Michael Gandolfini plays Tony Soprano: “He was my father, I really want to do a good job for him”

Michael Gandolfini plays Tony Soprano: "He was my father, I really want to do a good job for him"
Warner Bros/HBO

Many Saints of Newark is out this week on DVD and Blu-ray. And James Gandolfini is mentioned a lot in the bonuses.

Released in cinemas last November, Many Saints of Newark – a story of The Sopranos released this Wednesday, March 2 on DVD and blu-ray (it is also available on VOD, in particular on Premiere Max). Among the bonuses, there are deleted scenes (a nightmare of Livia, a panic attack of Tony just before moving and a confrontation between the young Soprano and his uncle Dickie Moltisanti), but also two making-ofs devoted to the heritage from Soprano. The occasion in particular for Michael Gandolfini to tell how he was chosen to succeed his father james as Tony Soprano.

Star of the series from 1999 to 2007, the actor died in 2013, at only 51 years old. In this story taking place at the turn of the 1960s/1970s, his character is around fifteen years old, slightly younger than his son who succeeds him in the shoes of the future mafia: the young actor explains that he was born in the middle of the creation of the first season, in 2000, then he admits in half-words that playing Tony Soprano represented a certain pressure for him. Moreover, the creator of the show, David Chase, and the director Alan Taylor, first auditioned hundreds of teenagers before offering him the role. Michael had to go through three castings and discovered the series precisely to participate in these auditionsas he explained in 2019: “It’s funny, before my audition, I had never watched The Sopranos. Not even a single scene. The hardest preparation process was watching the whole series for the first time. It was intense. Because, as an actor, I had to look at whoever created the role, scrutinize his mannerisms, his gestures, his voice. All of that at the same time. Then, I also had to see my father there. I think hard is I had to do this on my own. I was sitting in my apartment, in the dark, staring at my dad the whole time. I had some pretty crazy dreams, including one where I was auditioning…I looked at my hands, they were my father’s.”

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“He was my father, I really want to do a good job for him”says Michael Gandolfini today in the bonuses, before explaining that he agreed to play his role when he understood that it would be “from another Tony: more sensitive, curious and open to the world.” The young actor is indeed very touching in this film, as we wrote in our review : “We will say of Many Saints of Newark that it is nothing more than a long “special” of Soprano. Nothing more, perhaps, but above all nothing less. It’s hard to talk about this film as anything other than an episode anyway – the faithful Alan Taylor is directing, but it’s clearly producer and screenwriter David Chase who is the author. As always with him, it is the little moments of hollowness, of nothingness, of waiting and of suspension, which most precisely draw the contours of the lives he stages. A discussion between Tony and his mother around the kitchen table, which turns into a storm. Appearances of a spectral Ray Liotta in a prison parlour. The magnificent awkwardness, when he enters the frame, of the young Michael Gandolfini, responsible for reviving on the screen the mythical character played by his father.

The Many Saints of Newark
Warner Bros.

Did he seek to imitate his model? According to his partners Corey Stoll (Uncle Jr.) and Jon Bernthal (who plays his father, Johnny Boy Soprano), Michael naturally found the posture and gestures of his father: “if he is shorter than James, he stands like him a little stooped, and he has a nice smile”, says for example Stoll. Moreover, beyond the evidence represented by Michael Gandolfini, Taylor and Chase took care of the entire cast, finding actors who naturally resembled their model, like the interpreter of Junior, therefore, but also Janice Soprano, Alexandra Intrator being a perfect copy of Aida Turturro or by transforming them using false noses, like Vera Famiga (great as Livia despite “the heavy crown that hangs over my head” by agreeing to replace Nancy Marchand, she says) or Billy Magnussen, unrecognizable as Paulie. The only exception is the choice of Alessandro Nivola, who had to build everything with Dickie Moltisanti, because if we hear a lot about Chris’ dad in the series, he is never shown. “We mainly saw a fantasized version of this ‘mentor’ of Tony Soprano, we always talked about him through the memories of the other characters”, tell its creators and it is this absence from the screen that made them want to continue the adventure of Soprano with this movie. A challenge taken up hands down by the 49-year-old actor, whom we had mainly seen so far in supporting roles (in Flip-Face, Jurassic Park 3, Selma…) and who wears perfectly Many Saints of Newark on his shoulders.

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