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David Chase reveals Sopranos prequel details

David Chase is heading back to New Jersey — and back in time — for a look at the social and familial forces that shaped his most famous creation.

In a sitdown with Deadline, the Sopranos creator offered up a few tantalizing details on The Many Saints of Newark, the feature film which will serve as a prequel to the beloved HBO series. Chief among these: Tony Soprano (played by the late James Gandolfini in the series) will indeed play a key role, although as a young boy.

"I was interested in Newark and life in Newark at that time," Chase said of conceiving the project. "I used to go to down there every Saturday night for dinner with my grandparents. But the thing that interested me most was Tony's boyhood. I was interested in exploring that."

The Sopranos, which ran for six seasons between 1999 and 2007, kicked off the era of Peak TV and is still mentioned early and often in discussions of the greatest television series of all time. With a sprawling cast anchored by Gandolfini's masterful portrayal of the troubled mobster, the show broke new ground in its examination of mob life through the lens of the everyday, with grounded performances and naturalistic writing. It also set the bar in terms of direction and cinematography for the Peak TV efforts that would follow in its wake, influencing such landmark dramatic series as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Wire.

Talk had swirled of a continuation ever since the show's famously ambiguous conclusion, but the death of Gandolfini in 2013 rendered a sequel all but impossible. Chase, however, found that he still had stories to tell within the Sopranos universe, and the veteran writer and producer found inspiration in the Newark of his childhood.

"I was against [revisiting the series] for a long time and I'm still very worried about it, but I became interested in Newark, where my parents came from, and where the riots took place," he told Deadline, referring to five days of discord in the city during the summer of 1967, sparked by the beating of a black man by police. "I was living in suburban New Jersey at the time that happened, and my girlfriend was working in downtown Newark. I was just interested in the whole Newark riot thing. I started thinking about those events and organized crime, and I just got interested in mixing those two elements."

Specifically, Chase began thinking about the effect that the riots would have had on the burgeoning Soprano crime family in general, and young Tony in particular. "The movie will deal with the tensions between the blacks and whites at the time, and Tony Soprano will be part of this, but as a kid," he said.

The writer (who co-wrote the script for Saints along with Sopranos scribe Lawrence Konner) also drew inspiration from early episodes of the series, in which Tony often lamented the passing of the "good old days" of the mafia in discussions with his psychiatrist — a device used to humanize the morally questionable protagonist in a way that few, if any, television series had attempted before. "[The Many Saints of Newark] is going to depict when it was good," he said, using the word rather loosely. "The mafia was very polished at that time, how they dressed and what they did. Those traditions were followed more loosely in the series. These weren't guys who wore tracksuits, back then."

The flick's time period will make possible the inclusion of a great many characters who loomed over the series' narrative, including Tony's father Giovanni (who was gunned down long before the events of the series), his mother Livia (portrayed on the show by the late Nancy Marchand), and "Dickie" Moltisanti, who — while he was never once seen in the series — strongly informed the character of his daughter Chrissy, who looked to Tony as a father figure and who was driven to avenge her father's death. Alessandro Nivola (You Were Never Really Here), thus far the only actor to be cast, is expected to portray Moltisanti in the film. 

Of course, nobody is more aware than Chase of his series' legacy, and — perhaps still smarting from the sharply divided reaction among fans and critics to the infamous finale — he seems resigned to the fact that attempting to please the entirety of its rabid fan base is an exercise in futility. "Yeah, I feel they're out there with shotguns, just waiting," he deadpanned — but fortunately, that threat hasn't prevented him from pursuing his creative vision.

The Many Saints of Newark is currently in the casting phase, and is expected to enter production later this year; we'll have more details as they become available.