Michael Gandolfini knew the exact moment he wanted to play Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark. Gandolfini takes on a younger version of the role that his father, James Gandolfini, played to perfection in the HBO series The Sopranos. The prequel film from director Alan Taylor is set to release simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on October 1.
David Chase’s The Sopranos is widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows ever made, and the elder Gandolfini’s performance as the New Jersey mob boss undergoing therapy is a key reason for its reputation. The American actor took home three Emmys during the show’s six-season run, and the character of Tony helped set a new bar for the complexity of protagonists that could be explored on TV. Though he had other notable roles in film and television, his work in The Sopranos has been the crown jewel of his legacy since his sudden death from a heart attack in 2013, at the age of 51.
In an exclusive interview with SR, the younger Gandolfini reveals he knew the exact moment he had decided to take the part in The Many Saints of Newark. It was several weeks into the audition process, and Gandolfini was asked to read a scene that had been cut, meaning that he had no time to prepare the dialogue. Usually, he says, this is the most stressful type of audition, but he felt unusually confident this time:
Yeah, it was the last audition after probably two or three months. It was with David and Alan and [casting director] Doug Aibel, and I think Nicole Lambert, the producer. I had four or five scenes, and I’d done them. I’d been with this character for a couple months auditioning, and we’d finished – it was kind of done. I was sitting there, and David or Alan said, “There’s this scene that we have in the movie, and we keep taking it out and putting it back in. We just want to hear it out loud.” And it was the scene with the guidance counselor; this pre-therapy scene. I’d never seen it before; had never prepared – it was a cold read. And you guys know, cold reads are just the worst, because you have no time. And I remember just looking at it and being like, “I know exactly how Tony would do this and how he would say things.”
Gandolfini goes on to say that this feeling of “just knowing what to do here – I know exactly his triggers and how he’s thinking – really gave me the confidence of, ‘I can do this. I really hope I get it.'” He did ultimately get the part, and he has spoken about the character’s difficult complexity, requiring an actor to sift through several emotions in a single instant. After wrapping on The Many Saints of Newark, Gandolfini felt deep pride for his father, who spent years playing a role that exhausted his son after just a few months.
While many fans of The Sopranos are excited to revisit the world of the series, others are more apprehensive about treading on what seems like sacred ground, and this anecdote from Gandolfini should be exactly what they’re looking to hear. The Many Saints of Newark star obviously resembles the show’s incarnation of Tony, but it sounds like he also did the work to immerse himself in the character. Viewers will have to wait and see whether they believe his performance, and the film as a whole, ultimately does The Sopranos justice.