David Chase’s “The Many Saints of Newark” has generated buzz for months now not only because it’s a prequel movie to “The Sopranos” but also because it casts Michael Gandolfini in the role made iconic by his late father, James Gandolfini. Michael stars in “Many Saints” as a young Tony Soprano, an idealistic teenager whose world view is shaped by his relationship to his mafioso uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). In a new interview with Empire magazine, Michael called accepting his late father’s Tony Soprano role “the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
“You know, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to walk out of this feeling like I’d grown in terms of my feelings towards my dad,” Michael said. “I just wanted to be the best actor I could be, portraying Tony in the way David wanted, scene by scene. I didn’t think about my grief because…well, I would have shit the bed.”
Michael continued, “My dad’s character had all this beautiful sensitivity underneath this aggression. This version of him is the reverse. His curiosity and sensitivity comes first. He’s not a gun-wielding gangster. He’s a kid who gets whittled down and pulled in.”
The young Gandolfini’s experience of slipping into his late father’s iconic character might be best summed up by “Many Saints” director Alan Taylor, a veteran of “The Sopranos” who won a directing Emmy for his work on the HBO drama.
“We all had dinner one night,” Taylor told Empire. “At one point, [Michael] stood up and said, ‘I want to thank everyone for doing this because it was a chance to say hello to my father… and goodbye again.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Michael previously revealed he started watching “The Sopranos” for the first time to prep for his Tony Soprano audition. The actor told Vanity Fair, “It was really hard to watch my dad. I recorded four hours of his monologues with [Dr.] Melfi and walked around New York with them constantly, constantly, constantly playing in my ear.”
Warner Bros. is opening “The Many Saints of Newark” in theaters October 1. The movie will be available to stream exclusively on HBO Max for 31 days beginning the same as its theatrical release.