Working with James Gandolfini and Reese Witherspoon Before They Were Stars

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Ron Greenfield

Ron Greenfield

On many occasions over the years, I have been asked about the actors and actresses I’ve worked with. Usually I’m reluctant to speak about it, because the top priority, for me anyway, was never about working with celebrities or well known personalities. For me, it was always about the film or project I was involved with – marketing and promoting it, which given the nature of my profession, required working with well known and accomplished artists and professionals.

At the same time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several people long before they became household names. The films themselves ranged from the good, to the bad, to anywhere in between. However, there were specific instances when an actor or actress caught my eye and made a lasting impression.

Why do some actors and actresses fall into that special lexicon we call stardom? It’s hard to know. Some people might call it magic. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s that special mix of artistry, personality, and chemistry that cannot be fabricated, and the audience takes notice of it. It is that indefinable something extra.

Personally, I found it to be in the nuances and the attention given to the details. It could be in a look or facial expression, the delivery of a line, or the way they embodied the physicality of the character they were portraying. It’s that inexplicable magnetism that the camera catches. Two who always come to mind right away are Reese Witherspoon and James Gandolfini.

Related: The Entertainment Industry Isn’t All About Glitz, Glamor, and Red Carpets

Reese Witherspoon

reese witherspoon early career

Reese Witherspoon at the 83rd Academy Awards Red Carpet by Mingle MediaTV.

It was 1996, and the film I was about to create a campaign for was called Freeway, produced by Oliver Stone’s company and co-starring Kiefer Sutherland. I can best describe it as a fractured, modern day retelling of the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood.

When I first saw Reese Witherspoon, I wasn’t familiar with her background, that she already had an impressive resume as a young actress, appearing in The Man in The Moon, Return to Lonesome Dove, and Fear.

It’s a fact, the majority of films are very predictable, and many times I would watch the screeners on fast forward, stopping periodically to pick up key scenes in order to get the essence of the storyline.

Not with Witherspoon. From the moment she came on screen, here was an actress larger than life. I can’t describe it, but she had my complete attention and my eyes were riveted to the screen. I sat back with my coffee and was just totally blown away by her, immersed in the movie as each scene played out. My immediate reaction: here was an exceptionally gifted actress, bursting with so much natural talent. Who is she? I thought. Why hadn’t I heard of her before? To say she dominated the movie would be an understatement.

She was a star in the making, on the threshold of a formidable career, with the talent, looks, and presence to succeed. Working with her was an absolute delight. She was always the consummate professional, extending herself to promote Freeway at screenings and conventions. I just knew she was destined for great things.

Shortly afterwards she was starring in more and more films. There was Election, with Matthew Broderick, followed by Pleasantville, with Tobey McGuire and Jeff Daniels. Then came her breakout role in Legally Blonde, and a few short years later, an Academy Award for Best Actress in Walk The Line.



James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini before celebrity

James Gandolfini at Toronto International Film Festival, 2011 by gdcgraphics.

With a different awareness, I was acquainted with James Gandolfini, but it wasn’t until I worked on Night Falls on Manhattan that I was made aware of what a truly gifted actor he was, by Sidney Lumet, the film’s director.

Prior to Night Falls, James could be considered a journeyman actor. He had supporting roles in such films as A Stranger Among Us, Angie, and Crimson Tide, but Lumet was the one who saw the enormity of his talent.

Sidney Lumet is often referenced as an “actor’s director” because of his great respect for actors, having started out as one himself. As I was preparing the marketing materials for the roll out of the video campaign, Sidney would repeatedly mention Gandolfini, pointing out a facial expression, or the particular delivery of a line. He was cast in a supporting but pivotal role, and would steal most of the scenes he was in, much to the chagrin of the film’s star.

It was his honesty as an actor that attracted Lumet, and many times, during one taping, he would remark, “Look at that expression. Look at how honest he is. He’s in the moment of the scene.”

I think it was the highest praise any actor could hope to receive from such an acclaimed and much admired director.



In a conversation shortly afterwards, when I first met Gandolfini, he casually mentioned an HBO series that was in development. It’s ironic now, looking back in retrospect, that the series turned out to be The Sopranos, establishing James Gandolfini as an actor of the highest rank.

There are, indeed, many others I could mention, but as I said from the beginning, it was never about the fame or the celebrity. It was about the project. It was about the talent, and with Witherspoon and Gandolfini, it was unmistakable from the start.

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Ron Greenfield

Ron Greenfield

Ron Greenfield has worked in a number of careers in the film and entertainment industry, most notably as a creative director at CBS/FOX, and the Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services at Spelling Entertainment Group.

He also served as the Chief Marketing Officer for the firm of Software Magic, he worked on developing console and online gaming concepts with companies such as Electronic Arts, Atari, Activision, Dreamworks Interactive, Mattel, and Lucas Arts.

His work also appears in the Hollywood Journal and on his website Aspects of Entertainment.
Ron Greenfield

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About Ron Greenfield

Ron Greenfield has worked in a number of careers in the film and entertainment industry, most notably as a creative director at CBS/FOX, and the Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services at Spelling Entertainment Group.He also served as the Chief Marketing Officer for the firm of Software Magic, he worked on developing console and online gaming concepts with companies such as Electronic Arts, Atari, Activision, Dreamworks Interactive, Mattel, and Lucas Arts.His work also appears in the Hollywood Journal and on his website Aspects of Entertainment.
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