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Director Matthew O'Neil collaborated with James Gandolfini on his veterans documentaries for HBO.
"So many people are remembering him as Tony Soprano. I'm always going to remember him as the man of such goodness who wanted to bring attention to the soldiers and airmen and marines that you see in 'Alive Day: Home From Iraq' and 'Wartorn,'" said O'Neil.
"He had heard the stories of the men and women serving overseas, and he listened to them, and he wanted to bring them back to Americans. So many more people were paying attention to him as an actor and it was so telling that in these programs, he was working to bring attention to the men and women that serve overseas," said O'Neil.
A visit to Walter Reed Hospital was the catalyst for Gandolfini's passion for 'Alive Day' He had already gone on several U.S.O. tours. He wanted the stories that people were telling him from their bedsides, that people were telling him while on those tours to reach a wide American audience, said O'Neil.
"He wanted people to stand up and pay attention. And he wanted to put his fame and his passion to good use and make sure those stories were heard," said O'Neil.
Viewers see Gandolfini's warmth with the soldiers in the movies that O'Neil directed, a warmth O'Neil said is perfectly natural.
"Jim connected to the people around him in such an intense and emotional way. He was interested in what people had to say. He listened. I think it's what made him a great actor. I think it what made him great producers. It's what made him want to tell these stories," said O'Neil.
"He was an incredibly warm and generous person, I think that's why you see such love from his friends, from his family, from his colleagues, and from the community at large, we all connected to something wonderful and good in him," said O'Neil.
O'Neil was working with Gandolfini on a project about the relationship between learning disabilities and incarceration rates.
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