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Michael Gandolfini Opens Up About Taking Over The Role Of Tony Soprano From His Father

"The Many Saints of Newark," a prequel film to "The Sopranos," will premiere in both theaters and on streaming service HBO Max on October 1. As showcased in a trailer for the film released just under a month before its release, "The Many Saints of Newark" will introduce audiences to Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). Dickie is dead in the present of "The Sopranos," though the character is described both as both father to Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and mentor to series lead Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

One recurring source of dramatic tension throughout "The Sopranos" is the strained relationship between Tony and his parents. His father was prone to both angry outbursts and depression, while his mother is described by Tony's therapist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) as exhibiting the characteristics of either narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. When Tony talks about Dickie Moltisanti, however, it's with reverence he rarely — if ever — shows his parents.

Given the importance of fatherhood, and its complexities, to "The Many Saints of Newark," there's perhaps no actor more appropriate for the role of young Tony Soprano than the late James Gandolfini's real-life son Michael. With the release of the film on the horizon, Michael Gandolfini spoke to The New York Times about his upcoming film role, and the complexities of portraying a character made famous by his dad.

The Sopranos legacy

According to New York Times writer Dave Itzkoff's account, "Sopranos" series creator David Chase and the rest of the "Many Saints of Newark" team auditioned a number of other actors to play young Tony before considering Michael Gandolfini. Soon after meeting with Gandolfini about the role, though, Chase was sold. Gandolfini, meanwhile, felt less certain initially that he was right for the part.

"I had spent so much time thinking about my dad, the last thing I wanted to do was think about my dad," he told The New York Times.

Then, upon accepting the role, his difficulties were compounded. Not only was Gandolfini forced to confront the memory of his father, but he simultaneously had to figure out how to portray a version of one of the best TV antiheroes of all time. "The second layer, that a lot of people don't think about, which was actually harder, is to play Tony Soprano," he said, describing Tony as "a character who will cry, become angry at himself that he's crying and then laugh at himself all in one scene."

Over the course of learning both the physicality and personality his father brought to the role of Tony, Gandolfini described walking away with a newfound appreciation for his dad's talent. James Gandolfini "was not Tony," according to his son. "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" premieres on October 1.