Most might not be very familiar with Alessandro Nivola‘s name. But in truth, he’s an actor who has featured in enough supporting roles within a plethora of notable films. The odds of us having seen him on screen in recent years are actually pretty high. The latest update in Nivola’s filmography should truly put him on the map, too, as it has the potential to be his most buzzworthy role yet. Variety has the scoop that Nivola is the first cast member who could be tapped to star in David Chase and New Line’s feature film prequel to The Sopranos.
From a script co-written by Chase and Lawrence Konner (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire), acclaimed TV director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) will helm the project. The movie, titled The Many Saints of Newark, tracks the beginnings of the DiMeo crime family in the 1960s. The film will be set during the Newark riots and chronicle the lethal gang interactions between rival African-American and Italian-American crews of the era. Nivola is in negotiations to play a key figure in the gang’s initial genesis, namely Richard “Dickey” Moltisanti, the previously unseen father of central character Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli).
Although Dickey — who died prior to the events of The Sopranos — never physically appeared during the show’s six-season run, he is mentioned as an integral part of the DiMeo crime family’s flourishing notoriety alongside protagonist Tony Soprano’s father, Johnny Boy, and uncle Junior Soprano. A former military man and ex-inmate, Dickey reportedly served as a mentor figure for a young Tony but was killed when Christopher was a baby.
And in these “facts” lie the main value of The Many Saints of Newark. It’s worth noting that what is heard about Dickey throughout the series could still play out differently in the prequel film, and it’s all down to perspective. After all, The Sopranos has teased out a couple of divergent avenues for Dickey’s true self, particularly via other key characters like Tony and Christopher.
In the show, Tony considers Dickey to be a big brother figure in his life and some element of romanticization occurs when he reminisces on the latter’s more positive qualities. His connection to Dickey further manifests when he takes Christopher under his wing as both his “nephew” (thus, family) and an eventual part of the crew. In contrast, Christopher, having never really known his father, eventually grows disillusioned of this idolization of Dickey’s identity. This is especially so after he comes to terms with his father’s substance abuse. As Christopher blatantly tells Tony, “Let’s be honest about the great Dickey Moltisanti, my father, your hero…he wasn’t much more than a fucking junkie.”
Along with these character inconsistencies — or possibly, nuances — The Hollywood Reporter gives us some further insight into who Dickey will be in the prequel. Their article describes him as “a charismatic but violent made man” who gets into romantic entanglements with his own father’s much younger bride. Putting aside the fact that this in itself sounds like a concerning storyline (although seriously, stop pairing off young women with old dudes, period), more links to the original show can already be unearthed.
This romantic partner in question may or may not be Christopher’s mother, Joanne Blundetto. Her character distinctly exudes an icy impression when reminded of her dead husband during The Sopranos. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t rule out the fact that sparks could have once flown and then fizzled between Joanne and Dickey due to the latter’s latent qualities (that violence…).
Either way, Nivola has his work cut out for him to breathe life into such a conflicted character. Luckily, his resume gives us hope, despite the fact that he doesn’t often take center stage. Apart from smaller appearances in films like Selma, A Most Violent Year, and American Hustle — to name a few — Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience has been the biggest springboard for Nivola so far. The actor perfectly portrays the conflicted ideals of a man torn between rigid religion and fundamental virtue.
In general, it would seem that adding nuance to potentially two-dimensional trope-ish characters is Nivola’s forte, for another fantastic credit of his is Ginger & Rosa. That film sees him play the protagonist’s self-concerned intellectual father with enough nuance to undercut his own ego. And going back even further in his career, Junebug may be (rightfully) overshadowed by Amy Adams’ breakout performance in many respects, but Nivola admirably holds his own among a cast of eccentric family members.
Nivola is the right fit for someone as sinewy and opaque as Dickey — at least, considering what we know about the character for the time being, anyway. If an extended flashback to the beginnings of The Sopranos didn’t completely convince us of its prospects before, knowing exactly which of these peripheral characters will get their time to shine makes for some more encouraging developments. So, who’s up for playing Uncle Junior and Tony’s mom?