Entering the Discourse is a thrice-weekly column where we dig into who is saying what about new releases and upcoming projects. Today, we hear from The Sopranos creator David Chase and actor Michael Gandolfini about the latter’s performance as young Tony Soprano.
Ever since The Sopranos ended in 2007, fans have felt a Tony-Soprano-shaped void in their hearts. But now, over a decade later, series creator David Chase has teamed up with director Alan Taylor for The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel film to the events seen in the series.
The Many Saints of Newark takes place between 1967 and 1971 as a young Tony Soprano is brought into a world of organized crime by his uncle Dickie Moltisanti. This is an origin story for Tony as well as an exploration of the mysterious Dickie and his own struggles navigating a life of crime.
David Chase on Casting of Michael Gandolfini as a Young Tony Soprano
In the original show, James Gandolfini played the gangster Tony Soprano to perfection, earning him several awards throughout the show’s tenure. But he sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 51. When it came to who would play a young Tony, casting Gandolfini’s son was a no-brainer for Chase.
He tells Rolling Stone he knew he wanted Michael Gandolfini as a young Tony Soprano “right away.”
Chase goes on to explain that it was “mostly because he looks like his father. And moves a little bit like him.”
As they started working together, Chase saw how the younger Gandolfini captured his father’s essence. He says:
“It felt miraculous. And sometimes when things are miraculous or astounding, you start laughing, because it’s so incredible.”
The 22-year-old Gandolfini proved himself before the camera even started rolling. Chase recalls a table read where the young actor was recreating Tony’s posture:
“And it wasn’t his scene. He was doing this thing, and I thought, ‘Holy shit. That’s incredible.’ He is his father’s son.”
Michael Gandolfini on Making the Performance His Own
The casting decision may have been a no-brainer for Chase, but Michael Gandolfini tells Empire it was “probably the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
He goes on to explain in the interview:
“You know, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to walk out of this feeling like I’d grown in terms of my feelings towards my dad. I just wanted to be the best actor I could be, portraying Tony in the way David wanted, scene by scene. I didn’t think about my grief because… well, I would have sh*t the bed.”
While Chase speaks of Michael Gandolfini’s ability to imitate his father’s acting style, the young actor did want to make the performance his own, while honoring the “beautiful sensitivity underneath this aggression” of Tony’s character. He says:
“This version of him is the reverse. His curiosity and sensitivity come first. He’s not a gun-wielding gangster. He’s a kid who gets whittled down and pulled in.”
The Story of Dickie Moltisanti
But more than a story about a young Tony Soprano, The Many Saints of Newark is about Dickie Moltisanti. Dickie is an extremely influential figure to Tony and the father to Tony’s protege, Christopher Moltisanti. However, despite being referenced throughout the series, he never made an appearance through flashbacks.
So for Chase, The Many Saints Of Newark is his chance to really explore that character. He tells Rolling Stone:
“I had interest in him as a character, and Christopher’s father, the whole story. That Christopher had a father. When Larry [Konner] and I sat down and started to write, we said that we wanted to have it be about a dynamic character. We had to get another Tony. And out of the history of the show came Dickie. A mean, tough guy.”
The Many Saints Of Newark arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on October 1st.