Does The Many Saints of Newark Begin a New Chapter of The Sopranos?

The Many Saints of Newark director Alan Taylor brings series into the world, and he takes major characters out. He discusses why that makes him the right fit for The Sopranos prequel.

(L-r) JOEY COCO DIAZ as Buddha and ALESSANDRO NIVOLA as Dickie Moltisanti in New Line Cinema and Home Box Office’s mob drama “THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

This article contains light spoilers for The Many Saints of Newark.

The Sopranos prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark is David Chase’s return to the New Jersey city where his families lived, worked, and occasionally breathed their last. The film focuses on Christopher Moltisanti’s (Michael Imperioli) father Dickie Molitisanti (Alessandro Nivola), and his struggle with doing the right thing against things that have to be done right. He is very supportive of the film’s most important supporting role. Michael Gandolfini, the 22-year-old son of James Gandolfini, plays a young Tony Soprano.

While the film doesn’t explore Christopher’s claim that his father, Tony’s hero, was a junkie, it does fill in many of the plot points which lead to events in the series. But not all. Not even close. The young Tony Soprano is only a pinky swear away from living a legitimate life, varsity sweater or not.

Alan Taylor directed the pilot for The Sopranos and it looks like he’s just helmed the maiden voyage of what we hope will be a series of films bridging The Many Saints of Newark to the influential HBO series. David Case has mentioned in interviews that he’s now open to this line of thinking, 14 years after the series cut to black.

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Taylor’s project is directing the pilot of the upcoming Interview with the Vampire series, which will delve deeply into the books of Anne Rice. He also directed the pilot of Mad Men, introduced dragons to Game of Thrones, and framed memorable episodes of Deadwood, Rome, Nurse Jackie, Lost, Sex and the City, and The West Wing. The former history professor might appreciate a revisionist retelling of the responses to Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Terminator Genisys (2015), but plumbed deep, dark street life in Kill the Poor (2003), and commonplace criminals grounded in concrete comedy in Palookaville (1995) which starred gangster genre favorite William Forsythe.

The Many Saints of Newark director Alan Taylor broke bread with Den of Geek, speaking about Tony Soprano’s past, Dickie Moltisanti’s future, and Sylvio Dante’s hair piece.

Den of Geek: The Many Saints of Newark ends on a real mystery. Is there any chance for a sequel to the sequel?

Alan Taylor: Well, it’s funny, I don’t think David will ever make anything where it doesn’t end with, “Okay, what happens or what just happened?” David Chase will always leave things open-ended. So, I think the door will never close. It was funny making this. I thought it was going to be a one-shot thing, but David seems to be thinking about possible sequels. And I do think there’s a “Tony Soprano, the young gangster” movie to be made, that we haven’t made yet because, in ours, we didn’t get there.

Will Michael Gandolfini be able to do that?

It would be really tough to be an actor playing Tony Soprano and not be Michael Gandolfini.

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I agreed with David Chase about The Sopranos being a comedy. But did you have that mindset on set?

We’ve all drunk deep at the well of Scorsese, and humor is never absent. When things get to be their most extreme is when humor sort of breaks out, in that tone of that world. That’s partly a Scorsese thing. It’s partly maybe an American thing, inappropriate humor at violent moments. Certainly, humor was all the way through the series and hopefully there’s some of that in the movie as well.

Because we tried to capture the tones of the series and bring them in and the humor of it, but also the off-kilter weirdness. This dreaminess, that slightly surreal quality that sometimes came into the show. I love the fact that we have scenes that may or may not have actually taken place. Who knows whether Dickie Moltisanti actually coached a baseball team or whether that’s just a delusion?

In the series you use malapropisms and you explore comedy more openly. Is it easier to explore on TV than it is in film?

No, humor can be anywhere you want it or not want it to be. I think humor was a sustained, crucial element of the show from the beginning. From the pilot on, you had characters that were almost comic relief, like Ray Abruzzo’s Carmine Jr., the malaprop guy. To me, their humor is a big part of this movie. John Magaro handling his toupee is Sopranos’ humor to me and Paulie being worried about his mustard-colored leisure suit when they’re doing something really shitty to somebody is also the tone of the show. So, to me, it’s there.

I read there was a shot filmed that was not used with Edie Falco. Can you tell me anything else about it?

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I’m already starting to think it was not a great idea to, to say that much. It’s one of those things that I mentioned, because I tend to be candid and brutally honest. Movies are made and you’re not quite sure of the shape while you’re making it, sometimes. The beginning we have right now was a stroke of genius that David came up with very late in the game. We had an earlier beginning that we actually had shot, but we replaced it with this opening, and it seemed to shape the movie more and contain the movie more and felt more necessary.

So, sadly Edie doesn’t appear, but it was a great excuse to bring her in. We got to put her through hair and makeup and wardrobe and she became Carmela again for a second. But yeah, it’s just part of the brutal process of finding the movie along the way.

You play a lot with foreshadowing, does Christopher come into the world knowing Tony is going to kill him one day with two fingers?

Well, it depends on if you’re an atheist like me, or that woman sitting at the table with them who tells us something that I’m almost willing to believe: “Sometimes babies, when they come into this world, they know all kinds of stuff on the other side.” I love the fact that she’s talking about the other side, meaning the other side of death. But she’s also talking about the other side of, like: on HBO. You know we’re in the movies now but he knows things from TV that most people don’t know. My favorite foreshadow is less supernatural than that. There’s a scene where young Tony, played by William Ludwig, not by Michael, turns to his uncle and says “I saw a guy get shot in the back. I don’t want that to happen to me.” I don’t know how you read the final scene of The Sopranos series, but I know how I read the final scene. So, to me that’s foreshadowing

I understand you and David Chase disagree on this.

Who does he think he is? Yeah, it’s funny. We disagree on that and I think it’s okay to disagree. I’ve spoken to him. He will not commit to what happened in that room. When he tells it, it’s like every possibility is there in Tony’s life, and he just turns the TV off. But to me, I’m committed to the idea that Tony was shot in the back of the head by a guy wearing a Members Only jacket. I’ve got my reasons for thinking that. So, I’m just going to agree to disagree.

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But there was one line of dialogue in the whole history of Sopranos that was set as dialogue and then repeated as voice over. It’s only happened once, I think. And that was when (Bobby) Bacala says “when the bullet’s got your name on it. You probably don’t hear it coming.” I’m going to go with that and say that’s what happened at Holsten’s.

You’ve directed some of my favorite death scenes. You killed Caesar (in Rome), Ned Stark (in Game of Thrones), Christopher and Dickie, and they’re all stylistically unique.

Don’t forget Wild Bill Hickok (in Deadwood). As an episodic director, you never quite know what you’re going to get when you go in. When you see you’re killing a major character that is like you won the lottery. When I got to do Ned Stark, that was great.

Is there anything different about going into shooting an epic scene like that than the mundane scenes that lead up to it?

Maybe I’m just perverse in my head, but one of the guiding things for doing something like the Ned Stark death was to deliberately shoot it in a kind of mundane way. I wanted the angle that, where his head gets chopped off, to be a coverage angle that we’ve already been using, no special, heightened dramatic angles for the big event. I think a lot of people watched that scene, not ready to believe that he was going to die because knew he was the main character.

Of course, anybody who read the novels knew what was coming at some point, but a lot of people thought, “OK, got it, a big TV show, here is the main character.” So, I was trying not to telegraph the inevitable or to over-dramatize it. In that one, I was actually shooting his coverage almost like it was a conversation.

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When I killed Caesar, I just tried to do it with historical accuracy. We did all this research about who stabbed him when and where, and tried to match the reality of that gruesome killing. There are a few ways worse to go than being stabbed to death by a bunch of people you know. Trying to capture that feeling and just be true to it. I probably got stylized with that a bit more. I remember there were top shots and slow motion and things, but every death is different, I guess.

How do you think long-time Anne Rice fans are going to respond to the upcoming Interview with the Vampire?

Boy, that’s a pressing question on my calendar today. I signed up for it because I loved her book so much. I remember I just moved to New York, I read Interview with the Vampire, and it kind of blew my mind. The feeling I got from the book was: “Okay, you’ve seen a bunch of vampire stories, but that’s all bullshit. Here’s the truth. This is the real thing.” She did it amazingly well in that first novel and then built an empire out of it.

I’m hoping people will find things to love in the version we’re going to do. That’s true to that. But also, the writer, Roland Jones, has made some changes that I think deepen and do some very intriguing things with the basic story. We’re working with the Rice estate and they’re on board with it. I think we’re carrying the original appeals of the novel, but I think we’re also making some changes that make it worth exploring again.

The mixture of vampires and gangsters is too rarely explored. I love the movie Innocent Blood.

I’m the guy. Yeah, that should be my next genre would be the vampire gangster movie. I’m sure there’s been a few.

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Did you know wise guys growing up?

No, I grew up in small-town Canada, even though it was the capital. I lived in Italy as a child, so I feel like I have a real affection for Italian culture and Italian-American culture that I think comes out of that early period. I was dropped into a school where only Italian was spoken as a kid. I think that’s one of my connections to it, and I live in New York. I live in Brooklyn. I used to live in Soho right next to Little Italy. So, those places were still big social clubs at the time and that’s where I was hanging out. So, at least I brushed up against it.

You directed the pilot where Tony says he’s coming in at the end, and you’re here at the end of this movie. Do you think Tony should have finished college?

Wow, that’s just one of the small questions that raises the big question of: Did Tony have to turn out the way he did? I think the meaning of our movie is that no one is locked in a destiny, but it’s amazing how often we feel that way and how often it turns out that way. Tony should have finished college. Tony should have gotten away from his mother. Tony should have done a lot of things that might have kept his horizons broader than they were. Luckily, he didn’t and we have a great TV show as a result, but I think he could have been a happier person with less blood on his hands.

The Many Saints of Newark will be released in theaters on October 1, and will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from the theatrical release.