The Sopranos mythos returns to HBO next year with TV movie The Many Saints of Newark – a welcome offering on many levels, one of which is the heartwarming handoff of the late James Gandolfini’s role as Tony Soprano to his son, Michael Gandolfini, who plays a teenage version of Tony in the 1960s-set story. However, it seems that the acceptance of said role was made after some reluctance, not only because of the responsibility of filling Tony’s leather loafers, but because – up until this process – he’d never even seen the show.
The confession of the twenty-year-old Gandolfini (who was born in 1999, the year in which The Sopranos debuted,) of his unfamiliarity with his father’s bellwether six-season-spanning 21-Emmy-earning character-driven mob series platform came about in an interview with Esquire, which focuses on the thought process that led to his fateful role inheritance; a choice that, as it turns out, was made after some serious consideration. As Michael tells the magazine of his “difficult decision” to tackle the role after the call to audition arrived from show creator David Chase:
“The funny thing is, before the audition, I had never watched a minute of The Sopranos. I was just a kid when he was making it. I would go to the set and ask him what it was about, and he’d say, ‘Oh, it’s about this guy who’s in the mob and kind of goes to therapy.’ The hardest part of this whole process was watching the show for the first time.”
As Michael further describes of his Tony tranformation:
“It was an intense process. Because, as an actor, I had to watch this guy who created the role, to look for mannerisms, voice, all those things I would have to echo. But then I’d also be seeing my father. I think what made it so hard was I had to do it alone. I was just sitting alone in my dark apartment, watching my dad all the time. I started having crazy dreams. I had one where I auditioned for David and I looked down at my hands, and they were my dad’s hands.”
Interestingly, Michael’s path to an acting career was hardly direct, despite his famous lineage. While he had an enthusiasm for The Wizard of Oz-inspired Broadway show, Wicked, it was a passion that, at least at first, was not quite embraced by his famous actor father. As he explains of his (initially-unwelcome) childhood Wicked obsession:
“I dressed up as the Scarecrow almost every night, and my dad would videotape me singing. As I got older, he wanted me to play sports. I felt that burden. I wanted to make him proud. And he said, ‘Don’t be an actor; be a director. They have the power.’ ”
As any caring parent would, it seems that James didn’t want Michael to follow him down an often-perilous path, in this case to the front of the cameras. However, his father’s untimely passing – during a family vacation in Rome – back on June 19, 2013 from a heart attack at the young age of 51 cemented Michael’s trajectory, sending him away from football fields to acting classes, after which he got his start in small productions, notably a local production of Shrek the Musical as the eponymous green ogre. Not only did Michael discover a passion, but as, he confesses, “from the first day, I fell in love with it. It actually started my grieving process with my dad.”
While Michael is currently enrolled in NYU (as a sophomore), his transition from stage to screen already started with an appearance in director Justin Kreinbrink’s 2015 action short, Flower, and a wide release feature debut (albeit as a bus boy,) in 2018’s Ocean’s Eight, after which he landed at his father’s former television platform, HBO, as a cast member of its 1970s/80s-set crime series, The Deuce. Yet, with his role as Young Tony in The Many Saints of Newark being his next release, the obvious narrative of tackling his father’s role could also be dwarfed by his actual performance, which is already being lauded for its uncanny fidelity.
The Many Saints of Newark is scheduled to premiere on HBO on September 25, 2020.
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