James Gandolfini

They were mismatched from the get-go.

James Gandolfini was hulking, fearsome, and bristling with submerged rage and grief. Kristen Stewart was tiny, fragile and fronting false confidence as she spiraled into self-destruction.

At least, those were their characters in Welcome to the Rileys, a 2010 indie drama starring her as a teenage stripper/prostitute and him as the well-meaning but misguided father of a deceased child who thought he could try and save her instead.

Stewart has been silent since Gandolfini’s unexpected death last week from a heart attack at age 51, but with his funeral set for Thursday in New York, she is opening up about the loss of a friend and colleague:

“When I heard of James’ passing I was in New Orleans, where we met shooting, and every memory flooded back and gutted me,” she tells EW in a statement. “I’ll hold that time near to me forever. He was immeasurably great. My heart goes out to his beloved family.”

In real life, the pair had a bond forged by their mutual introversion. Neither one was a big talker, and each was famous for a character that created obsessive, sometimes intrusive fans. He was the Emmy-winning star of The Sopranos, she was the lead of the teen-girl-crazed Twilight saga.

When I interviewed her in 2009 for a USA Today profile, she had just finished shooting Welcome to the Rileys and talked about her low-key friendship with Gandolfini. “Jim was … the sh-t,” she said with a laugh after struggling for a moment to find the right word. “He’s quiet. We got along well because we let it happen the way it’s supposed to. It was very organic, very cool.”

Each actor was also trying something new with the indie found-family drama: Gandolfini wanted to show he was more than Tony Soprano; she wanted to prove she was more than Bella — not that those roles were easy to escape.

Everywhere Stewart went, Twilight fans tended to gather and freak out. She felt she wasn’t great at handling it at the time, though she admired the slow-burn of her Welcome to the Rileys co-star when boisterous Sopranos fans showed up.

“He has that. It’s so annoying,” Stewart said in 2009. “Everybody is like ‘Tonyyy! Yo, Tonnyy!’ I’m sitting there going, ‘Don’t do that … He will f–king deck you.'”

The admiration was mutual. Last year, Gandolfini wrote this piece for Variety about Stewart’s performance in On the Road. “Kristen Stewart is one of the mad ones. But mad in a beautiful way,” he wrote. “And she is determined to make people mad. To show them she is more than Bella in Twilight. To show them she does burn, and smolder, and wants more out of her career and life. And smolder she does.”

Here’s a scene of the two from director Jake Scott’s Welcome to the Rileys showing their characters, Doug and Mallory, in the midst of establishing an unusual, surrogate father/daughter relationship. Gandolfini is paying Stewart’s character to live in her dilapidated crash pad, but he has decided to extract a price from her when she breaks his rules.

It’s not a film that was as widely seen as their Twilight and Sopranos work, but it’s worth a watch — if only to see her as something other than the innocent, and him as something more tender than the mob boss.

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