Young Tony Soprano Movie Could Follow Many Saints Of Newark, Director Says
Don’t stop believin’: a Tony Soprano ‘young gangster’ movie or series may be in the works after The Many Saints of Newark, according to director Alan Taylor.
In the closing season of The Sopranos, James Gandolfini’s inimitable don mused, ”Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.’
The Many Saints of Newark, David Chase and Taylor’s anticipated return to the world of their most treasured show, has plenty of call-backs, uncanny witticisms and quirks of the family we came to love, if not fear. As the credits roll, one actor is primed to go further – Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late legend, taking on the mantle of TV’s greatest role.
The trailers tease a Tony Soprano origin story, but viewers should adjust their expectations as the reality is far more sprawling. Set against the backdrop and fallout of the 1967 Newark race riots, we track Tony’s emergence in the New Jersey mob through the perspective of Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), his beloved uncle and a prominent ‘soldier’ in the crew.
Throughout the show’s run, Chase gave viewers glimpses of Tony’s early life before the mob: his tumultuous dynamic with his father; his fractious relationship with his mother; care-free fun with cousin Tony amid his doomed betrayal. They were spectres of a time we never knew; in bringing his father’s character to life once more, Michael had the greatest challenge of everyone.
Ahead of the film’s release, we sat down with Taylor and other members of the cast to talk about stature of the HBO series and the pressure of exploring uncharted narrative territory.
Funnily enough, bar Taylor, none of the stars had seen the show prior to taking on their roles. ‘I was aware of it being a catalyst to usher in this new era of cultural relevance for television, and it was considered the first show to really grapple with these big philosophical and moral themes with a particular brand of black humour, and it portrayed characters in a complex way that hadn’t ever really been done on television,’ Nivola said, adding he’s now watched all of it.
‘But I was actually liberated from some of that burden [of pressure] because I didn’t have to do an impersonation of a well-loved performance that already existed in the series, the way some of the other actors had to to.’
Ray Liotta, who plays Uncle Dickie’s dad ‘Hollywood’ Dick Moltisanti, still hasn’t seen it – particularly surprising given his Goodfellas fame. ‘Only at that time, I wasn’t watching a lot of series or anything like that… I’d seen a couple of episodes. I still haven’t seen the whole thing, but I’m sure one guilty rainy day, especially because I’m about to film a movie in Ireland so there’ll be a lot of rain, I’ll sit and watch the whole thing,’ he said.
Michela De Rossi, who plays Dick’s new partner from Italy, said, ‘I didn’t see the show before I got the role, I’d just heard about it as an iconic thing. When I got the role, I watched the whole thing in like three weeks, and I was like… why haven’t I watched this before, because this is huge and a masterpiece. I definitely love it. I was re-watching season five three days ago, and I was crying like a baby. I thought, this is amazing, I’m so proud to be here.’
Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Harold McBrayer, watched the series ‘top to bottom’ after completing his work on the film – he loved it, by the way, and we shared our love of Bobby Baccalieri’s evolution. ‘I just wanted to marry whatever meagre talent I had with those exceptional resources and try to give fans a character as psychologically interesting and rich as the characters they’ve grown to love,’ the Oscar-nominee said.
For Taylor, a quintessential member of The Sopranos‘ directing team, responsible for some of its biggest emotional hitters – see season six’s ‘Kennedy and Heidi’ – he was initially intimidated by the setting, more than the cultural pressure.
‘The biggest challenge and the thing that scared the crap out of me was that David had done a brilliant stroke by taking the gangster movie and making it contemporary and putting it on the small screen. We were putting it on the big screen and going period – we were sort of going in the opposite direction from what he did,’ he said.
‘The challenge that created was, you have to figure out as a director what the essence of Sopranos is, so you carry it across this border into this other form. Lens choices, and how the sense of humour is, how you cover the violence. Trying to stay true to that was the most daunting thing; making sure the voice came across was the most challenging thing.’
Then came the fear echoed by fans: a Sopranos project without the ultimate Soprano. ‘At first it was kind of intimidating to think… can we really do a Sopranos story without James Gandolfini? I really believed the show was the show for a lot of reasons, but mostly David Chase and James Gandolfini together were the two necessary components,’ Taylor said.
‘I had to get over that anxiety. Directing Michael was a delight. It was a very different experience, because they’re obviously at very different stages of their career. I felt like I was looking up to James and learning from him. He was such skilled actor and had such a process.’
‘Michael is just beginning, and in many ways the task with him was to hold him back from what his dad did. He’s still the uninformed, young guy. He’s still sweet, he still has his whole life ahead of him. There’s little hints in the movie that this guy was really smart, kind of sensitive – but those things are going to get narrowed down, so directing him was sort of reminding each other he’s not the Tony from the show; someday, but not yet.’
Other stars weren’t light on praise for Michael, including Liotta. ‘The biggest and the best thing about it is what Michael Gandolfini had to do playing his dad. That’s some heavy, heavy duty stuff man. He did a great job without mimicking his dad. Not just acting wise, but emotionally… I didn’t have any scenes with him, and I only spoke to him briefly, but I’d love to talk to him some day. That had to be an interesting journey to go on, seriously,’ he said.
No spoilers here, but the end of the movie charts the path for Michael to further explore Tony’s gangster beginnings. While the show itself was always frank about clinging onto the past – ‘The problem is that we keep trying to get back on the bus, instead of just letting it go’ – I asked Taylor whether that’s something he’d be interested in crafting, and he was surprisingly forthcoming.
‘It’s funny, I never thought that’d come up as a question because I didn’t think David would ever want to do that. But he started to drop hints towards the end of the movie, and now, maybe he would be open to exploring it more,’ he said.
‘I think there’s clearly room for another storytelling experience. Partly because a lot of people come to this movie and they think it’s gonna be Tony Soprano: The Young Years, The Young Gangster… we don’t get there. We set that up, but we don’t get there.
‘At the very least, there’s room for that story to show this young character taking those first steps into that world. Who knows, it could be a movie or a TV thing. It remains to be seen whether David really wants to get into that, and how this movie does.’
The Many Saints of Newark hits cinemas this Wednesday, September 22.
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