In the latest episode of Talking Sopranos hosted by Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, the former cast members were joined by none other than Ricky Gervais, which revealed a rather surprising connection between all three parties. You see, in an alternative universe, The Office could have taken a completely different trajectory – if HBO hadn’t paid the late James Gandolfini a king’s ransom of US$3 million (AU$4 million) to turn down Steve Carell’s role, after the latter’s departure in season 7.
Given Gervais was the UK show’s creator, original Michael Scott – or more appropriately, David Brent – as well as the US version’s executive producer, the conversation naturally led to the seminal workplace comedy. That’s when Imperioli and Schirripa let their guest in on a secret even he wasn’t privy to.
“You know, they talked about having Gandolfini at one point replace [Steve Carell]… did you know that?” says Imperioli, the man behind Christopher Moltisanti.
“I think before James Spader and after Carell, they offered Jim, I want to say, $4 million dollars to play him for the season and HBO paid him $3 million not to do it – that’s a fact,” adds Schirripa, who portrayed Bobby Bacala.
“Jim was going to do it because he hadn’t worked and it was a number of years removed from when [The Sopranos] ended.”
“So they paid him that to keep the legacy of The Sopranos pure?” Gervais replied in jest.
“Well, that’s a good decision.”
While James Gandolfini didn’t make the transition from mob boss to corporate middle management with The Office, Steve Carell would eventually be replaced by a new Regional Manager of fictitious paper company Dunder Mifflin all the same.
After a brief consideration period which involved onscreen appearances from headlining names such as Will Ferrell, the aforementioned James Spader, Jim Carrey, and even a tongue-in-cheek cameo from Ricky Gervais himself, like many real-life talent searches, they decided to promote internally.
Series regular Ed Helms assumed the position of new Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin (Scranton, Pennsylvania branch) as his existing character, Andy Bernard. That was until Helms’ character was replaced by Catherine Tate’s Nellie Bertram, much to both the fandom and critics’ chagrin, before Carell returned for a final, heartwarming surprise cameo during the finale. Though we’d be lying if we said we weren’t even a little bit curious about seeing capo Tony Soprano chopping it up with Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute.
Now read our one-on-one interview with Michael Imperioli here.