TORONTO - After Nicole Holofcener cast James Gandolfini in her divorcee romantic comedy "Enough Said," the "Sopranos" actor kept suggesting she rethink her decision.
Alec Baldwin, he insisted, would be far better suited.
"He would list some actors he thought could do a much better job," Holofcenter said in a recent interview. "I felt confident he could do this part. More than he did. He was quite certain that he couldn't pull it off."
What began as a stretch outside Gandolfini's comfort zone is now debuting, tragically, as one of Gandolfini's final performances. "Enough Said," which premieres Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival ahead of Fox Searchlight's Sept. 18 release, was filmed about a year before the actor died of a heart attack in June. (His final film, the Brooklyn crime movie "Animal Rescue," is expected to be released next year.)
Holofcener's "Enough Said" is about a middle-aged masseuse (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who begins dating a fellow divorcee (Gandolfini) also with a daughter going off to college.
Gandolfini's career was more varied than many realize, vacillating between comedy (the political satire "In the Loop," the Broadway play "God of Carnage"), turns of tenderness (the childless parent drama "We Are the Rileys," the Maurice Sendak adaptation "Where the Wild Things Are") and even musicals (John Turturro's "Romance and Cigarettes"). But he's particularly unadorned in "Enough Said," playing a sensitive, teddy bear of a father falling for Louis-Dreyfus's more hesitant character.
Holofcener, the director of the mother-daughter comedy "Lovely & Amazing," had nearly cast Gandolfini in the Oliver Platt role for her 2010 film "Please Give." Although Holofcener says she was "intimidated by him as a person and an actor," she knew she wanted to work with him. Gandolfini, in turn, had long wanted to move away from some of the more thuggish characters he's best known for - not only Tony Soprano but his henchmen of "True Romance" and "Get Shorty."
"I didn't feel like I was taking a risk," Holofcener said. "A lot of people said, `Oh, no one's ever seen him in a role like this.' But if you watch `The Sopranos,' he has an enormous range. That character wasn't just a bully."
Premiering the film in Toronto without Gandolfini, Holofcener said, is "bittersweet."
"I really wish he could have seen the finished film," she said, "because hopefully he would have seen how lovely he is in it."