Gandolfini Plays Hardball with HBO

03/07/2003 at 11:00 AM EST

Tony Soprano is showing the family how business is done.

James Gandolfini, who plays the New Jersey Mob boss on "The Sopranos," filed suit against HBO in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday, claiming the network breached his contract for a fifth season, Variety reports. The actor is seeking declaratory relief that would free him from being obliged to return for the next season of the show, which is scheduled to begin shooting March 24.

The lawsuit alleges that Gandolfini, 41, was not properly notified within 10 days after HBO (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner) agreed to pay "Sopranos" creator David Chase $20 million for the show's new season.

The actor, contending that the Chase-HBO deal is a violation of his contract, wants out of his contract. An additional claim, notes Variety, is that Gandolfini's contract would exceed the seven-year limit for personal services contracts by the time a sixth season was ordered.

"Our legal position is that there is no obligation for James Gandolfini to perform services for the coming season," said attorney Martin Singer. He did not say definitively that Gandolfini would not return to the show.

The legal blast was said to take HBO by surprise, given that the network was in the midst of working out his new paycheck, reports Variety. Gandolfini, who currently earns about $400,000 an episode, is reputedly seeking $750,000 an episode, reports New York's Daily News.

"This is nothing more than a further renegotiation tactic by an actor with a binding contract," an HBO spokeswoman tells Variety.

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