'Zero Dark Thirty': James Gandolfini's secret role revealed -- EXCLUSIVE

The makers of Zero Dark Thirty have been holding on to some top secret information of their own.

While most of of the ensemble cast of the Osama bin Laden takedown film is already known, The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have been keeping one important bit of casting news hush-hush for months.

James Gandolfini will appear as one of the highest-ranking government figures featured in the film — Leon Panetta, the current Secretary of Defense, who was head of the CIA when bin Laden was found and killed.

There’s a too-easy joke to be made here: How awesome is it that Tony Soprano is involved in the effort to whack Osama?

In this first look of Gandolfini from the film, we see The Sopranos Emmy-winner in character as Panetta, a law school grad who became an Army intelligence officer in the mid-1960s and served in Congress for 16 years before becoming President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff in the mid-’90s. Panetta was confirmed as head of the CIA in 2009, which lead to his involvement in the final effort to track down bin Laden.

The primary focus of the Zero Dark Thirty, out Dec. 19, is on the many intelligence analysts, operatives, and military personnel who spent years tracking the al-Qaeda leader following the Sept. 11 attacks. As head of the CIA, however, Panetta oversaw the search for the terrorist leader, and wrote the memo documenting President Barack Obama’s decision to move forward with the May 2011 raid.

In his first and only major interview about the film, Boal previously revealed to EW that the president would not be featured as a character, which undercut criticism from Republicans that Zero Dark Thirty was designed as some kind of campaign tool to bolster the president’s image. (In fact, distributor Sony had already shifted the release date until well after the election to avoid the potential politicization of the film.)

Gandolfini joins a long list of actors co-starring in Zero Dark Thirty, among them The Tree of Life‘s Jessica Chastain as a key CIA analyst involved in the hunt for bin Laden, brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton as members of SEAL Team Six, and Kyle Chandler and Mark Strong as CIA officials. Other cast members include Brotherhood’s Jason Clarke, Lost‘s Harold Perrineau, Edgar Ramirez (who played the eponymous terrorist in the epic Carlos), Jennifer Ehle (1995′s mini-series Pride and Prejudice), and The League‘s Mark Duplass.

The film’s teaser trailer debuted in August (see it below), and a more detailed follow-up is expected soon.

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Read More:
FIRST LOOK: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ thriller explores hunt for bin Laden — EXCLUSIVE
No conspiracy: New documents explain Pentagon, CIA cooperation on ‘Zero Dark Thirty’
Jessica Chastain to co-star in Osama bin Laden takedown film

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