Since a prequel for HBO's The Sopranos was first announced in 2018, The Many Saints of Newark from series creator David Chase has generated plenty of buzz among critics and audiences that came to love the show for six seasons. But the very news of a revival for the big screen wasn't the only attraction behind the project. Michael Gandolfini was cast as the younger version of iconic character Tony Soprano, an iconic role brought to life by the late and great, James Gandolfini. The 22-year-old Gandolfini's take on the character would be a reinvention as the film chronicles a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed "Anthony" Soprano whose relationship with mafioso uncle, Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) creates an impression on the future mob boss we saw on the award-winning series from 1999 to 2007.
While the undertaking was no doubt humbling and one the actor previously told IndieWire was a chance for him to say hello and goodbye to his father, he tells PopCulture.com it didn't come without its challenges during the shoot. "I'd say the biggest challenge was, I was a little older than I was playing and after diving into the series, I really understood that Tony and the show and how we thought," Gandolfini said. "There were times in the movie where I'd want to attack or maybe be sarcastic or push something off in a very Tony way and Alan [Taylor, the director] really helped me be like, 'He's not there yet. He's not that confident. He's not that angry. He's not that cynical yet.' And sort of tone it back so that he could come into that and get hardened to over the arc of the movie."
Gandolfini admits it was that kind of advice from Taylor, who previously directed nine episodes of The Sopranos, that really benefitted him. "That was something that was very challenging and Alan really helped me navigate," he added. While Taylor helped Gandolfini understand the approach to Tony Soprano, the director shared with PopCulture the tasks he faced when returning to the story almost 15 years later, admitting it was a challenge in trying to "find the spirit of the show" due to two main aspects lacking in The Many Saints of Newark.
"The fact that there was no James Gandolfini was really a big deal. The fact that the show was popular, partly because it was contemporary, tacky New Jersey — and we're going back into a period where it's a kind of more romantic time of the mob and going from the small screen to the big screen," he said. "So, in many ways, we were changing radically the terms of it, but trying to keep that spirit of the Sopranos experience true."
While on the press tour for the movie, Gandolfini told outlets that while he had never watched The Sopranos growing up, he knew without a doubt he "could know how" to play his father. "But I don't know how to play Tony. I have to create my own Tony from my life and still play the things that made him Tony," he told The New York Times. "The pressure is real. There's fear. But the second layer, that a lot of people don't think about, which was actually harder, is to play Tony Soprano…not only was it the feeling of my dad — it was like, Tony Soprano is a f—ing hard character."
Walking away from the movie with pure pride for his father and the final product, Gandolfini admits his father "was not Tony" at all. "The only insight that I think I gained was deep pride in him. I'm exhausted after three months — you did that for nine years?"
The Many Saints of Newark hits theaters on Oct. 1 and will also be available to stream for 30 days on HBO Max. For more on the movie and all your Sopranos news, keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the latest.