Michael Gandolfini, who's playing young Tony Soprano in the upcoming HBO movie "The Many Saints of Newark," admits he never watched his late father James Gandolfini's show until he landed the part.
"The funny thing is, before the audition, I had never watched a minute of 'The Sopranos,' he tells Esquire. "I was just a kid when he was making it." (He was born in 1999, the year "The Sopranos" debuted.)
"The hardest part of this whole process was watching the show for the first time," he says. "It was an intense process. Because, as an actor, I had to watch this guy who created the role, to look for mannerisms, voice, all those things I would have to echo. But then I’d also be seeing my father. I think what made it so hard was I had to do it alone. I was just sitting alone in my dark apartment, watching my dad all the time. I started having crazy dreams. I had one where I auditioned for David and I looked down at my hands, and they were my dad’s hands.”
Michael didn't start acting until after his father's death in 2013. He says his father always discouraged him from acting and encouraged him to play sports. "He said, ‘Don’t be an actor; be a director. They have the power.’ ”
"[Acting] actually started my grieving process with my dad," he tells Esquire. He landed the first role he tried out for: Joey Dwyer on HBO’s "The Deuce." "When I got the role,” Michael says, “my manager joked, ‘You should quit acting now—you’re one-for-one.’ ”
When he got the call from "Sopranos" creator David Chase about starring in the prequel movie, he says taking on the iconic part was a "difficult decision."
Of course, he sees a lot of own relationship with his father in "The Sopranos:" "There’s a scene where Meadow comes home late at night, and he’s sitting with a drink, and he’s like, ‘You know I love you, right?’ That hit hard."
He adds, "The other one that crushed me was when he yells at A. J., and he gets a pizza to apologize, and he sits by his son’s bed and says, ‘I couldn’t ask for a better son.’ I just knew he was talking to me in that scene."
"The Many Saints of Newark," which is set in 1967, is set to premiere on HBO on September 25, 2020. It costars Alessandro Nivola, Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, and Ray Liotta.