[WATCH] John Turturro (‘The Night Of’): It felt ‘a little strange’ to try to fill his friend James Gandolfini’s shoes

“At first I felt a little weird because I’d heard James was attached and he really was a good friend of mine,” says John Turturro about playing defense lawyer John Stone in HBO’s miniseries “The Night Of” (watch our complete video chat above). The role was originally intended for James Gandolfini, who was also an executive producer of the project, but he died suddenly in the early stages of production, and Turturro ended up filling his shoes.

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Turturro had known Gandolfini since the early 1990s and directed Gandolfini in his 2005 film “Romance and Cigarettes,” so he still felt “a little strange” about stepping in. But when he read the scripts he was hooked. No matter the circumstances of a role “you have to make it your own,” he explains. “I had a lot of time to prepare, about four months, and I took advantage of that in a big way.”

“The Night Of” details the day-to-day process of the criminal justice system after a young Muslim man (Riz Ahmed) is accused of murder, and it’s that focused perspective that makes the series stand out from other TV procedurals. “That’s what life is: all these details. It’s all about the grey area. It’s not about the black and white,” says Turturro. The story is “endlessly fascinating” as a result, and also because it’s not just about the crime in question: “It’s also about money, it’s about race, it’s about all these things that have been pervading our election in some ways. I thought the handling of that was done with nuance, humor and intelligence.”

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Turturro’s next project couldn’t be more different, and it should make many fans happy: he’ll be revisiting his fan-favorite character Jesus Quintana from “The Big Lebowski” in a new film he’s writing and directing called “Going Places,” which is not just a “Big Lebowski” spinoff but a remake of a 1974 French film about sexually depraved misfits.

“There are no rules in how you get an idea – it just came to me,” says Turturro about how those disparate ideas came together. While working on “Going Places” he imagined Jesus as the central character, “and it was perfect in a way because if you’re going to take a character from another movie you don’t want to do the same thing … You want to develop it. I knew that there were legs to this kind of a character, there was complexity and humor.”

If “Going Places” is a success, perhaps there’s a road-trip spinoff in John Stone’s future as well.

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