The fact that HBO is making a Sopranos prequel film about a teenage Tony sounds like the punchline to a dumb joke about how there are no new ideas, but the thing is gearing up to be pretty incredible, somehow. The Many Saints of Newark is penned by Sopranos creator David Chase, helmed by Alan Taylor (the guy who directed that incredible episode where Tony takes peyote), and has a wildly talented cast.
But the greatest piece of the whole project, by far, is the fact that James Gandolfini's own son, Michael, will be playing young Tony—and he looks absolutely perfect in the role. Michael sat down with Esquire recently to talk about the upcoming movie, the complexities of taking on his late father's role—and how the 20-year-old, who was born the year The Sopranos premiered on HBO, hadn't even watched the show until he got the role, apparently.
“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.” Michael pauses. “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.”
According to Michael, there were two scenes in particular that "hit hard" while he was watching, both involving Tony and his kids.
“There’s a scene where Meadow comes home late at night, and he’s sitting with a drink, and he’s like, ‘You know I love you, right?’ That hit hard,” Michael says. “The other one that crushed me was when he yells at A.J., and he gets a pizza to apologize, and he sits by his son’s bed and says, ‘I couldn’t ask for a better son.’ I just knew he was talking to me in that scene.”
The entire conversation is equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking, and it's hard not to get excited about seeing how Michael handles the role when The Many Saints of Newark finally hits HBO in September 2020. Until then, give the whole interview a read over at Esquire.