and just bursts into tears.”
Though the Walter Reed project never came together, Nevins said she and Gandolfini were working on a documentary focused on prisoners with learning disabilities when he suddenly died of a heart attack in June of 2013.
But Nevins will never forget Gandolfini’s appreciation for those who serve our country.
“His heart was in these wounded guys," Nevins said. "I don't know why, but he felt like one of them.”
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