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‘Sopranos’ Creator David Chase Discusses the Unknown Facts of the Show and Its Infamously Ambiguous Finale

'Sopranos' Creator David Chase Discusses the Unknown Facts of the Show and Its Infamously Ambiguous Finale

There isn’t a “Sopranos” fan alive who wouldn’t kill to know how the series actually ended. With a cut to black that caused half the show’s viewers to assume they’d experienced a power outage, the final episode gave us what is arguably the most notoriously ambiguous ending of any television program in history. Last night at the Museum of the Moving Image, however, where the screening of “The Sopranos” pilot was immediately followed with the screening of its finale, creator David Chase delved into the unknown details of the show and its production and, unsurprisingly, had to answer to a number of questions and theories from the audience regarding his peculiar choice for a series capper — which led to even more ambiguity. Read some of the highlights of the event below:

Networks initially called it “too dark.” One problem Chase had with “The Sopranos” was getting it off the ground. The showrunner stated about the networks he pitched the idea to that “they always say that ‘Oh, it was well-written, but too dark’ is what they say. They said, and I remember going to a network where a very important man nowadays said ‘You know, I got no problem with the shooting and the killing and the robbing and all that, but does he have to be on Prozac? Does he have to be seeing a shrink? Are you married to that shrink?’ And I said ‘Well…yeah…'”

The deliberate similarities between the pilot and the finale. One thing that was alluded to in the discussion was the pilot’s themes and plot points being reflected in the finale (e.g. explosions, depression, the American dream), to which Chase responded that “in a way, I think the pilot is the series. The series is the recapitulation of the pilot, a longer version of the pilot.” He added, “I noticed that too, that everything [Tony] said in the pilot kind of happened in the last episode. But I probably went back and read the pilot. Yeah, in fact I did. I went back and read the pilot.”

Ensuring a directing stint. David Chase had only directed two episodes throughout the whole series — the pilot and the finale — and even that started with a bit of a struggle. Having to fight for the right to direct the pilot, Chase asserted “I had done some directing, but HBO didn’t want me to direct. And I went over there actually, you know — they asked me questions like ‘What’s your vision?’ They always do that. ‘What’s you vision for this thing?’ I had a very clear vision and [media executive] Chris Albrecht, ballsy guy, said ‘Okay.’ ‘Cause I was very specific about it.”

Filming outside of L.A. was a totally foreign concept. “It’s funny, we went to all the networks with it and they would always say ‘It says it takes place in New Jersey, you’re gonna shoot it in L.A., right?’ — that’s where people used to shoot. Hollywood. ‘And you’re gonna shoot it here in L.A., right?’ and I’d say ‘No, I want to shoot in New Jersey’ and they’d say ‘Oh, you mean you want to shoot the pilot in New Jersey and then you’ll bring it back here and shoot it in Pasadena.’ I said ‘No, no, no, I want to shoot it New Jersey.’ And I talked to Dick Wolf about it and he said ‘What do you want to shoot in New Jersey for? If you want to shoot it in Manhattan, that’s one thing, but New Jersey? Might as well shoot it in Los Angeles.’ And I would go to somebody else and they’d say ‘Where do you want to shoot it?’ and I’d say ‘In New Jersey.’ And they’d say ‘Oh I get it, you’re going to do like NYPD Blue, you’ll shoot it in L.A. but you’ll go back every month for a couple of days of exteriors.’ And I said ‘No, no.’ And they would look at me like I was really stupid.

The pilot was meant to become a feature film. When approached with the theory that he would write a pilot that was good enough to get made but not to become a whole series in order to be able to turn it into a feature film, Chase admitted “Yeah, that was my strategy. I thought number one, because most series don’t work. I thought if I could get to direct this thing, they’ll never make it as a series. So then maybe I can get another half a million out of them and finish it off as a feature.”

Nancy Marchand was eerily similar to Chase’s own mother. “We probably read 100, 150 women and they all did this crazy Italian mama thing, one stereotype or another. And [Marchand] came up the stairs to the casting office, she could hardly breathe ’cause she was ill then. And I thought, ‘This lady, oh I know, she was in The Naked Gun.’ And she just did it. And you know, this was based on my mother. It was so close. Honest to God, it was spooky. And when my cousins saw it, they said, ‘David, my God, who’s that lady? That’s Aunt Marma!’ And I said, ‘I know.'”

Lots of bullshit sessions. In regards to the writing process, Chase explained, “You say ‘alright, well I got to do a story about Tony.’ And you go ‘Yeah so what happens?’ And pretty soon you get off that, and just start bullshitting about what happened that morning and [writer Terence Winter] would talk about his uncle, and it just goes on like that all day long. Just a long bullshit session, day after day after day. And then somebody will say something and go ‘Oh, that might be good in the episode!’

Hardest character to kill. “I’ll tell you who had the hardest, it was the guy who played, in the first season, Mikey Palmice. He really did plead for his life. More than once. ‘Isn’t there some way…?’ I said ‘Al, we can’t. That’s not the way it goes.’ And then we had the read-through, and so people were sitting down for the read-through and all the actors were getting ready, and he walks in and Tony Sirico is sitting there at the table and he goes [mimics gun noises]. He was trying not to cry.”

The effect of 9/11 on the show. “It was really pretty peculiar because our room looked out on Manhattan. We had these big windows and every time something went on out there everybody would freeze and look out the window. And I remember there was some kind of an accident on the Queensboro Bridge and all this smoke, and everybody’s like ‘Oh my God!’ And then there was also the power plant blowup on 14th street. It had had a great deal of effect and a lot of people — I’ve read, I forget who it was, when the show went off the air, was talking about ‘The Sopranos’ and doing this overview and said ‘there was this, there was that, and then…something in Chase’s mind went dark.’ Well yeah, it was 9/11.”

How the ending came to be. Upon the first mention of the series finale, Chase gave some insight into his thought process, informing the audience “well, [media executive] Chris Albrecht said ‘You should think about how much longer you want to do this show and we should have an ending.’ That was about two or three years before. I mean, obviously [the finale] has echoes of the ending of the first season when they were all sitting in the restaurant. Other than that, I can’t really say where the idea…it’s just an idea…” With the audience still unsatisfied, he elaborated that “I wanted to create a suspenseful sequence. I didn’t want people to be reading into it like ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ It wasn’t meant to confound anybody. It was meant to make you feel, not to make you think, but to make you feel.”

Possibility of a “Sopranos” movie. “A lot of people have talked to me about it. I still, frankly, flirt with the idea sometimes. If I had a really great way to do it, I would do maybe like a prequel.”

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