Flashback: James Gandolfini, Spotlight-Shy Star

Flashback: James Gandolfini, Spotlight-Shy Star

As high-profile an actor as the late James Gandolfini was -- thanks to his stellar performances in The Sopranos -- the man was known to be quite humble and reticent to hog the spotlight to talk about himself. In fact, while the actor would appear at the premieres of his projects, he only infrequently would talk to reporters lining the red carpet. In this special ET flashback footage, Gandolfini's reluctance to be front-and-center is clearly illustrated following his big Sopranos wins at the SAG Awards in 2008 and 2003.

Related: Gandolfini's Co-Stars & Peers React to His Death

In talking to ET's Mary Hart backstage at the 2008 SAG Awards, the shy actor only shared a few gracious words before grabbing Sopranos co-star Dominic Chianese to let him off the hook so he could steal away.

A few years earlier backstage at the 2003 SAG Awards with ET's Jann Carl, Gandolfini patiently stood alongside co-star Edie Falco and deflected praise towards her, the other Sopranos cast members and the writers of the show, quoting fellow actor Stockard Channing's remark at the show, "Acting is only as good as the people you're with."

When asked what the strangest part of celebrity is, Gandolfini declared with a cagey grin, "This," and literally slinked away, saying, "Please talk to Edie."

In an obituary remembrance written for Vulture.com by Matt Zoller Seitz (who covered The Sopranos for the Star-Ledger, the newspaper Tony Soprano would pick up at the end of his driveway in many episodes), the writer recalls that before the only one-on-one interview he did with the star in 1998, before The Sopranos premiered on HBO, Gandolfini called two days ahead and asked if there was any way of cancelling the interview without getting Seitz "in trouble with your bosses." Seitz says Gandolfini explained, "I just don’t see how I’d have anything interesting to say. Why would anybody care? I’m just not that interesting. Who cares what some actor has to say about anything? I’ll just come off sounding like an idiot."

Another time, Gandolfini once told a reporter, "I'm an actor. I do a job and I go home. Why are you interested in me? You don't ask a truck driver about his job."

James Gandolfini Dies in Italy

This might explain why Gandolfini was missing at so many junket interviews for his projects, and why he was so reluctant to stand for very long if the spotlight actually caught up with him. But by so many accounts, off-camera James Gandolfini was especially genuine, sweet, giving and real – the complete opposite of his Tony Soprano character and many of the others he portrayed. And for that reason, he will be missed that much more by those who knew him in the shadow of his onscreen legacy.

A class act all the way.