Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips and Slate movie critic Dana Stevens discuss one of James Gandolfini's last roles.

An unexpected loss

Louis-Dreyfus and Holofcener are struggling to accept Gandolfini's death. The "Sopranos" actor never got to see the finished film, and his turn as an insecure yet sweet man, both women say, is closer to his true personality than the thugs he was more closely associated with on-screen.

The role of Albert, as well as Gandolfini's part in last year's "Not Fade Away" from David Chase, speak to a compelling yet ultimately interrupted middle-age career change that the actor was cultivating with some anxiousness. "He was nervous, very nervous," recalled Louis-Dreyfus, who described the actor as charismatic and even goofy, yet thoughtful. "Somehow he kept wondering if he should be in this position."

Holofcener said she cast Gandolfini for his talent — and his girth. "He was afraid people wouldn't buy it — that [Eva] would ever go for him. Even though everyone on the set was attracted to him," she said. "I liked his belly. I wrote the script for someone to be overweight. He knew he had a belly, so it was OK to talk about."

The director's last visit with Gandolfini came two weeks before his death, when he came to the soundstage to do some voice-over work. "It was fun watching him watch himself," said Holofcener of that day. "He had his head in his hands for most of it. He was kind of pacing, but some of it he seemed to enjoy watching."

"Having those insecurities made him even more appealing," added Louis-Dreyfus. "An overly confident person is not that appealing — to me, anyway."

Many of the highlights of the film are improvised bits that Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini worked out during rehearsal. Even the ending was something that Louis-Dreyfus ad-libbed.

"I loved shooting the end of that movie. That was a glorious day," said Louis-Dreyfus. "The movie ends when it does, but when we shot it, it sort of continued and Jim and I walked into the house and we just hugged."

"You did?" asked Holofcener.

"Yeah," Louis-Dreyfus said, "because we knew we nailed it."