"You were a good boy," David Chase said Thursday at the ceremony at New York's Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.
One of four speakers at the funeral, Chase gave his remarks in the form of a letter to Gandolfini, in the present tense. The actor's widow, Deborah Lin Gandolfini, and two family friends, were also speakers at the ceremony.
Chase remembered that Gandolfini once told him that "you know what I want to be? A man. That's all. I want to be a man." Chase said he marveled upon hearing that, since Gandolfini represented a man so many others wanted to be.
Paradoxically, Chase said he always felt he was seeing a young boy.
"A sad boy, amazed and confused," he said. "You could see it in your eyes. That's why you were a great actor."
The 51-year-old actor best known for his role as mob boss Tony Soprano in the HBO series died of a heart attack last week while vacationing with his son in Italy.
Celebrities and fellow actors were in the audience, along with members of the public who wanted to salute Gandolfini's work.
From "The Sopranos" was Edie Falco, Joe Pantoliano, Dominic Chianese, Steve Schirripa, Aida Turturro, Vincent Curatola and Michael Imperioli. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made an appearance. Dick Cavett chatted with actor Steve Buscemi near the front of the church before the ceremony started.
Some 1,500 seats had been set up. A private family wake was held for the actor Wednesday in New Jersey.
Susan Anton, who was Gandolfini's longtime dialogue coach and collaborator, spoke of how the actor struggled with his work.
"He worked hard," Anton said. "He was disciplined. He studied his roles and did his homework." But when the cameras rolled, his work was an act of faith that carried him to an uncharted place, she said.
New Jersey accents were easy to hear among members of the public waiting outside the cathedral and waiting for a chance to get in. A few people spoke in Italian.
"I'm a fan," said Saul Stein, 60, from Harlem. "I came to pay my respects today because he's a character I identify with, a family man."
One casual meeting with Gandolfini was enough to bring Robin Eckstein to the funeral.
"I had friends that worked with him," she said. "I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and he was just lovely. So warm ... As soon as he knew you were a friend of a friend you were his friend too. He'll be missed. I missed a meeting at work today. I told them I had a funeral to go to."
Broadway theaters paid tribute by dimming their lights briefly Wednesday night. Gandolfini was nominated for a Tony Award in 2009 as an actor in "God of Carnage."
Associated Press correspondent Bethan McKernan and Television Writer David Bauder contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.