Taking the role of Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark was the hardest decision James Gandolfini’s son has ever had to make. From The Sopranos director Alan Taylor and creator David Chase, Many Saints of Newark is a prequel film coming to theaters and HBO Max on October 1. The hit HBO series starred James Gandolfini, who passed away in 2013, as the angst-ridden mob boss and father, Tony Soprano.
Now, for the prequel film, Gandolfini’s son Michael will be taking on the role of Tony as a teenager. A few other Sopranos characters will also return portrayed by younger actors, including Vera Farmiga as Tony’s finicky mother Livia, Jon Bernthal as Tony’s father aka Johnny Boy, Cory Stoll as Uncle June, Billy Magnusson as Paulie Walnuts, and John Magaro as Silvio Dante. The film will be set against the backdrop of the 1967 Newark riots and examine the role Tony’s wiseguy uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) played in his rise from rebellious teenager to New Jersey crime boss.
Though The Sopranos creator David Chase had no hesitation casting James Gandolfini’s son, the actor says he did have some trepidations about taking the role. In an interview with Empire, Michael Gandolfini says accepting the role formerly inhabited by his father was the “toughest decision” he’s ever had to make. Michael knew that taking on such an iconic character for his first major performance would be difficult, so he tried not to put too much pressure on himself. He also realized he would be playing a much younger iteration of Tony before he becomes the cold-blooded gangster he is known as in The Sopranos. Read what Michael Gandolfini had to say about taking on the role below:
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. 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 sh-t the bed. 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.
Michael Gandolfini has a few other credits to his name, including his acting debut in Ocean’s 8 as a busboy followed by a more prominent role in the HBO series The Deuce. He also starred in Apple TV+’s Cherry this year, but his career is set to take off in a big way with his performance as young Tony Soprano in Many Saints of Newark, which he will then follow up with roles in Ari Aster’s Disappointment Blvd. and another Russo Brothers project The Gray Man.
While these roles are nothing to sneeze at, none of them will compare to the unique experience of portraying the same beloved character his father did for nearly a decade, winning 3 Emmys along the way. Based on the first trailer for Many Saints of Newark, it looks like Michael slid into the role fairly nicely, but as he mentioned, this is a completely different iteration of the character, so the full extent of his performance won’t be revealed until The Many Saints of Newark releases in the fall.