The Many Saints of Newark‘s Dickie Moltisanti is not the character that fans of The Sopranos would expect, according to the actor who portrays him, Alessandro Nivola. Now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max, Many Saints of Newark is the long-awaited and highly-anticipated Sopranos prequel film, written by the series creator, David Chase, and helmed by the show’s frequent director Alan Taylor. The film brings back many characters from the series portrayed by younger actors, namely Tony Soprano played by Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late actor who originated the role.
However, the prequel film’s central character is Dickie, Tony’s mentor and gateway into the world of organized crime. Many Saints is set in its titular city multiple decades before the events of The Sopranos when racial tensions erupted into the 1967 Newark riots. Tony finds himself caught up in a violent gang war between Dickie and his former numbers runner, Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.). Other returning Sopranos characters include Livia (Vera Farmiga), Johnny Boy (Jon Bernthal), Junior (Cory Stoll), Paulie (Billy Magnusson), and Silvio (John Magaro).
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about The Many Saints of Newark, Alessandro Nivola says the legendary Dickie Moltisanti is not the character Sopranos fans expect him to be. During the six months Nivola had to prepare for the role, he met with director Alan Taylor multiple times and worked with a dialect coach to perfect his Italian-American accent. During this time, he was able to create a version of Dickie that would “shatter the image Sopranos die-hards had in their mind,” which is exactly what writer-creator David Chase wanted. Read Nivola’s explanation below:
One of the basic facts of this story is that Tony [Soprano] (Michael Gandolfini) completely misunderstands who Dickie is. And like a lot of people, he only sees the side of Dickie that he presents to the world, which is one of being in complete control of his life and totally at ease with himself. But in fact, he’s an emotional wreck and unraveling as the story goes on. My main intent was to show the audience what no one knew about Dickie, what Tony never knew. So that was liberating but challenging.
The Sopranos creator David Chase has said numerous times that many of the characters on the show are liars who often say the opposite of what they feel, which is why he advised Nivola to ignore everything that was said about Dickie on the show and come up with his own idea of who he was. While Tony and other characters speak of him with great veneration, the film explores Dickie’s many faults and vulnerabilities which contributed to his untimely death.
Fans are certainly coming into Many Saints with a preconceived notion of who Dickie is, given that his presence as Christopher’s father and Tony’s former mentor loomed large over The Sopranos. Now that The Many Saints of Newark is out there for all to see, fans can begin debating the film’s various moments of ambiguity, a staple of Chase’s writing throughout the original series.