The Cast and Director of ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ Talk About Their ‘Sopranos’ Prequel Movie
Various cast members share if they had watched the series when it first aired, and Michael Gandolfini talks about playing the character his late father made famous.
‘The Many Saints of Newark’ gives us a glimpse at the Sopranos and Moltisanti families decades before the events of ‘The Sopranos’ TV series. The stars of the movie, Michael Gandolfini, Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Leslie Odom Jr., Alessandro Nivola and Michela de Rossi joined director Alan Taylor to talk to Moviefone about the production.
Michael Gandolfini talks about how he joined the movie, and Vera Farmiga and Jon Bernthal talk about whether they’d watched the TV series.
Moviefone: You guys play members of the Soprano family. I'm going to start with you, Michael, you are playing a young Tony Soprano was a role made iconic by your father. When they asked you to do this role, what went through your mind?
Michael Gandolfini: Well, it wasn't like a phone call of like, you have the role, do you want it, yes or no? Which was very helpful. It was like a slow burn, they want you to audition. And at first I was really hesitant, but I thought I'm not really in a position to not audition and go up in front of Douglas Aibel who is a great casting director and get used to it. So-
Vera Farmiga: You had to work for it! You guys are earnest!
Gandolfini: Yeah, that was my first audition. And then I had a second, and then I had a third. So it was like three months of convincing myself. Okay, I have a point of view, I have an idea of how I can do this differently and like sort of... By the end, I'd fallen in love with this Tony and had a real kind of excitement to play him.
MF: Oh my God. If that had been me, I feel like by the end of it, I would've been like, what if I didn't get the role after going by?
Gandolfini: I had nightmares of like, David sitting behind. I had an actual... I remember having nightmares of like talking to David and being like, what are you going to tell? What are we...? Actually, this is crazy, but I had a dream, I remember it was David looking at me, and I was in the audition. I was doing it. And I looked down, and my hands are my dad's hands.
Farmiga: Oh, wow.
Gandolfini: And I woke up, and I was like, that's such a Soprano dream. Like it's just such a yeah. Yeah.
MF: Is it true, Michael, that you hadn't seen ‘The Sopranos’ prior to getting the role, you then binged it, right?
Gandolfini: That’s true.
MF: So then, Vera and John, had you seen 'The Sopranos' before?
Farmiga: I had not.
Jon Bernthal: I had.
MF: You had?
Bernthal: I very much have.
MF: So then, Vera, did you do a binge as well?
Farmiga: I did, but after accepting the role. Because my decision was based on who my compadres were going to be, and the strength of the words on the written page as a whole, as a film, what the film was about, toxic masculinity, depression, American Dream, blah, blah, blah, blah. I knew that it was a good standalone film. I didn't know how it tied into the original and I didn't... and so yeah, after I grounded, and I knew what I was in for, I was petrified. Yes.
MF: And real quick, John, can you tell me a little bit about the character that you play for those who don't know?
Bernthal: Sure. I play Johnny Boy, Tony's dad, Livia's husband. He's a character that very much lives in flashbacks and I think in lore in the show. It's somebody the people talk about a lot and this sort of larger than life character. So I think he kind of pops up in the movie here and there. And I think this sort of job for me and what I tried to hook into was a guy who has this huge reputation and has this huge sort of life and this energy about him. But deep inside I think that there's something very different going on than I think what, sort of, comes across. And that was an interesting challenge for me. Yeah.
Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., and Michela de Rossi talk about playing characters in the Moltisanti family.
Moviefone: I want each of you to tell me about the characters you play, for those of you who don't know, but we'll kick it off with Leslie.
Leslie Odom Jr: I play Harold McBrayer and I work for the family. And fans of the show, you'll know what I mean.
MF: Very big. It's like a secret.
Michela de Rossi: I am Michela de Rossi and I play Giuseppina Bruno, which is the negative one.
Alessandro Nivola: She's my stepmother, and then my mistress.
MF: That's not weird at all.
Nivola: No, no nothing Oedipal going on, I promise. I am Alessandro Nivola and I play Dickie Moltisanti, who was the father of Christopher Moltisanti in the show, famously played by Michael Imperioli, brilliantly. He was a mentor figure to Tony Soprano when Tony was a kid growing up who didn't really have his parents very present. And this was the guy who took a real interest in him, for better and for worse.
MF: The Sopranos was one of the greatest TV series of all time. So many fans. And I was interested to learn that Michael Gandolfini, James' son, had never seen ‘The Sopranos,’ even though James was his dad. Had you guys watched ‘The Sopranos’ prior to?
Nivola: None of us.
MF: Really? So then did, did you guys do binges like he did?
Odom: Yeah, I did. I did over the pandemic, like so many people. I watched it from top to bottom and you know, I get it.
de Rossi: I watched it, the whole thing, when I got the role before shooting.
Nivola: Yeah. I guess I watched the first season of it in the two weeks that I was asked to prepare these five auditions scenes to tape and send in. So I've seen all three season in that time. And then when I was offered the job, I watched the rest.
MF: I have moments when I watched the movie where I just felt chills because there are those little Easter eggs that pay homage to the original series. But what was it like for you guys being on set with James Gandolfini's actual son?
Odom: I mean, it was for all these people, David included, Al included, it was more than just a TV show. You know, it's years of their life. It changed their lives. Michael tells stories about being a little kid and taking naps in Tony and Carmella's bed. So anyway, there's a spiritual thing happening there too. I just felt like we just all wanted to support him and just make sure he was all right and felt loved.
Nivola: Or have him support us and tell us that we were okay. Because he surely was an authority, even though he wouldn't claim he was.
MF: And actually, Alessandro, would you mind describing the relationship between your character and the young Tony Soprano?
Nivola: Yeah, Dickie hasn't had a child of his own and he as the movie begins, he's in his forties, and in Italian American culture, having a child is like a sign of manhood. And so he was really, I think, upset about that. And he latched on to Tony as a kind of surrogate son, as a surrogate father. And I think he really loves him and believes in him in a way that no one else in the world of the movie does. And yet he's a totally hopeless role model for him and keeps flailing around every time he tries to give him discipline or send him on some path other than outside the life of crime. And one of the tragedies of the film is the fact that he wants to do that and can't figure out how.
Director Alan Taylor talks about returning to the world of ‘The Sopranos.’
Moviefone: In 2007, you won the Emmy for Outstanding Director for Drama for 'The Sopranos.' Here we are 14 years later, you've now directed the prequel film. Where did the journey for this movie start for you?
Alan Taylor: Wow. Okay, boy, you've got your dates and facts down. I sort of feel I grew up on Sopranos. I was not that long out of film school when I first entered that show in the first season. And then over the course of it, I learned a lot from the actors and from David Chase's writing. So it sort of felt like home to me in a way. So when David called and said he had a script, it felt very good. Partly because in my career had gone various places, and I'd done a couple of big movies where I didn't really feel I was home and getting a chance to go back to this world felt very right. Felt like a return to a landscape I knew and a voice that I knew. And so it was a chance to sort of take my movie life and my TV life and bring them together.
MF: Right. So when you first read that screenplay, how did you envision 'The Many Saints of Newark'?
Taylor: Well, as soon as you read it, you hear that same voice, different characters. Dicky never appears in the show, but he is the main guy in our movie, but it's the same voice. And that's the main thing. It's the same ideas, the same questions that never get quite answered. The same themes that are driving it. The same sense of humor, the same relationship to violence. So to me, it was like, yes, we're back in the world. And then there was work going on in the script. It kept evolving during the period where we were casting and building it. David was adding things that I think really helped shape it until very late in the game. But from the first read it was, oh yes, I remember this voice.
MF: For major 'Sopranos' fans. What do you think that they will love most about this film?
Taylor: I think there's little things that I guess people refer to as Easter eggs that will play for them, moments that will probably get a laugh and stuff like that. But there's a big emotional connection to the show. If you know the relationship between... Our movie is very much about fathers and sons and if you know the relationship between our main character, Dickie's son, Christopher, and his relationship to Tony, there's a really rich resonance in this movie because here we see that character being born, and I was the director who finished him in the show. So there's a real echo between the movie and what it's setting up and how darkly it goes for these characters later on.
MF: I will say the main last shot gave me chills.
MF: And I felt, okay, now I need to now start the whole series from this point.
Taylor: Yeah. I'm pretty curious to people who watch the series and now watch the movie, how they will respond to things. Also, people who are seeing the movie first and then seeing the series for the first time. It'd be interesting to see how those two... I do think they speak to each other, but it's a very different experience depending on what order you get them in, probably.
MF: Of course. I have to ask you about working with Michael Gandolfini, who is of course the son of James Gandolfini, who originally played Tony Soprano. What was it like having him on set?
Taylor: Delightful. First of all, he's like this sweet, sensitive, thoughtful, generous, warm guy. So that helps. But I think we all knew that we were asking a tremendous amount of him to go into this dark world his father had sort of defined. And having lost his father to go back there. We had a dinner right before we started shooting where Michael stood up and said, I want to thank everybody here for giving me a chance to say hello to my dad again and goodbye again. And there wasn't a dry eye in the house, but I think from that moment on, everyone sort of gathered around him, the cast, but also the crew. And he was sort of the beating heart of the movie. He's not the main character, but he was sort of, it felt like a family thing.
'The Many Saints of Newark' is now in theaters and on HBO Max.