Many Saints of Newark star Michael Gandolfini was 'proud' of his dad after watching The Sopranos
"It was time."
That's Sopranos creator David Chase's succinct explanation for why he finally decided to return to his beloved universe with the highly-anticipated prequel film The Many Saints of Newark. For the latest installment of EW's Around the Table, Chase chatted with his saints, Michela De Rossi, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Vera Farmiga, Ray Liotta, and director Alan Taylor.
"I wish I could say I did it for the money, but I didn't; you cheaped out on me," joked Farmiga, who plays Livia Soprano, a role originated on the series by Nancy Marchand. "I did it because look at the many saints sitting around this table. Look at the caliber… It's just an incredible privilege to be able to step into, honestly, one of the best roles ever written for a woman in television, and to be graced and selected by that guy over there, and to be believed in that I could do it, is really humbling."
Written and produced by Chase, Many Saints is set amid the Newark, N.J., riots of the 1960s, which broke out as a result of tensions flaring between the city's Black and Italian residents. Following the footsteps of his late father, James Gandolfini, Michael Gandolfini (The Deuce) stars as a young Tony Soprano who's being groomed by his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti (Nivola), the father of Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and cousin of Carmela (Edie Falco).
"I'd spent 25 years as a movie actor wondering why the hell I hadn't been offered a role like this," shares Nivola. "Better late than never."
Nivola waited longer than Gandolfini has lived, considering the actor is still only 22 years old. But the challenge of his age and minimal acting credits paled in comparison to the emotional and professional weight of taking on his father's career-defining role, which many consider the greatest character in TV history.
"The whole process was one of the most incredible things I've ever gotten to do in my life," says Gandolfini, who was only 8 when the series wrapped in 2007. "First, becoming a fan of the show for the first time. I was a kid; I didn't know what it was. I didn't know what it was about. Falling in love with the show was an incredible experience for me, and being very proud of my dad and proud of everyone that I've known for a long time. And then going through a very rigorous and complicated audition process, where, at first, I was conflicted on whether or not we should do it, or what is everyone going to say, and then slowly falling in love with David's writing and then being scared that I wasn't going to get it. I have to get it. I hope I get it. At the end of the day, I got to work with these people here, which has been one of the greatest gifts. This is the first time I've ever gotten emotional. Everyone trusted me."
Nivola jumped in to say of a visibly emotional Gandolfini: "We all know how humble and open-hearted he was throughout the whole shoot and looking to us for guidance, which not unlike Tony was probably a bad idea. But also just that he was so able to separate out the emotional side of his relationship to his dad and that role and just approach it in a purely forensic way that you would any character and to get as detailed about that as possible. I can't imagine being tasked with that."
The Many Saints of Newark is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.