The Sopranos star James Gandolfini was reportedly paid $3 million by HBO to turn down a role as the new boss in The Office, after Steve Carell departed the hit NBC sitcom. The piece of trivia was shared on the Talking Sopranos podcast, hosted by Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, who played Christopher Moltisanti and Bobby Baccalieri on the HBO show, which ran for six seasons and revolved around the life of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey gangster.
The hosts told the story to their guest, Ricky Gervais, who co-created the original UK version of The Office with Stephen Merchant, and starred in it as David Brent, the prototype for Carell’s Michael Scott. The sitcom, about the employees of a fictional paper company and their aggravating but endearing boss, ran for nine seasons.
“You know, they talked about having Gandolfini at one point replace [Steve Carell], did you know that?” Imperioli asked, and Gervais said he didn’t. Schirripa chimed in, “I think before James Spader and after Carell, they offered Jim — I want to say $4 million — to play him for the season, and HBO paid him $3 million not to do it. That’s a fact. Jim was going to do it because he hadn’t worked and it was a number of years removed from when the show ended.” Gervais joked, “So they paid him that to keep the legacy of The Sopranos pure?”
News of Gandolfini being approached for the part was first revealed in 2020, in Andy Greene’s The Office (The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History), which featured a bunch of writers talking about their experiences working on the show. “I remember him being really, really complimentary, but he wasn’t super familiar with the show,” Daniel Chun said about Gandolfini. “He had watched a few episodes and was really unsure about comedy. He was like, ‘I don’t one hundred percent know how to play this.’” The Emmy-winning actor died in 2013, at the age of 51.
Will Ferrell came on board as Carell’s replacement on The Office for a brief stint, but eventually, it was James Spader who landed the role as the regional manager of the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin paper company. Carell returned for a cameo in the series finale years later.
Fans of The Sopranos still have reason to cheer, however. The prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark, is ready for release in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service on October 1. The film will star Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, and Gandolfini’s son, Michael in the role of Tony Soprano.