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The Many Saints Of Newark's Billy Magnussen Makes A Surprising Admission About The Sopranos - Exclusive

Without question, the crime drama "The Sopranos" became a pop culture phenomenon during its six-season run on HBO from 1999 to 2007, elevating the already rich storytelling sensibilities of the mob genre to a whole new level. In addition to being a smash hit in terms of viewership, the series blew away Emmy Awards voters. It total, according to Emmys.com, the series won 21 statuettes, including two for outstanding drama series, three for outstanding lead actor in a drama (for James Gandolfini's performance as New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, of course), and three for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for Edie Falco's turn as Tony's wife, Carmela.

Despite all of the attention the series captured in the entertainment world, not every actor in Hollywood became familiar with the series during its initial run. There's one prominent cast member of "The Many Saints of Newark," in fact, who didn't even watch the series before he got an audition for the "The Sopranos" prequel film — and he plays the young version of the prominent character Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri.

Billy Magnussen has legitimate reasons for not watching The Sopranos before landing his role in the prequel

While some of the actors in "The Many Saints of Newark" — including Corey Stoll, who stars as Uncle Junior Soprano — were major fans of "The Sopranos" coming into the film, Billy Magnussen admitted that he wasn't one of them. The reason, Magnussen revealed in an exclusive interview with Looper, was fairly simple — he couldn't afford it. After all, HBO has always been a premium cable outlet, and as such, it was the lack of funds for a young man coming into his own — not a lack of interest — that delayed Magnussen's interest in the series.

"To tell you the truth, I had never watched 'The Sopranos' before hearing about the audition [for 'The Many Saints of Newark']. I knew of the series, what it was, and it definitely changed the format of television when it came out, but sadly I was in high school and then in college, and I couldn't afford HBO," Magnussen told Looper, laughing. "So, I was unable to watch it."

However, with the opportunity to star in "The Sopranos" creator David Chase's prequel movie, Magnussen said he "dove into that sea of creativity" that came from the mind of the acclaimed writer, director and producer. "I absolutely fell in love with it and all the characters in 'The Sopranos,'" Magnussen enthused. "What's crazy is, you could probably make a spinoff of every character on that show."

Billy Magnussen is up for more Sopranos prequel stories

"The Many Saints of Newark" examines the formative years of the young Tony Soprano (played in his teen years by the late James Gandolfini's son, Michael Gandolfini), who was mentored by DiMeo crime family heavy Richard "Dick" Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). In addition to the younger versions of Uncle Junior and Paulie Walnuts, the film also includes the younger iterations of Livia Soprano (Vera Farmiga), Silvio Dante (John Magaro), and Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola).

Since "The Many Saints of Newark" only chronicles the characters' lives in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there's room for at least a couple more decades of prequel stories before "The Sopranos." Magnussen told Looper that he defers to Chase as far as the direction the character of Paulie Walnuts should take, but the actor has a couple of ideas.

"I think like any character you want to see, [I'd like to examine], 'What are the scars that makes a man? What are the moments that are defining when you turn left or right?' That's always the exciting thing," Magnussen observed. I think, as a performer or when I watch something, what are the choices made and what are the choices not made by a character and the relationships built or broken for a character." Magnussen admitted his thoughts were "a little vague," but noted, "We have every option in the world."

"I don't know [where I'd like to see Paulie Walnuts go]. I want to see him go on vacation," Magnussen added, laughing. "I don't know."

Directed by Alan Taylor, and also starring Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Michela De Rossi, and Ray Liotta, "The Many Saints of Newark" is playing in theaters and streaming exclusively on HBO Max.