Michael Gandolfini admitted last month that opting to star in The Many Saints of Newark as a younger version of Tony Soprano, the iconic mobster made famous by his late father James Gandolfini on The Sopranos, was the toughest decision he’s ever had to make.
The 22-year-old actor elaborated on the conflict he faced in taking on the role in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above).
“The reservations were about just wanting to be my own actor, and I’d never seen the show,” Gandolfini reveals during a virtual press day for the Alan Taylor-directed prequel film, set in the late 1960s and depicting how a teenage Tony was steered into a life of crime by his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). “So I didn’t know what I could bring, or what I could expand on, if there was anything to expand on. And I wanted to be my own man and actor.”
What’s especially surprising about Gandolfini’s comments is his revelation that he’d never watched The Sopranos, HBO’s seminal mob series that ran from 1999 until 2007. Michael was born on May 10, 1999 — four months to the day after the show premiered. His beloved father died of a heart attack at age 51 in 2013.
But the young Gandolfini is not alone among the many stars of Many Saints, for whom prior Sopranos fandom was clearly not a casting requisite.
“I hadn’t watched it from top to bottom, I have since,” says Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Harold McBrayer, a friend-turned-foe to Dickie as tensions run high in Newark with racial unrest dividing the city.
“I watched the whole thing when I got the role, so like in one month,” admits Italian-born actress Michela De Rossi, who costars as Dickie’s girlfriend Giuseppina Bruno.
“The good thing about this movie, it stands alone. You don't have to have seen the Sopranos, which I really hadn't, in order to [watch] the movie,” says Ray Liotta, who portrays both Dickie’s father and uncle, twin brothers. “Yes, the characters were younger, [and] grew to a place where the series was. But it's also standalone.”
“I did not watch it when it was on the air. I was young, too, I was going into college,” says Billy Magnussen (Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri). “And definitely in college I could not afford HBO.”
“I think I was like a year or two behind,” says Corey Stoll (Corrado “Junior” Soprano). “The first couple of years I didn't have HBO and I was also just snobby… TV was just not good, you know? Then I think I was in a motel room, once, and it was like one of those places that [would advertise] ‘We have HBO.’ And I turned it on. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is like better than any movie I've seen this year.”
Creators of The Many Saints of Newark now hope viewers will say the same.
The Many Saints of Newark is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
Watch the trailer:
—Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick