NEW YORK, May 3 (Reuters) Not since ''The Godfather'' has there been an actor so closely tied to his role as a mobster, but James Gandolfini, star of HBO's hit series ''The Sopranos,'' is breaking the mold in his new film by playing a cop.
''Lonely Hearts,'' which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, puts Gandolfini alongside his old friend John Travolta as two 1950s detectives tracking down serial killers who snared their victims using a lonely hearts column.
The film, which also stars Jared Leto and Salma Hayek as the murderous couple, is based on a true story and was written and directed by Todd Robinson, the grandson of the police officer played by Travolta.
''For once I'm not the guy losing my temper all the time,'' Gandolfini said of his role, adding that playing a cop was not so different to playing mob boss Tony Soprano.
''They're the same, they're all strong men,'' he told a news conference. ''They're trying to do the right thing and help people, but they have certain characteristics of strength and being able to get people to do what they want them to do.'' Gandolfini, now in his sixth season of the Sopranos, said he enjoyed being reunited with Travolta who he has worked with on three previous films.
He recalled looking up to the ''Saturday Night Fever'' star since the time when he used to get his tires changed at a car repair shop owned by Travolta's father in New Jersey.
Travolta plays a detective whose wife commits suicide, leaving him struggling to connect with his teenage son and with his job. When one of the victims of the Lonely Hearts killers reminds him of his wife, he makes it his mission to bring the murderers to justice.
Travolta said the director had made a huge effort to reproduce the atmosphere of a time when emotions were barely expressed by hard-bitten police officers.
''I grew up with these kind of men,'' Travolta said, adding that everything from the costumes to the wall-paper and the cars and airplanes in the film helped recreate the age.
''Not really since 'The Godfather' had I felt anyone tried to nail the era (so well),'' Travolta said.
Reuters CH VP0906