James Gandolfini’s son, Michael Gandolfini, didn’t watch The Sopranos until preparing to audition for the prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark. Created by David Chase, the original HBO series traced the trials and tribulations of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a New Jersey mob boss who struggles to balance his Mafia family with his real family, all while coping with his own depression and anxiety with the help of his therapist, Jennifer Melfi. Running for six seasons from 1999 to 2007, The Sopranos is frequently considered one of the greatest television series ever made due to the writing, storytelling techniques considered risky at the time (including the frequent use of dream sequences and surrealism), and, of course, Gandolfini’s central performance. Though the controversial series finale aired in 2007, The Sopranos‘ cultural impact can still be felt today, a truth that provoked David Chase into returning to the iconic world he created more than two decades ago.
Details of a prequel film called The Many Saints of Newark first came out in 2018 before cameras started rolling in April 2019. The movie mainly follows Dickie Moltisanti, Chris Moltisanti’s legendary and much-mentioned father who died before the start of the series. It’s set amid the backdrop of the “Long Hot Summer of 1967,” particularly the Newark race riot that resulted in 26 deaths. Alessandro Nivola stars as Dickie alongside a supporting cast that includes Jon Bernthal, Leslie Odom Jr., and Michael Gandolfini, who was cast in the role of young Tony Soprano. Stepping into his father’s shoes was a daunting task, so much that Gandolfini avoided The Sopranos altogether until preparing to play the teenage Tony.
Michael Gandolfini told Vanity Fair that he didn’t start watching season 1 of the series until his manager insisted he audition for the part in The Many Saints of Newark. Though he completely ruled out auditioning for the role at first, Gandolfini, who was 14 when his father died of a heart attack in 2013, explained that he trusted David Chase to not treat the situation with any nepotism. He also noted the many difficulties he faced trying to watch the show in preparation for the role. Here’s what Michael Gandolfini said about the process:
It was really hard to watch my dad… I recorded four hours of his monologues with [Jennifer] Melfi and walked around New York with them constantly, constantly, constantly playing in my ear.
Despite his age and royal lineage, Gandolfini has already established a strong foundation of acting credits outside the Sopranos universe. He made his film debut with a small part in Ocean’s 8, followed by a recurring role as Joey Dwyer in the HBO period drama The Deuce. Though The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t release on HBO Max until September 24, Gandolfini will next be seen in the Russo Brothers’ highly anticipated crime film Cherry starring Tom Holland as an opioid-addicted bank robber.
It’s not uncommon for children of prestigious actors to carve out their own career path separate from their parents. Scott Caan, the son of James Caan, who’s most famous for playing hotheads bent on self-destruction, largely thrives in comedic roles like Turk Malloy in the Ocean’s trilogy and Scott Lavin in Entourage. Even Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington quickly became one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars following BlackKklansman and Tenet, a trajectory in sharp contrast to Denzel’s early acclaimed work in heavy dramas such as Glory and Malcolm X. Though Michael Gandolfini is leaning into his father’s legacy with The Many Saints of Newark, there’s no telling what interesting projects it could lead him to if his performance proves successful.