Leslie Odom Jr. Didn’t Know He Was Auditioning for ‘Sopranos’ Movie

Odom's top-secret audition process for the upcoming "The Many Saints of Newark" eventually yielded the first Black lead in the "Sopranos" universe.

The “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark,” set decades before the HBO series in 1967, is finally coming into view with an October 1 release date after several delays. That means it’s high time for plenty of “Sopranos” stars new and old to revisit the beloved TV series to prime newcomers and fans to return to David Chase’s world of the mafia in New Jersey. Rolling Stone has put together a series of interviews with the cast and crew of the Alan Taylor-directed movie, including with Oscar nominee Leslie Odom Jr.

The “One Night in Miami” star plays Harold McBrayer, a small-time numbers runner with big ambitions who works for Dickie Moltisanti (played by Alessandro Nivola and the film’s lead character). Harold marks the first Black gangster with a major role in “Sopranos” history. But according to Leslie Odom Jr., he had no idea what he was taking on during the movie’s top-secret audition process. Or even that this was a “Sopranos” movie at all.

“I’d heard that the film was happening. I wasn’t up for it in the original rounds of auditions. But there came a point where they needed someone quickly, and I got the call. I don’t even know that I knew I was auditioning for the ‘Sopranos’ [movie],” Odom Jr. said. “They keep things very tight to the vest. They’re like the MCU. They don’t send you a script, don’t send you character names, scenarios are changed. You have to make some choices as an actor. You take what you see, and you start inventing.”

Odom Jr. said that the shadowy audition process also had to do with the fact that he didn’t receive a screenplay up front.

“I got a call that they liked the tape that I made, but they had some notes for me. I taped again, then they wanted me to tape again with more notes. And I said, ‘Guys, I don’t mind taping again, but you’ve got to send me a script. I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Then I got on the phone with [director] Alan [Taylor], and he helped clear up all of my questions.”

Odom Jr. added that “I didn’t know who I was playing. There was this one scene that ended up in the movie, I’m in the bed with my girlfriend and I’m playing it a bit lighthearted, and Alan calls me and says, ‘I like what you’re doing, but remember, you just killed [someone] a few scenes before.’ I said, ‘Alan, I don’t know any of that. That’s privileged information.'”

Odom Jr. also said he hadn’t even watched the series top to bottom until the pandemic, well after the movie shot in spring 2019. “I didn’t grow up in an HBO house. I couldn’t afford HBO when I first got out of college and stuff. The pandemic was my chance, like so many people, and thank goodness for HBO Max putting their whole library online. God, I love it. So satisfying — like a great novel,” he said.

The rest of the cast inclueds Michael Gandolfini (son of James Gandolfini) as young Tony Soprano, plus Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga.

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