The Many Saints Of Newark Star Corey Stoll Shares His Quintessential Sopranos Episode [Interview]

Junior Soprano is often a very funny man. It's the best kind of funny, though — the "Sopranos" character is at his funniest when he's not joking in the slightest. But for actor Corey Stoll, Junior is a great joke-teller, which he wanted to portray in the new prequel film "The Many Saints of Newark." 

When the film and a potential role in it were first brought to Stoll's attention, he thought the role in question had to be Junior. He was correct. And if all goes well, "The Many Saints of Newark" won't be the last time we see of Stoll playing Tony Soprano's disrespected, once-powerful uncle. We recently sat down with Stoll, who told us about playing Junior (the foolish man who believes he's the smartest man in the room) and which "Sopranos" episode perfectly sums up the character. 

"Lying is usually the first tactic."

The cast gets so close to what defines the characters in the show, but they standalone, too. Was that a fine line to walk?

Yes. Yes, very much so. I think those of us who are playing characters that were in the original series, we're very aware of how educated the audience is in these previous performances. So they will know how accurate or not accurate we are, but also that it's not enough to just do an impression. Obviously, a lot of the superfans of the show are dying to see these characters again, but we don't want it to just be a nostalgia pageant. We want to play these characters for real and add something to the whole world.

We all had to do the work and really study these actors that came before us and their performance, and then try to throw that away once we got on set. And our safety net was having David Chase there on set. So it was like if we're too far off, he'll definitely let us know. But he was super supportive and for the most part seemed happy with the line that we hued.

Not a guy who's very easily pleased with himself or his work, as he's said.


So if he was happy, it must've felt good.

Exactly. You're not going to get exuberant praise, but a good head nod and that's all you need.

David Chase has said the show is about characters lying 98% of the time. It's a similar case with the movie. Does how he views those characters as liars influence how you play one of them?

I don't know if I would have necessarily described the show in that way, but I think it's all in the writing. Do you know what I mean? That he doesn't have to say it because you see it over and over again. Your character in one place says something, and in another place says something else. And it's just so obvious that these characters are fighting for power and turf in every way. Both in a very practical way in terms of getting money and respect, but also their little psychological needs that they have from the people in their lives. And they will do what they need to do to get that, and lying is usually the first tactic.

"Junior thinks he is the smartest person in every room."

Nobody expects much from Junior. He's a joke to people, but do you think he's smart enough to use that to his advantage? He seems to get away with a lot because he's unassuming in many ways.

I think it's accidental, but I think those resentments, that pettiness is real. That was the only way I could play it, at least. That's a little bit too, I think, four dimensional chess for me to be able to play. But yeah, everything you need to know about Junior is that he's working for his little brother in a very patriarchal world. And the way it should be is he's the boss. He is Corrado Jr. He should have taken over the family business. And for some reason, It's not because he's not smart enough, and it's not because he's not willing to resort to violence. There's just some innate thing about Junior that is just not a leader. He just says, "Let's go this way guys," and people don't follow him. And Johnny is.

There's such a disconnect between him and the people around him. People don't get what he's saying a lot of the time, but do you think Junior always knows what he's talking about?

Oh, absolutely. Junior thinks he is the smartest person in every room that he walks into and it's funny. A lot of the work was also trying to determine how much of the Junior that we saw in the original show was just a function of being an old man and being cranky and the resentments piling up over the years, and how much is innate to his personality.

But one thing that he actually became more powerful in the original, in the show, versus in this prequel is he doesn't ... He seemed to care less and less about what people thought of him. It gave him power. I think the Junior that I played in this movie cares a lot about what people think and it's paralyzing for him.

How'd you want to show him aging?

It was really just the glasses. We did a wig test. There was an idea that I would go bald throughout the movie and it just seemed a little too involved. And there actually wasn't that big a time gap from the beginning to the end of the movie, and so it sort of seemed silly, so we left it at that. And I don't know, I wasn't really thinking about it that much, frankly. It's not really that long a period of time, you know, 10 years.

"He destroys the best thing in his life."

Once you got the role and then revisited the show, what stood out to you?

I don't think I quite understood how deep the mythology was in the show. What's so great about the show is that you can approach it from so many different levels. Somebody can just turn on the TV randomly and just watch an episode and it's entertaining, even if you don't know anything about it. Somebody who's watching it week to week can be drawn in. And then somebody who is a completist, a fanatic can chart these really complicated family trees and different mob organizational charts. There are all the stories that people tell about the past. It is all is of one world. And yet, as you said before, everybody was lying about the past too.

The good old days as they said.

Exactly. I think that's something that's great about the movie is that yes, people dress a lot better and the cars are cooler, but it was still the same people and they were still petty and lying and backstabbing, and it was still an awful way to live.

For you, what were some of the quintessential Junior episodes?

Obviously, there's the Boca episode where the rumors of his oral sex habits come out. I think that is such a great episode. It shows just the impossibility of being in this world where probably the best thing you can say about Junior was that he was a generous lover. And that's the one thing that is not tolerated in his world. It tells you so much about him, because it's the kind of thing where if he was more confident in himself, he could say, "Yeah, that's what I do. Deal with it." But he is just so ashamed and terrified of being exposed in that way, that he destroys the best thing in his life.

How was it trying to capture his comedic timing?

Well, it's interesting. One of the most helpful things for preparation was the dialect coach did this audio super cut of all of the jokes that he tells, like the actual, formal, punchline jokes that he tells throughout the whole series. He's really a good joke teller. And that side is not shown in the movie, and I think that was part of getting old for Junior. And if we do get any sequels to this, hopefully Junior can tell some jokes.

Have you and David Chase talked about that?

He's thinking about it. For all of us actors, it would be a blast because it's a few months out of our life, but for him, this was four years from beginning to end of putting this together. So it's a big commitment and these characters are deeply important to him, and I think he wants to make sure he does it right.

"The Many Saints of Newark" hits theaters and HBO Max on October 1, 2021.