By Derek Lawrence
July 12, 2019 at 11:00 AM EDT
Bobby Bank/GC Images; Craig Blankenhorn?HBO

The Sopranos legacy will get a new chapter next year when creator David Chase’s prequel film The Many Saints of Newark arrives in theaters. And with a new chapter comes a new face in Alessandro Nivola, who takes on the lead role of Dickie Moltisanti, a crucial figure in the world of Sopranos despite dying before the series began. Like Tony Soprano was for the late James Gandolfini, Nivola declares this a life-changing character.

“David Chase wrote me the role of a lifetime,” the actor, who is currently starring in The Art of Self-Defense, tells EW. “Far and away, filming this movie was the most exciting thing in my career so far. It’s an incredibly nuanced, violent, funny, charming, scary, morally confused person, and it was an absolute joy to play.”

The film from Chase and Sopranos director Alan Taylor is set amid the riots of 1960s Newark, New Jersey, which broke out as a result of tensions flaring between the city’s black and Italian residents. Nivola’s Moltisanti serves as the central figure, and his ties to the show run deep as he’s the father of Christopher (Michael Imperioli), cousin of Carmela (Edie Falco), and mentor of Tony, who will be played in the film by Gandolfini’s son, Michael. The stacked Newark cast also includes Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Billy Magnussen, and Corey Stoll.

“I have really high hopes about the film,” adds Nivola. “What David did was to tell an origin story of Tony Soprano through a character that was dead before the series and that is such a surprising way of going about it. And the late ’60s mob movie is the stuff of dreams. Everyone was at the top of their game. The only infuriating thing is how long we have to wait.”

The Many Saints of Newark opens Sept. 25, 2020.

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