How Michael Gandolfini Prepared To Play His Father's Iconic Character In The 'Sopranos' Prequel Movie

The Many Saints of Newark will bring viewers back to the world of The Sopranos, and bring back many of the groundbreaking show's characters in the process. But since Many Saints is a prequel, all of those familiar characters are being played by different, younger actors. And perhaps the most interesting cast member is Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini. The younger Gandolfini is playing none other than Tony Soprano, the character his father made famous all those years ago. Now, he's talking about how he prepared for the role. It wasn't easy.

There are a lot of big, blockbustery Warner Bros. movies headed to HBO Max this year, but the title I'm most excited for is considerably smaller – The Many Saints of Newark. The film will bring us back to the world of The Sopranos – in the 1960s. It's a prequel that primarily focuses on Dickie Moltisanti, father of Sopranos character Christopher Moltisanti. We never got to meet Dickie on The Sopranos, because he was long-dead. But several other Sopranos characters will be appearing in The Many Saints of Newark, in younger forms played by new actors.

James Gandolfini's performance as Tony Soprano on The Sopranos is legendary. The series changed the face of the TV landscape as we know it, and Gandolfini's work was consistently hailed as nothing short of iconic. The iconic nature of the role has become even more pronounced due to Gandolfini's untimely death – he died from a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 51.

How do you even go about filling Gandolfini's shoes? The answer seems to be to hire another Gandolfini – the actor's son, Michael Gandolfini. The younger Gandolfini is an actor, too – he'll be seen in the Russo Brothers movie Cherry this month before we get to see him in Many Saints later this year. And in a new interview with Vanity Fair, Gandolfini opened up about the difficulty in stepping into his father's legendary role.

Gandolfini commented on the experience in 2019, too, revealing he had never watched the series – something that changed when it came time to audition for the role. "The hardest part of this whole process was watching the show for the first time," Gandolfini said in 2019. "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. "

In the new interview, Gandolfini adds that he was initially very hesitant to even audition for the part, worried he wouldn't be good enough. But his manager talked him into it, at which point Gandolfini said he "recorded four hours of his monologues...and walked around New York with them constantly, constantly, constantly playing in my ear."

Gandolfini auditioned for David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos who also wrote the Many Saints screenplay. "I had this unspoken trust that David wasn't going to cast me if there was even a shred that this isn't going to work," Gandolfini said. The end result: Gandolfini got the part. As for the movie, the actor offers some insight into the story, as well as his take on the younger Tony Soprano:

"It's an origin story through the eyes of Dickie Moltisanti, Christopher's father. The Tony Soprano we know has this beautiful vulnerability underneath and this rough exterior, but what if we flip that on its side and you watch a creative, hopeful, kind, curious kid get whittled down and formed into what he has to be?"

The Many Saints of Newark arrives on September 24, 2021.