*New Line Cinema’s “The Many Saints of Newark” is the highly-anticipated feature film prequel to David Chase’s groundbreaking, award-winning HBO drama series ”The Sopranos.”
Young Anthony Soprano is growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark’s history, becoming a man just as rival gangsters begin to rise up and challenge the all-powerful DiMeo crime family’s hold over the increasingly race-torn city. Caught up in the changing times is the uncle he idolizes, Dickie Moltisanti. A man struggling to manage both his professional and personal responsibilities—and whose influence over his nephew will help make the impressionable teenager into the all-powerful mob boss we’ll later come to know – Tony Soprano.
EUR correspondent Jill Munroe talked with cast mates Leslie Odom Jr., Alessandro Nivola and Michael Gandolfini about what it was like filming a prequel to a series that changed the landscape of television.
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Gandolfini portrays a young Tony Soprano but the actor is connected to “The Sopranos” differently from anyone involved in the project. His father, James Gandolfini, famously created the role of Tony Soprano on the HBO series when Michael was a small child. So for him, accepting the role was one of the most challenging decisions he’s ever made.
Jill Munroe: What made you say yes to the opportunity?
Michael Gandolfini: Luckily, I didn’t get a phone call saying, do you want to do this job or not. That would have been a lot of pressure. I don’t know what would have happened with that. At first, I wasn’t even sure if I should audition. But I wasn’t at the point where I felt like I could turn down the audition. Auditioning is good practice. I auditioned three times over three months. So it was kind of a slow burn of getting to know Tony more and more, realizing I had a point of view. Having a point of view on a character is important. I wasn’t sure if I had that.
Odom’s character Harold McBrayer is a numbers runner who works for Dickie. Their high school friends who played on the same football team. However, Harold is growing frustrated with his current role and the lack of respect from Dickie’s cohorts.
Jill Munroe: Leslie, we generally don’t get to see the Black side of the involvement in these gangster flicks. In “One Night in Miami,” you portrayed a Black man in the 60s who was a celebrity but still fighting for respect. This story is similar in that aspect but a different path to it. What attracted you to Harold’s story?
Leslie Odom Jr.: My grandfather migrated from the south to the north like six million other Black people did from 1910 to around 1970 during “The Great Migration.” It saw people moving to the north and the west. Who divorced themselves from the plantation economy in search of greater opportunities and hopefully a little bit less oppression. Their paths diverge when they get to the north, but the impetus for it is the strikeout. I understand that because I knew my grandfather so well. So, I thought it was a chance to represent a man I knew well and men like him. I just wanted some of that truth up there on the screen. Plus, you can’t say no to David Chase’s writing. I was very lucky.
Jill Munroe: You play Richard “Dickie” Moltisanti – Christopher Moltisanti’s father – and you researched the role by touring old mobster haunts. Dickie is a character we’ve never actually seen before, but his legend loomed large throughout “The Sopranos.” How else did you prepare for the role?
Alessandro Nivola: I started in Newark. A friend who is a priest – an Italian-American guy – grew up in that neighborhood. He took me around and showed me the streets and houses where I would have lived, the butcher shops, and social clubs. And then, I knew a guy, who knew a guy, who knew a guy who introduced me to some fellas that are still in some kind of life like this. It’s obviously not the same as it was in the ’60s. I read a lot of books, books by Roy DeMeo’s son Al. He was a famous mob killer, and Al had grown up with him. I worked with a dialect coach for months and watched a lot of “Raging Bull” and “Saturday Night Fever.”
“The Many Saints of Newark” will be in theaters and on HBO Max beginning October 1.