Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Michael Gandolfini Reveals The Greatest Challenge Of Playing The Young Tony Soprano

Fans of the classic HBO mob drama "The Sopranos" will soon be able to rejoice at the return of the franchise, albeit in the form of a prequel film in the crime drama "The Many Saints of Newark." In the film, set for an October 1 release in theaters and on HBO Max, Michael Gandolfini takes on the legendary role of Tony Soprano, which was defined by his late father, James Gandolfini.

It's a seemingly genius casting move by "Sopranos" creator David Chase and director Alan Taylor, considering nobody knew James Gandolfini better than his son. But with the role — which chronicles the early years of the New Jersey mobster and other notable characters from the series, including Junior Soprano (Corey Stoll) and Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri (Billy Magnussen) — comes the pressure of fan expectations of seeing how much the junior Gandolfini embodies the role originated by his father.

Adding to the pressure is the success of the series, which ran on HBO for six seasons from 1999 to 2007, is the sheer impact it had on the industry and popular culture. By the time the series wrapped up to the strains of Journey's rock anthem "Don't Stop Believin'" and an ambiguous ending surrounding Tony's fate, the show had amassed a cache of 21 Emmy Awards, including two wins for Outstanding Drama Series. James Gandolfini was nominated Outstanding Lead Actor for all six seasons of "The Sopranos," winning three statuettes. Needless to say, the pressure was already looming when Michael took the role of a young Tony.

Michael Gandolfini says he had to 'pull it back' while recreating his father's character

Sadly, James Gandolfini passed away unexpectedly on June 19, 2013, at age 51, long before "The Many Saints of Newark" went into production. As such, Michael Gandolfini had to rely largely on his father's legacy of playing Tony Soprano by revisiting the series.

One major thing that David Chase and Alan Taylor reminded Michael Gandolfini in his approach to the character was the Tony Soprano he was playing as a young man is different person than the Tony Soprano that fans know in "The Sopranos." In an interview with "CBS Sunday Morning" about "The Many Saints of Newark" (via The Hollywood Reporter), that fact added an unexpected bit of pressure Michael Gandolfini wasn't quite expecting.

"If anything, my instinct was to give in scenes more of the Tony [the fans] had known, and it was Alan and David who would come in and be like, 'Pull it back. He's not that yet. You can't yell at the principal like you're 30,'" Gandolfini told "CBS Sunday Morning." "So, that is a way I felt the pressure, and I wanted to give [the fans] the Tony they had all seen. But I had to remember to pull back, too."

Revisiting The Sopranos brought back different emotions for Michael Gandolfini

Watching the series presented a whirlwind of emotions for Michael Gandolfini, who was only 14 years old when James Gandolfini passed away. The actor told "CBS Sunday Morning" it was "fun" to watch the series at times, although some aspects of it were more difficult to watch.

"It wasn't my dad. It wasn't the dad who I knew. It's not Jim, it's Tony. So, in many ways, it was fun to watch him explore this complete character," Michael Gandolfini said. "But there are scenes that are very tough. Anything with his kids is tough and when he gets shot in the fifth season, the hospital stuff is tough."

Also starring Vera Farmiga as the young version of Tony Soprano's mother, Livia, and Jon Bernthal as the young version of Tony's father, Giovanni "Johnny Boy" Soprano, "The Many Saints of Newark" opens in theaters and streams exclusively on HBO Max October 1.